Saquon Barkley Fantasy Outlook (2021)

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Source: Icon Sportswire

Tough Sledding From the First Touch 

Saquon Barkley’s 2020 season came to an abrupt stop after suffering a torn ACL against the Chicago Bears in Week 2. This also came with some MCL and meniscus damage. Up to that point, we had a limited sample size of one game, but he was absolutely dominated by the Steelers’ run defense. During this game, Barkley had a total of 6 rushing yards on 15(!) attempts, but he did contribute in the passing game, catching 6 of 9 targets for 60 yards. Needless to say, he was held without a touchdown in that one and finished the week as the RB30 in Week 1. Not a great start for fantasy managers. 

Wayne Gallman was the primary running back after Barkley went down and played in 15 games. He finished the year as the RB32 in half-PPR scoring, averaging a mere 8.4 fantasy points per game. 

Those who risked a top-3 pick on Saquon last season were let down, but you can’t predict an injury happening. It was just one of those things where your fantasy season was off to a bad start pretty much right away if you drafted him last season and you most likely lost both weeks unless the rest of your team made up for the missing fantasy points.

Offseason Acquisitions and a Slow Start to Training Camp

The New York Giants were busy in the offseason and acquired a couple of key offensive pieces. While the big signing was Pro Bowl wide receiver Kenny Golladay, the Giants were busy adding a ton of depth behind Barkley: Devontae Booker, Ryquell Armstead, and Corey Clement all joined the squad, while they said goodbye to Wayne Gallman. While it would be silly to have one of the other three running back signings on the field instead of its Pro Bowl RB, it’s possible management has its doubts on just how quick Barkley will return to being himself. 

It's been reported that the Giants will likely ease Barkley back into a full-time role both in training camp and the actual season to ensure a full recovery and now that there are 17 games a year (plus a possible postseason), it wouldn’t be in the teams’ best interest to rush him out and risk further injury. The running back depth has been kept deep for a reason, although no one running back should run away with complete backup duties. In previous years’ Barkley has handled the vast majority of touches for the Giants which, along with his elite talent, led him to be a top-5 pick since his rookie season. This year, fantasy managers will need to temper their expectations, at least for the first few games of the season.

A Look at the 2021 Season

A lot of fantasy managers are going to be eager to see how the offseason unfolds for Barkley, specifically wanting to see how he looks in practice and in any preseason games. This will ultimately decide his ADP landing spot in late August, but right now he’s being drafted at around 1.3-1.5 which is a little early, considering there are a lot of unknowns still. In the past, we’ve heard players are coming back from injury feeling good but they don’t have the tape or acceleration that they once had. We’d love for Barkley to make a full recovery but it’s a major injury he’s coming off of and there are other capable running backs in this range that are a lot safer. 

If Barkley does return to 100% health, there are still a couple of other issues which may warrant his ADP to be bumped down a couple of spots. There’s a lot of talent when it comes to their pass catchers. Wide receivers, tight ends, and backup running backs will combine to likely limit Barkley’s full potential in terms of touches per game, and do we know if Daniel Jones is any good? He’s been mediocre and the Giants didn’t do a ton to address its offensive line in free agency or the draft. 

The last thing worth mentioning is his production since he was drafted. He took the league by storm and finished as the RB1 in fantasy football during his rookie season. But in the year following, he finished as the RB10, with his touchdown totals dropping from 15 to 8. Barkley barely crossed the 1,000-yard mark in rushing in 2019 and the number of receptions was almost cut in half. Could he return to be a top-3 running back this year? Absolutely, though we need to make sure our first-round pick is a home-run that can produce for our team every week. The offensive scheme, offensive line, and return from injury are all factors that make me shy away this year. I would think about taking Barkley at around the 1.05-1.06 position and he could end up sliding down further for me after we see how training camp progresses.

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