NFL Team Preview: Is Saquon Barkley's return enough to make Giants a fantasy powerhouse?

·7 min read

We’re previewing every NFL team to get you ready for the 2021 season. Our analysts will tackle pressing fantasy questions and team win totals, in order from the squad with the least amount of fantasy relevancy all the way to the most talented team. Next up, the 22nd-ranked New York Giants.

Presumably healthy, Saquon Barkley is back to being a top-five first-round draft option. What's the percentage chance he finishes as a top-three running back scorer in 2021?

Liz: A top-three FF finish is a more possible than probable outcome for Barkley. With so many capable pass-catchers added to the Giants receiving corps, his target volume will obviously dip. But I also expect his tote total to decrease. Coming off a devastating knee injury that required reconstructive surgery, Barkley’s workload is expected to be managed early on. That would explain part of why the team added a glut of warm bodies to the backfield.

In 2018 and 2019 Barkley averaged just over 16 carries per game. I think he’s more likely to see around 13 or 14 per contest in 2021. It is worth noting that while his touch-total figures to go down, his efficiency should rebound a bit with so many field stretchers added to the squad. And he remains one of the most complete and creative backs in the game. Still, with an unfavorable strength of schedule and game script unlikely to benefit the running game (+500 to win the division, per BetMGM) Barkley’s days as an ultra-elite producer appear numbered. He’s firmly ranked at the top of my second tier of RBs.

Matt: Let’s give him a 70 percent chance. To be clear, that’s extremely high and is why he’s going as a top-three back in almost every draft right now. Barkley was hammered with 24 opportunities and played on 87 percent of the Giants snaps in his lone full game of 2020. There’s every reason to expect he gets right back to that workhorse level, as long as he’s healthy.

The Giants restocked the pass-catcher cupboard. That is only going to boost the team’s overall offensive efficiency. More scoring chances for the Giants’ offense means more potential touchdowns for Barkley. The still ultra-talented New York back is a near-lock for 70-plus catches on a unit that should improve this coming season. Those are the types of bets you make in fantasy.

Scott: Whatever my percentage would be, it's under the market. I'll be light on Barkley this year. Although I do like the Giants defense quite a bit, I don't trust OC Jason Garrett and I'm not sold on Daniel Jones either. Barkley's pass-catching stats have been buoyed by opportunity, not wonderful receiving skill. Oh, and he's coming off a major injury, too. To be fair, you can talk down anyone, even first-round bell cows. But Barkley isn't going to be one of my common targets this year. 

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26)
How will Saquon Barkley perform in his return to action? (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

The Giants have an embarrassment of riches at pass-catcher this season. Who is your favorite target at their current rank: Darius Slayton (WR63), Kenny Golladay (WR21), Sterling Shepard (WR 57), or Evan Engram (TE16)?

Matt: I don’t mind Kenny Golladay’s ADP. But when he goes in the same range of players like Tyler Lockett, Cooper Kupp, Brandon Aiyuk, and Diontae Johnson ... there’s just always another name I’d rather click there if I’m looking at receivers. No problem with Golladay in a vacuum but he’s just never going to be my first choice there; too many questions and transitions for this player. Based on what you’re looking for, I don’t mind taking stabs at either Slayton or Shepard later on in the draft. With Kadarius Toney around getting touches in some form, neither is going to see the type of volume they’ll need to be a weekly feature but they could bring some upside if this offense plays up to its skill-position talent.

Scott: Boring PPR efficiency from Shepard. I know a bunch of team-changing wideouts broke the game last year, but I worry about Golladay quickly getting settled on a team with shaky quarterback and coordinator fills. 

Liz: Behrens taught me a long time ago that talent is always the tie-breaker ... and Kenny Golladay is the most talented of these options. He’s the team’s best red-zone threat and contested-catch stud. I’m not worried about the hip injury, and, given the size of his deal, the Giants clearly aren’t too concerned either. This team is going to be playing from behind ... and that should mean a lot of red-zone looks for Kenny G. His volume will take a hit, but the quality of his targets (in that they’ll occur in the red area of the field) offers a fantastic amount of upside.

While showing promise through the air and on the ground, Daniel Jones has been frustratingly inconsistent. With a plethora of weapons available, is Danny Dimes a late-round QB target with fringe QB1 potential or more of a waiver add during bye weeks?

Scott: The key is to mind the gap between fantasy and reality. I expect Jones to be below average in most quarterback metrics, but he's a handy and resourceful runner —long live the Konami Code — and the skill talent around him is strong. We just want the numbers, right? 

Liz: On paper, this all sets up so well for Daniel Jones — but I’m still not buying it. Mostly because I don’t trust Jason Garrett to implement an effective system. By the way, Vegas seems to agree, as both Jones and Sam Darnold (!!!) have the same odds (100/1) to win MVP. Of course, plenty of non-MVPs have been fantasy relevant, and Jones’ rushing numbers should rebound seeing as he was sorely hampered by lower leg issues at the end of 2020. But given a No. 30 ranked SOS, a below-average offensive line, and incredible depth at the position … it’s hard to imagine him finishing inside the top-15 fantasy QBs.

Matt: In the friendliest terms, you could call Daniel Jones’ playing style erratic. The guy has 51 combined interceptions and fumbles in 26 career starts. That’s absurd! With that caveat out of the way, Jones does have a path to QB1 upside with an upgraded cast of characters. Jones was awesome as a deep passer last year with a 132.5 passer rating on throws of 20-plus yards. Now he’s adding a proven vertical-ball winner in Golladay to the mix. Jones also has some access to a rushing-based floor, as he’s taken off running 4.1 times per game on average through two seasons.

Nevertheless, all of this offensive talent and this mercurial quarterback in the hands of Jason Garrett gives me major pause. It’s easy to imagine Golladay, Shepard, Slayton, Barkley, the tight ends, and yes, even Kadarius Toney with all of his questions, elevating Jones to a fantasy ceiling. It’s just as difficult to conjure up the idea of the ultra-stale Garrett being the one to construct such a reality.

New York Giants projected 2021 fantasy contributors

QB: Daniel Jones

RB: Saquon Barkley

WR: Kenny Golladay / Sterling Shepard / Darius Slayton

TE: Evan Engram

New York Giants O/U on 7 win total from BetMGM

Scott: I could only punch OVER on this ticket. I believe in what Joe Judge is selling, and mostly, I trust the notably underrated defense. And the NFC East is going to be a delicious mess again this year. Anyone can beat anyone in this division, home or away. The Giants will have a Shrek tinge to them, but sometimes winning ugly works — at least to cash this modest of a win ticket. 

Follow Liz: @LizLoza_FF

Follow Matt: @MattHarmon_BYB

Follow Scott: @scott_pianowski

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