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Is Saquon Barkley Still Giants’ Best RB?

  • The Draft Network
  • December 20, 2021
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After a disappointing offensive showing in 2020, the New York Giants hoped that the return of running back Saquon Barkley would be a spark plug for the 2021 offense. Instead, it’s beginning to look like Barkley isn’t even the best running back on the team. That honor belongs to backup Devontae Booker, who joined the team as a free agent this offseason. The expectation was that he’d back up Barkley when the former second overall pick returned from the ACL tear he suffered in 2020. 

For a while, that made sense. Barkley looked good early, especially considering the injury and the fact that Booker wasn’t lighting up the stats sheet in his limited carries over the first four weeks. Then Barkley got injured again, severely twisting his ankle against Dallas in Week 5. When Booker got a heavier load of carries for the remainder of the game, he didn’t exactly make the most of it, averaging just over 2.6 yards per carry with 42 total yards.

Even so, Booker was thrust into the starting role while Barkley was out, and each week he played was better than the last. He progressively got more carries and put up more yards per carry every week with those extra opportunities. By the time Barkley returned, Booker was the team’s leading rusher, having surpassed the former’s season total in his four starts alone.

Barkley has played well since his return from the ankle injury. He’s averaging more yards per game and per carry in his last five games than in the five that he started before the injury. At the same time, Booker’s workload has significantly decreased. 

Through Sunday’s matchup with the Cowboys, Booker had just 28 carries to Barkley’s 61 in the Giants’ last five games. And yet, through 15 weeks of the 2021 season, it’s Booker who remains the rushing leader in New York. Booker already held that title entering Sunday afternoon’s matchup with the Cowboys. He had 53 more rushing yards than Barkley. He’s done that on just five extra carries too, so his yards-per-carry total has been better this year as well: 4.1 to Barkley’s 3.8.

Against Dallas, Booker continued to build his case as the Giants’ best running back with a big performance. As with the previous four games, Barkley continued to get the bulk of carries with 15 to his backup’s eight, but it was Booker who led both teams in rushing yards (74), including the biggest rush of the game with a 31-yard rumble on 4th-and-inches.

He finished the game with 74 yards, averaging more than nine yards per carry. Both were significantly better marks than Barkley’s 50 yards on an average of 3.3 yards per carry.

To sum everything up, Booker has better numbers than Barkley this season in rushing yards and yards per attempt on two fewer carries. He and Barkley also have the same number of rushing touchdowns (2). On top of all of that, Booker has higher numbers in catch percentage, receiving yards, and yards per reception. Barkley still leads in the receiving touchdowns category, though, with two to Booker’s one.

At this point, it’s pretty much impossible to say that Booker hasn’t been the better running back for New York this season, even as the backup. The big question now is how much this affects Barkley’s future with the team. He’s younger and is having a better career than Booker. But his inability to stay on the field along with a drop in production post-ACL tear have combined to make him look like a replaceable asset in the Giants’ offense.

For now, all that’s certain is that both of the Giants’ top running backs will be free agents after the 2022 season. After next season, they’ll be forced to make some important decisions on backfield personnel.

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