Week 2 of the NFL season last year was on September 20, 2020. With 14:52 left to go in the second quarter against the Chicago Bears that week, New York Giants’ superstar running back Saquon Barkley tore his ACL and suffered meniscus damage in his right knee. The injury tanked whatever hope New York and its fans had for a winning season.
Now, just under 11 months removed from that devastating injury, Giants fans finally got the news about Barkley that they’ve been waiting for since that day.
Saquon Barley burst onto the NFL scene early in his career
Barkley grew up in Pennsylvania and at Whitehall (Pa.) High School became 2014 Mr. Pennsylvania Football for Class AAA/AAAA, per Giants.com. He went to Penn State to play football, where he starred for three seasons.
The 5-foot-11, 233-pound back rushed for over 1,000 yards in each season as a Nittany Lion. He was Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year in 2016 and 2017 and a Consensus All American in ’17 as well.
The Giants selected Barkley No. 2 overall in 2018, ahead of quarterbacks like Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson.
Barkley paid off the organization’s gamble in his first season with a historic rookie year. He led the league in yards from scrimmage with 2,028 and scored 15 touchdowns. However, the team went just 5-11. The following season, Barkley again rushed for over 1,000 yards (1,003). But, he missed three games with a high ankle sprain that dogged him the rest of the season.
In season three, expectations were high for Barkley before the knee injury ended his season after just five full quarters.
The Giants removed Barkley from the PUP list, and he is returning to practice
The Giants open their 2021 preseason against their stadium-mates, the New York Jets, on Saturday, August 14. While the team won’t have Saquon Barkley lining up behind QB Daniel Jones that night (or likely any night in the preseason), they did get a long-awaited shot of good news ahead of the contest.
Barkley has been cagey about his return timetable leading up to this announcement, but the fact that he is back has to be music to the Giants and their fans’ ears.
The running back has been running and cutting on the sidelines during the first weeks of training camp, per the New York Post, but coming off the physically unable to perform (PUP) list means he’ll be able to start engaging in real practice with the team.
Although Barkley is officially back, the organization is indicating it will be extremely cautious with their superstar. The team is not setting any timetables for him to step on the field in an official game. Head coach Joe Judge told the Post:
We’re going to have conversations on a daily basis about his rehab and conversations on a weekly basis at times on where we think he is coming up. In terms of the timetable, I’m not a doctor. I let the medical team tell me a guy is good to go and put him on the field, I know he’s good to go. … You want to make sure that it’s not push forward and take a step back.Joe Judge on Saquon Barkley
The franchise is being smart about this with Barkley. Even if he misses a few games early in the season, getting him back 100% healthy is a key to this all-important season for the G Men, so rushing his recovery is not a good idea.
The running back position is a massive key to the Giants’ 2021 season
The 2021 season is a make-or-break situation for the Giants’ third-year QB, Jones. After this season, he has one year left on his rookie deal, and the team will have to make a big decision on whether or not to pick up his 5th-year option in 2023.
After Barkley went down last year, New York cobbled together its backfield with a smorgasbord of average to below-average running backs. Wayne Gallman led the team in rushing with 682 yards, and Jones finished second on the team. The rest of the backs that chipped in last season included Alfred Morris (238 rushing yards), Devonta Freeman (172), and Dion Lewis (115).
With this cobbled-together backfield, the Giants lost five of their next six games. However, the team did go 5-3 down the stretch to finish with a better than expected 6-10 record.
With the promise the team showed at the end of the year in 2020, a healthy Barkley could give the Giants a real chance at a winning record in 2021. And, in the up-for-grabs NFC East, even a slightly above .500 win/loss total could put New York in the playoffs.
Saquon Barkley returning healthy and regaining his form as one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the league will likely be the difference between a successful season in the Meadowlands and another unsuccessful one.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference