Saquon Barkley’s number of offensive touches will increase in Year 2.
John Schmeelk: Fact -- This is a really good question. Last year, only Ezekiel Elliott touched the football (381 touches) more than Saquon Barkley’s 352 combined carries and receptions. I expect Barkley’s 91 receptions to drop into the low 70s. In the final eight games of last season, after the Giants altered their offense to a much more effective play-action attack, Barkley caught only 33 passes. I think that per game average will be much more in line with what he does in 2019, rather than the ridiculous 58 passes he caught in the first eight games of 2018. Most of those were dump-offs that were the indirect result of poor execution on offense. His 266 carries in 2018 averages out to just over 16 per game. I would expect that number to jump closer to his second half season average of just under 19 carries per game. If that happens, combined with the 4-5 catches per game I predict, that will put Barkley at around 370 touches. Hence, I will take the OVER; he will have fewer catches but more carries.
Dan Salomone: Fact – My only hesitation here is his touches can’t get much higher, but I still think that number goes up in his sophomore season. He has a year under his belt in the scheme, which benefits both him and the coaching staff. Pat Shurmur is known for tailoring schemes to players, and now he has a year’s worth of data to maximize Barkley and the pieces around him. So I just can’t bet against any of his numbers not increasing in 2019.
Lance Medow: Fact -- In 2018, Saquon Barkley had a team-high 352 touches (261 rushes, 91 receptions). To put things in perspective, Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey was the only other running back in the league to have more receptions (107) than Barkley and the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott was the only other back with more carries (304). McCaffrey’s touches went up from his rookie year (197) to his second season (326) and the same can be said for Elliott from his first year (354) in the league to his third campaign (381). The reason I used the first and third seasons for Elliott is because he was suspended for the final six games of the year in 2017. Based on those stats, I think Barkley’s touches will increase as well, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his carries go up and his receptions slightly drop. You figure with some new options in the receiving corps and an improved offensive line, Eli Manning won’t have to dump it off to his running back as much, which is why I can see his receptions going down but I don’t see the Giants limiting Barkley’s workload. He’s their most dynamic player and they will continue to showcase him in various ways, regardless of how many other weapons they have on the roster.
A player other than Barkley will lead the team in receptions.
Schmeelk: Fact -- I fully expect the reception numbers to be spread out very evenly between Barkley, Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate and Evan Engram. Also expect decent numbers from whoever wins the third receiver job and tight end Rhett Ellison. I think one of the two wide receivers, either Shepard or Tate (or both), will top Barkley’s receptions total this year, but not by much. Matchups and scheme will dictate where Manning will go with the ball, with four receivers on the roster who can beat man on man coverage.
Salomone: Fiction – For all the reasons I mentioned above, I’m going with Barkley here. Calling him a safety valve in the passing game doesn’t do him justice because of his big-play potential on any “give-up” play, but that’s what he is. If things break down, Eli Manning can look to No. 26. He’s also much more than an emergency option, of course. Barkley is invaluable when it comes to the two-minute drill. He’s going to rack up the catches, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he breaks his own franchise record for most by a running back.
Medow: Fiction -- As I noted in my response to the previous statement, I can see Barkley’s receptions dipping, but that doesn’t mean someone else will leapfrog him. The biggest threat to Barkley’s spot atop the list is Golden Tate, who had at least 90 catches in each of his last four full seasons with Detroit. It’s not a stretch to think Tate could collect 90 receptions with the Giants, but I think Eli Manning will look to spread the wealth with Tate, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram each having big games throughout the season. I also wouldn’t overlook the potential contributions of Cody Latimer and Corey Coleman. That’s why even if Barkley’s total falls into the mid-80s, I still think he’ll lead the team in catches.
Among the 2019 rookies, cornerback DeAndre Baker will have the biggest impact on the field this season.
Schmeelk: Fact -- Sam Beal will have something to say about it, but there’s a good chance DeAndre Baker is starting opposite Janoris Jenkins at cornerback in Week 1. Whenever there is a rookie cornerback on the field, he has a huge bullseye on his back. Opposing quarterbacks will try to target him early and often. If he holds up, it will give the Giants defense a bigger boost than anything Dexter Lawrence will do on the defensive line.
Salomone: Fact – The Giants aren’t going to spoon-feed the player they called the best cover corner in the draft. Baker is going to play a lot, and probably sooner rather than later when the season rolls around. Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence was drafted ahead of him, but we’ll see what the Giants’ plan is for him in terms of how many downs he plays.
Medow: Fiction -- DeAndre Baker certainly has a great opportunity this season for extensive playing time, especially with such a young nucleus of corners with the exception of Janoris Jenkins. With that being said, I think fellow corner Julian Love will have the biggest impact because I can see the Giants moving him around and utilizing him in the slot, on the outside and at safety. His versatility will keep him on the field and present multiple opportunities to make plays. Based on his days in Arizona, James Bettcher loves hybrid players and I think he has one in this year’s fourth round pick.
The Giants will have a 1,000-yard receiver in 2019.
Schmeelk: Fiction -- Exactly 16 teams, half the league, had a 1,000-yard receiver last year. Four teams -- the Chiefs, Vikings, Rams and Steelers -- had two players over 1,000 yards. This is going to be very, very close, but I’m going to go with the under here. I think two or three Giants players could be between 900 and 1,000, but I’m not sure one gets over the top. It will come down to whether anyone makes enough big plays to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. This will be fun to track over the course of the season.
Salomone: Fact – Two running backs have hit 1,000 yards receiving in NFL history: Marshall Faulk in 1999 and Roger Craig in 1985. Could Barkley be the third? I don’t think he’ll quite get it, but I thought I’d just throw that in there. Rather, I think Sterling Shepard gets to it for the first time in his career. He set career-highs last season in receptions (66), yards (872), and yards per catch (13.2). Shepard is the longest-tenured wide receiver on the team, and after signing a contract extension in April, he will be in a Giants uniform for another five years. He looks as confident and shifty as ever this spring. He gets to 1,000 in 2019.
Medow: Fiction -- The biggest threat to reach that mark is Golden Tate. He collected at least 1,000 receiving yards in three of his final four full seasons with the Lions. Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram have yet to reach 1,000 yards in a single season and as I said above, I think Eli Manning will look to spread the wealth as opposed to leaning on one particular player. That’s why I think Tate will fall just below 1,000 receiving yards.