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Saquon Barkley: RB1 for Fantasy Football, Or Overvalued Draft Pick?

Saquon Barkley - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News, Draft Sleepers

Saquon Barkley is a player that the fantasy football industry is divided on as we head into the 2022 season.

On one hand, there are those who will be completely avoiding him because of the past two seasons. However, there are some that still believe in the ability of one of the greatest running back prospects of all time.

When looking at the past two seasons for Barkley, sure, he was disappointing. However, let’s put it in some context. In 2020, he played not even two full games before tearing his ACL and missing the rest of the season. In 2021, he was one year removed from a devastating injury, running behind one of the worst offensive lines, and coached by one of the worst staff in the league.

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Saquon Barkley Fantasy Football Outlook

The narrative around Barkley is that he has been constantly disappointing, which is blown out of proportion when you consider what has transpired in the past two seasons.

Without a full training camp and offseason of training, it was obviously going to take some time for him to get settled in and get the confidence back in his knee. Fantasy managers should have expected a decline in production one year after ACL surgery, yet he was still being picked in the middle of the first round of fantasy drafts.

However, it took him just two weeks of getting his feet underneath him. Barkley started to look like he was getting more comfortable in Weeks 3 to 4 last season where he had back-to-back performances of 94 total yards and a touchdown followed up by 126 total yards and two touchdowns.

Then, in Week 5 against the Dallas Cowboys, he collided with a defender after the play and suffered an ankle sprain which knocked him out until Week 11. This injury caused many to label the stud running back as “injury prone,” which I don’t think is a fair assessment considering it was a complete fluke.

Now, his average draft position (ADP) is the lowest it has ever been despite being in the best situation since his days of elite RB1 production.

 

Saquon Barkley Fantasy Football Injury Risk?

This tag of “injury prone” is baked into his ADP across sites like ESPN, Yahoo, Sleeper, FFC, Fantrax, and RTSports, as he is going as the RB13 when you average out these platforms.

But, his ADP could easily start to shoot up at the end of August, as there are reports out of camp that he has his burst back and looks to be 100% healthy. Something he hasn't been since the 2019 season.

Still, Barkley can easily return value as a middle-of-the-pack RB1 option in fantasy football this year. Even if his ADP starts to rise into the back end of the first round, he is more than capable of outperforming that price, never mind the second-to-third round valuation he had during early-draft season.

If you are going to draft being scared of your player getting injured, that means you should avoid just about every single running back considering how frequently the position gets dinged up. Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon, etc. all have an injury history as well. However, it doesn't seem like fantasy managers are scared to draft these players with a first-round pick.

Barkley is as talented as any running back mentioned above, so you shouldn't be fading him for his past injuries if you aren't doing the same for those other backs.

 

Coaching Staff Upgrade For Saquon Barkley

Now, let’s take a look at why I am bullish on Barkley heading into 2022 and envision a scenario where he gets back to his days of producing at an elite level for fantasy managers.

One of the main reasons is the upgraded coaching staff the Giants are getting with Brian Daboll taking over for Joe Judge as head coach. It really can't get much worse than Judge and Jason Garrett being in charge of the offense, so any sort of change in staff would be ideal.

Daboll has gone on record saying that he would like to get Barkley more involved in the passing game and emulate his usage from his rookie season in 2018. You know, that time he caught 91 passes and had over 2,000 scrimmage yards?

Oh, and that was behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league.

 

Offensive Line Upgrade For Saquon Barkley

Add the tackle duo of Andrew Thomas and Evan Neal to the mix and Barkley will be running behind the best offensive line under the direction of the best coaching staff he has had during his time in New York. All while being fully healthy in a make-or-break year where he is playing for a new contract.

What more could you ask for now that Barkley has a better scheme and offensive line?

Well, there is the fact that he is now two years removed from his ACL tear, which may very well be the biggest factor in his potential bounce-back season, considering he has produced elite numbers in the past with an abysmal offensive line.

Let’s use Cook’s 2019 season as an example of the importance of being two years removed from this injury. In 2018, Cook played in just 11 games after his injury the season prior and finished as the RB19 in fantasy points per game.

Then, Cook had his true breakout season. He finished as the RB2 overall after handling 250 carries for 1,135 yards and catching 53 passes for 519 receiving yards on his way to 13 total touchdowns.

The point is, Barkley shouldn't be counted out because of his injury history. He is still only 25 years old and has made it his mission to show the Giants that he is “still the same guy they drafted” with the second overall pick. “That guy” is one of the most talented running backs in the league with the ability to hit a home run any time he has the ball in his hands.

Getting Barkley the ball in more creative ways to put him in positions to take it the distance is such an important factor when you consider his fantasy value for this season.

He saw the third-highest percentage of carries against a stacked front in 2021, as a whopping 24.7% of his carries were against defenses with eight or more defenders in the box.

 

Saquon Barkley Passing Game Outlook

Now, Barkley has been lining up out wide and has been used as a weapon in the passing game during training camp. Instead of him running the ball and having to juke a defender three yards before he gets to the line of scrimmage, it looks like Barkley will be getting those high-value touches this season as it is evident that targets are worth more than carries for fantasy production.

He has shown his pass-catching prowess in years past, going back to as early as last season. He caught 41 passes in just 13 games, which is a 17-game pace of 54 receptions in that god-awful system.

When Daboll was the offensive coordinator in Buffalo, the Bills used four-WR sets at one of the highest rates in the league. This is encouraging for Barkley because it will help him get some lighter boxes to work with, as just 41% of his carries came with six or fewer defenders in the box (4.6 YPC).

This was the system that saw Devin Singletary score the second-most fantasy points among running backs from Weeks 15-18 last season, which is when they really prioritized getting him the ball. If that doesn't get you excited, I don’t know what will.

Barkley is going to be the focal point of this much-improved offense, and his current draft price should do a way better job of reflecting that. He can be valued as an RB1 option for fantasy managers for the upcoming season and he is by no means overvalued at his current price.



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