Analysis

Brian Daboll is Exactly What Saquon Barkley Needs

Saquon Barkley
Tom Rudawky is a former NFL scout for the New York Giants who previously worked in football operations for the Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings. He now writes for The 33rd Team among other publications.

First-year Giants Head Coach Brian Daboll has been known to wear a “pass the damn ball” hat around team headquarters. He is, undoubtedly, a big believer in having a pass-first offense, as evidenced by his four-year run as the Offensive Coordinator of the Buffalo Bills. In 2021, the Bills ranked 5th in the NFL in total pass attempts with 655 (38.5 per game). In his first season with 4th-year quarterback Daniel Jones – which is also a crucial season for Jones, it stands to reason he will cut him loose and put his arm to the test. While Jones is facing a pivotal season, so too is his lead running back: the enormously talented Saquon Barkley.

Make no mistake about it, Barkley has had a frustrating career so far. After a rookie season where he compiled over 2,000 all-purpose yards and played like one of the NFL’s premier young stars, he’s averaged 9 games played per season and has only 12 total touchdowns – 3 fewer than he had in his rookie season alone. When he has been healthy, he just hasn’t consistently produced like the player we saw in 2018. In his defense, the situation around him has been a total mess. Poor offensive line play, poor play calling, and inconsistent quarterback play has made it difficult for Barkley to get into a rhythm and play like the guy we know he can be.

Because of Barkley being taken second overall in the 2018 draft, as well as the general pressure of playing in New York City, there’s been a great deal of expectations thrust upon Saquon. When healthy, he’s been viewed by the opposition as the main player that must be taken away for their defense to have success. With Daboll now in charge, while defenses will still be heavily focused on stopping Barkley, the attack they will face will be much more diverse and varied. No longer are the days of a large number of 12 and 13 personnel as key staples of the game plan – these new-look Giants will look to challenge teams through the air and spread them out, using the whole field to push the ball downfield and move the chains. The Giants do have wide receivers that can scare a defense – namely Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney.

While the Bills were a pass-happy team under Daboll, they experienced success rushing the ball as well. Last season, the Bills finished 6th in total rushing yards, with 2,209. On top of that, they averaged an impressive 4.8 yards per carry, ranking 5th in the league. With all due respect to Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, they are not in the same class as Saquon when it comes to overall talent and upside. Their production running the ball can be largely attributed to Daboll’s scheme – which is one that, because of the varied and spread-out attack, gives his ball carriers room to work with once they touch the ball.

That is music to Barkley’s ears. His skill set is not one of a between-the-tackles banger that is at his best in a confined space where he can wear down a defense. Barkley is a player that, because of his elite athletic skill set, will thrive when put in space one-on-one against defenders. He possesses outstanding change of direction, acceleration, contact balance, and straight-line speed to win matchups on the perimeter. Just like edge defenders, cornerbacks, and linebackers, running backs must be utilized properly to be at their best, too. Gone are the frustrating days under Joe Judge where Barkley was often facing stacked boxes and a front seven that would – and could – afford to sell out to stop the run.

Under his new head coach, I doubt we’ll see Barkley be a 20-carry-a-game guy week in and week out, but I believe that will be a huge positive for his production and this offense. While some fantasy managers would disagree, it’s more about quality than quantity – and given Daboll’s track record, I feel confident that in 2022, when Saquon does touch the ball, he will be far more equipped for success than he has been the last three seasons. Granted, this is pending the obvious health of Barkley – which is a big “IF.” However, even with a man that likes to “pass the damn ball,” Barkley can thrive due to better scheme, play calling, and well, because of his star-studded talent. Playing in a contract year in 2022 where he has everything to prove, he will surely need it.

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