Not every rookie can lead. Not every veteran can follow a rookie. Saquon Barkley defies the odds in the Giants' locker room.
The second overall pick, who just became the franchise's first rookie running back since 1965 to make the Pro Bowl, sets or comes close to setting team and league records with each game. Through 14 of them, however, he said his biggest improvement is leadership.
"Obviously, I was never shy to talk or be vocal," Barkley said. "But just you know yourself when you're speaking just how more comfortable you feel and I felt more comfortable speaking and leading from this point before in the beginning of the year or preseason or camp. That's what I would say I'm not happy with, but I'm proud of the most, but also just understanding the game as a whole, seeing the game differently, how the game's slowing down a lot more in the run game and for me in the pass game and hopefully I could continue to get better these last two weeks."
Barkley, who turns 22 a week after Super Bowl LIII, is the youngest player on the team. And while he might be comfortable leading, he has seen others become more comfortable being led by him.
"Yeah, but that's just the nature of life," Barkley said. "You have to prove yourself. Obviously, I wanted to take on that role, but I had to prove it to my team that I'm a guy you can follow and I'm a guy that's willing to lead and the way I did that, that's what I thought I would say who I am – stay true to who I am, don't come in here with a cocky attitude or you're the second pick, you're this, you're that. That means nothing.
"Once you get to the organization, you're just like everybody else and you got to work and prove yourself just like everyone else and that was a mindset that I had and that's the mindset I'm going to continue to have and hopefully, like I said, it's not the end of the year. We still got two games left to get better and hopefully these next two weeks I can grow in there and even prove to my teammates more that I'm willing to be here for them, whether it's on the field or off the field. Just know that they got a competitor that's going to go out there and compete at a high level for them."
Barkley hasn't only earned the respect of his teammates and coaches inside the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. He was third overall in Pro Bowl voting by the fans behind quarterbacks Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes. But fans count just one-third toward determining the 88 all-stars. The NFL is the only sports league that combines voting by fans, coaches and players to determine the Pro Bowl teams. For the third consecutive year, Pro Bowl Week festivities will take place across the Orlando area.
"It's an amazing feeling, especially your first year to be selected into the Pro Bowl," Barkley said. "Got to say thank you to all the fans, players, and coaches, and [it's] just something that you dream about as a little kid. I actually trained in Orlando for the combine, so I got to see those guys there last year, and I remember saying in the back of your head that you want to be here one day and to be able to accomplish that as a rookie definitely means a lot, but you couldn't do that by yourself. You got to give credit to your teammates and the coaches in this building also."
Eli Manning, his quarterback and the oldest player on the roster, is happy for the rookie.
"He deserves it," Manning said. "He's had a great year. He's worked really hard. He's done everything we've asked him to do. So I'm excited for him he gets to experience that. It'll be a fun deal for him."
Barkley has touched the ball 305 times this year for 1,809 scrimmage yards and 13 total touchdowns. Never did he hit the "rookie wall." At least, he didn't notice if he did. Neither did his coaches.
"We keep track of everything the player's all about physically and where he's at, how he feels," coach Pat Shurmur said. "That's why I don't feel like you have 'Victory Mondays' -- I think that's part of the process to make sure you know where the guys are after a game moving forward. That conversation is constant in terms of where guys are in terms of health.
"I think he's holding up very well. He's a very physical guy, he's in very good shape, he's obviously super talented, and we're just keeping track and monitoring, and encouraging him to do all the things necessary each week to get ready to go. And he's done a good job with that."
And there are no plans of easing up on the rookie with two games left, beginning with a trip to Indianapolis.
"I hope my workload is, whatever it does, whatever it is, helps the team win," Barkley said. "Obviously I would never want my workload to decrease. I know people probably think that because we're technically eliminated from the playoffs that what are we playing for, but I don't see it that way at all. We've got two games left in our season, we've get two games left for the rest of this year with the guys on your team, with the guys that you worked your tail off with all year to get to this point. You've got to go out there and continue to fight obviously for yourself and just the competitive nature you have, but your teammates."