Fantasy Football: Saquon Barkley Is Easily Worth a First-Round Selection

The second overall pick in 2018 NFL Draft, Barkley is expected to play a big part in the Giants' offense. But can he live up to the preseason hype in fantasy circles?

In this April's draft, the New York Giants ultimately decided to pass on a quarterback and select standout running back Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick. And they did so without much pause. After all, he was their guy.

Barkley was an accomplished player at Penn State and, at 6'0" and 230 pounds, there's a lot of horsepower underneath his hood. Having ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 flat, Barkley's speed score (essentially a weight-adjusted speed metric) came out at 124.3 -- good enough for fourth (they started electronic timing in 1999) in the history of the NFL Combine. Three Sigma Athlete calculated Barkley's SPARQ metric to be 148.0, which is good for the 98th percentile in terms of NFL-level athletes.

In other words, he's a top-of-the-heap athlete, through and through.

As such, and with a high amount of draft capital invested in him, Barkley is expected to make an immediate impact on the NFL's second-lowest scoring offense (15.4 points per game) from a season ago. But how will his elite athleticism and sills translate to fantasy production in year one?

Draft Stock

The 21-year-old Barkley wasn't drafted at the number-two spot for his athletic profile alone. As previously mentioned, his collegiate resumé is outstanding as well.

Year Games Rushes Rush Yds Receptions Receiving Yds Total Yds Touchdowns
2015 11 182 1,076 20 161 1,237 8
2016 14 272 1,496 28 402 1,898 22
2017 13 217 1,271 54 632 1,903 21

This is some elite collegiate production for any player let alone one that played in a conference like the Big Ten.

Barkley is known for having some of the best receiving chops of any running back prospect in quite some time. Through college, he surmounted 102 receptions for 1,195 yards and 8 receiving touchdowns. His game is extremely well polished and his versatility should be key for thriving in an NFL offense, but we've heard this story before.

Let's look at Barkley in comparison to other running backs drafted in the top five since 2000 (sorted by rush attempts).

Player Team Rushes Rush Yds Receptions Receiving Yds Touchdowns
Ezekiel Elliott DAL 322 1,631 32 363 16
Jamal Lewis BAL 309 1,364 27 296 6
LaDainian Tomlinson SDG 339 1,236 59 367 10
Cadillac Williams TAM 290 1,178 20 81 6
Leonard Fournette JAX 268 1,040 36 302 10
Trent Richardson CLE 267 950 51 367 12
Ronnie Brown MIA 207 907 32 232 5
Reggie Bush NOR 155 565 88 742 8
Darren McFadden OAK 113 499 29 285 4
Cedric Benson CHI 67 272 1 3 0

The key takeaway from this group of running backs is that Saquon Barkley is in for a lot of work in year one. Even Cedric Benson -- the fourth pick in 2005 -- went on to have a handful of 1,000-yard rushing seasons once he made his way to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Those in this group who had long and successful careers were the ones who were used more in the passing game right away, too. And this bodes well for Barkley, whose multi-dimensional game is key for the modern day running back.

The average statline for these 10 top-five picks comes out to 964.2 rushing yards, 38.0 receptions for 303.8 receiving yards, and a total of 7.7 touchdowns. For comparison, that amounts to 210.5 fantasy points, which would have been good for RB12 in PPR leagues a season ago.

If Barkley is merely an average top-five back, that's his baseline. Given his talents and the situation in New York, he should perform above that in some shape or form.

The Situation

The New York Giants made news at the end of the 2017 season by firing Ben McAdoo as their head coach. In turn, they hired the Minnesota Vikings' offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur, to take over at the helm.

A coordinator by trade at the time, Shurmur is not without experience. He coached the Cleveland Browns in both the 2011 and 2012 seasons before being canned. For those who don't recall, the Browns weren't really set up for success at that point for what it's worth. Since then, he's bounced from Philadelphia to Minnesota before finally landing a head coaching gig once again in New York.

Even though Minnesota lost their star rookie running back, Dalvin Cook, Shurmur helped lead Case Keenum and the gang to the NFC Championship game before falling to the eventual-champion Eagles. At the end of the year, Minnesota was ranked top-10 in rushing attempts (second), rushing yards (seventh), and rushing touchdowns (seventh). And, again, that's with their second-round pick, Cook, playing in only four games before a season-ending injury.

The Giants are going to want to run, and they've made that stance clear. In case it wasn't evident enough, Mike Shula's presence as offensive coordinator should be more than enough. From 2013-2017, Shula was the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers, where during his five seasons the offense ranked 8th or higher in rushing attempts and 11th or better in rushing yards every single year.

While Shula did coach veteran Jonathan Stewart (now with the Giants) in Carolina, it should be pretty clear at this point that Barkley is going to be the key piece of this rushing offense. Stewart himself hasn't rushed for more than 1,000 yards since 2009 and is 31 years old with 1,699 rushing attempts on his legs. The tread has worn thin for Stewart.

Projecting Production

It's hard to peg down a true prediction of touches for Barkley, so it's almost impossible to very certain of his production level in fantasy. But based on the players above, the situation and him as a prospect, he should be in the ballpark of 250-plus rushes and 50 or more receptions.

The cost to obtain Barkley and his high-volume game is high, as he's going with the seventh pick and as RB6 in 12-team PPR drafts, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. But he's a generational talent, so he should be able to turn a big workload into a high-end RB1 season for you fantasy team.

If you're picking at the tail-end of the top seven selections, you can't go wrong. And in the event you're picking eighth or later, pray he falls, and if he does rejoice and thank the fantasy gods.