New York Giants General Manager, Dave Gettleman is no fool. Especially when it comes to player evaluation.
Gettleman has received a ton of backlash from media outlets over the last 36 hours for drafting Penn State RB, Saquon Barkley at number two overall.
Now, you may not agree with the idea of selecting a running back with the 2nd overall pick. And I can’t say I blame you. I disagree with the selection as well because of how it contradicts my philosophy of how to build a team. I mean it goes against everything we know about positional value, right? More on that later, but first it’s important to outline my reasoning for my disagreement with the selection.
To be completely blunt – Barkley wasn’t even my RB1. However, I understand as to why so many have him graded out that way. He possesses rare athletic ability and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Not many players have that special playmaking ability. Yet, this is a very deep running back class. Players like LSU RB Derrius Guice, USC RB Ronald Jones and Georgia RB Nick Chubb were all available when New York was back on the clock at #34 overall. Even if Barkley was New York’s top graded running back – how much of a drop off is there from RB1 to RB2 or RB3 to justify passing up the quarterback of the future?
Which brings me to my next point on why I didn’t agree with the Barkley selection. The opportunity cost of selecting a running back with the 2nd overall pick may loom large should Manning’s play continue to decline. I assume the idea here is that Barkley can help prolong Manning’s career an additional 2-3 seasons by focusing more on their ground game. Nevertheless, a quarterback class as talented as this one doesn’t come around too often. Passing up on Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen will likely turn out to be a poor decision in hindsight especially considering that the 2019 class is looking extremely thin on top tier quarterback talent.
New York apparently didn’t like any of the quarterbacks enough to warrant taking one of them with that pick. That’s reasonable as teams have to be 100% on board with a quarterback prospect if that is the direction they want to go in. Then again, even if that’s the case I’m not sure why New York didn’t trade down and acquire more picks. There were various rumors about potential trade partners who wanted to move into the 2nd slot to take a quarterback. I think the Giants should have capitalized on other team’s desperateness and acquired more draft capital to fill out the holes on their roster. The argument against this could be that Barkley was their guy and New York didn’t want to risk losing him by moving back. To a degree I understand that logic, but that line of thinking has also become an excuse to defend questionable selections in recent drafts. Although, I do not believe that to be the case in this scenario.
With all that being said, I’m going to attempt to defend Gettleman’s selection of Saquon Barkley because there is rationality behind the pick. You just may not agree with it.
Exceptional Talents are Exceptions to the Rule
In addition to receiving heat for his selection Gettleman also received flak for taking aim at the analytics crowd on Friday in regards to its perceptions on the overvaluation of the running back position.
“You know what I say about that. It is a crock. At the end of the day, a great player is a great player. He is a touchdown maker. He is a threat to take it to the house every time he gets his hands on the ball,” Gettleman said. “I think a lot of that stuff is nonsense. I think it is someone who had decided to get into the analytics of it and went through whatever. Jonathan Stewart is in his 10th year and he has not lost anything. I don’t believe in that. I don’t care who you take, they can all get hurt.”
First off, analytics are the way of the future. Teams should get on board with the movement or they’re are going to be at a notable disadvantage and be left behind. Gettleman is a tape first guy and I respect that. I am as well, but if New York is not going to leverage the new age data they’ll struggle to keep up with teams who are analytically savvy like the Philadelphia Eagles. Adapt or die as they say.
I also disagree with the premise that generally running backs shouldn’t be taken that high is nonsense. In most cases taking a running back that high is a poor decision as it leads to inefficient salary cap allocation and leaves a bunch of draft capital on the table. This may or may not be one of those times. Only time will tell for certain, but Gettleman is sort of expressing a valid point here. Stop blindly following general rules. It’s okay to deviate from rules when there are exceptions.
For example, Bill Belichick took Georgia RB Sony Michel in the 1st round last night. Albeit there’s a vast difference in value from pick 2 to pick 31, but the point remains. There are exceptions. Belichick may be assuming that Michel is going to be most valuable during his first contract and acquiring him at the backend of the 1st round allows the Patriots to retain him for an additional season via the fifth year option clause. In the Giants case Barkley might be the exception based on talent alone.
Here are a series of excerpts from my evaluation on the Penn State RB.
Strengths: Rare blend of size, speed and explosiveness for a running back. Almost as if he has the pure athleticism and change of direction ability of a gadget back combined with the size of a bell cow 3-down runner. Good vision to quickly recognize and adjust when a defender fills a hole to bounce it outside for more yards. Flashes the ability to run between the tackles for solid gains, but holes are definitely more sizable than when he struggles at committing inside. Rare level burst to quickly accelerate once he hits the hole to separate from all levels of the defender. Excellent wiggle, stutter step and spin move in open field to make defenders miss. Strong lower half to break low arm tackles. Excellent feel for cutback lanes to spring free on long runs. Excellent speed to the edge. Can completely hurdle a defender in space with explosive leaping ability. Unique receiver out of the backfield who runs very good routes and has strong hands. Good finisher in goal line situations displaying very good leg drive to punch the ball into the endzone. Good blocker in pass protection with patience to stay in front of rusher.
I’m not just throwing around the rare word here. Barkley’s a rare running back in terms of his size and athleticism. He may be the most explosive back to come out of college in over a decade. Additionally, Barkley is not just a running back. He’s an offensive weapon who demands the ball whether it’s as a back or receiver.
Scheme Fit: 3-down back. Best fits in a gap scheme that allows him to see the hole, quickly hit it and adjust if needed based on how he processes space. Would like to see him run a lot of off-tackle runs and moving laterally out of the shotgun to maximize his speed to the edge. Utilizing Barkley in the passing game is a must. A dangerous weapon running routes out of the backfield, the slot or outside.
Barkley can line up as a pass catcher in the backfield, slot or on the outside, be effective running routes and has soft hands to reel in catches consistently. Essentially, he’s not only a running back, but a pure offensive weapon. If used correctly Barkley should have more value than the majority of other running backs in the NFL because of his ability to make plays in space and be a multi-dimensional player.
One- to Three- Year Projection: Depending on where he goes he may initially struggle in year one because of his limited comfortability in tight spaces. A situation like with the New York Giants would not be ideal if they plan to primarily run him between the tackles. However, he should be an immediate contributor in the passing game and will have a fair share of long runs. By year three Barkley should develop into an excellent RB1 for a team due to his explosiveness and ability to be a weapon in all phases of the offense.
I originally did not like the fit for Barkley going to the Giants in year one, but after studying the situation deeper I’m beginning to like it more and more. Giants Head Coach Pat Shurmur runs a West Coast offense featuring spread concepts/power run game and has a history of utilizing multi-dimensional backs – like Dalvin Cook and Jerick McKinnon in Minnesota and LeSean McCoy in Philadelphia. With Barkley’s size and ability to make plays as a receiver he’s the perfect fit for Shurmur’s smash mouth spread attack.
Let’s also just appreciate the potential of an offense containing Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley. I’m not sure how defenses are going to contain the speed and explosiveness across the Giants offensive depth chart if they are able to protect Manning.
Organizational Philosophy and Identity
Historically speaking, we don’t have to go back far to cite examples of where teams using a high pick on an exceptional running back prospect worked out for all parties involved immediately.
In the 2016 NFL Draft the Dallas Cowboys selected Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott 4th overall teaming him with their rockstar offensive line to lead Dallas to the 1st overall seed in the NFC and win a rushing title in his rookie season. This pick was and to a degree still is highly criticized because Dallas bypassed selecting a cornerback, a position of high value, when FSU CB Jalen Ramey was still on the board. Despite the backlash – Dallas was the exception to the rule in this case. Selecting Elliott 4th overall might not have made sense for a team without the pieces around him to maximize his talent right away. But the Cowboys had Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Doug Free to allow Elliott to hit the ground running setting him and the team up for success.
Almost a year later the Jacksonville Jaguars coincidentally selected LSU RB Leonard Fournette at 4th overall as well. Fournette did not have as profound an impact as Elliott did in the stat sheet, but his selection emphasized a clear vision and identity for Jacksonville’s team under the new regime of Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin and Head Coach Doug Marrone. Behind their newfound philosophy of running the ball down opponents throats and playing suffocating defense the Jaguars made the AFC Championship game.
Anecdotal evidence doesn’t do much to support my claim without context of course. Dallas and Jacksonville had strong offensive lines in place for their rookie backs to run behind in their first year in the league. Barkley will not be placed in such a favorable environment in his rookie season – a major reason analysts feel this pick was unnecessary as there are more important needs to fill on the Giants roster. Yet, Gettleman is attempting to build a favorable environment for his rookie back on the fly this off-season and he may not be as far away as many of us originally thought.
The moves Gettleman made in free agency and the first two days of the NFL Draft outline a clear vision and identity to attempt to get the Giants back to their winning ways. The Giants began the off-season signing LT Nate Solder away from the New England Patriots for $34.9 million guaranteed over four years – making the left tackle the highest paid offensive linemen in the NFL. While I don’t agree that Solder is worthy of that title, he’s a clear upgrade to Ereck Flowers in protecting Manning’s blind spot.
The move I think is most indicative of what Gettleman envisions building in New York is the decision to draft UTEP OG Will Hernandez. Gettleman got himself one his coveted hog mollies on day two of the NFL Draft. Pairing Barkley with a power/gap scheme offensive guard like Hernandez is an excellent move to benefit the running attack. Hernandez is a highly aggressive player who’s extremely physical and displays an enthusiasm for executing his assignments. He’s a throwback offensive linemen and nothing better encapsulates that than his malevolent style of play and his 1980’s neck roll.
The commitment to rebuilding the offensive line is important to understanding the vision in place. The Giants want to be able to out finesse their opponents with their skill positions and physically impose their will in the run game. There are still pieces to acquire before the plan is fully in place, but the vision of a physical team is in motion.
Taking a running back 2nd overall may not be the most popular decision. It’s not even one I personally agree with. Yet, there is a plan in place and Gettleman is carrying that plan out acquiring personnel who fit his philosophy. We have to at least respect that in the short-run.