We are six weeks into the NFL season, and New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley already has a hand on the Rookie of the Year award. The #2 pick of the 2018 Draft, Barkley has taken a poorly performing New York Giants offense and put them on his back. His last appearance against Philadelphia saw Barkley gain more than half of the total scrimmage yards for the Giants. He has six of the eleven touchdowns scored by the Giants offense, and is second in both receptions and receiving yards.
The breakout year for Barkely is being compared to that of Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott in terms of the impact that he has made in the league. The official NFL award for Rookie of the Year went to Dak Prescott in 2016, but Elliott was seen as the out-and-out impact player. His ability to impact the offense was shown during his suspension period in 2017, as Prescott’s stats dropped considerably.
As these comparisons keep getting thrown around the world of football, it is only fair that we pull out the one thing that will not lie: The stats. We are only six games in, so we will use the current projections for Barkley as an even out for statistical prowess compared to Elliott’s 2016 season.
Saquon Barkley – 84 attempts, 438 yards, 5.2 ypc, 4 TD (projected 224, 1,168, 11 TD)
Ezekiel Elliott – 322 attempts, 1,631 yards, 5.1 ypc, 15 TD
We have seen on a few occasions that Saquon Barkley can just run through teams for fun. His debut against the Cowboys didn’t leave much to the imagination on the ground, but games against Houston and Philadelphia showed the capacity of Barkley. The rookie out of Penn State is getting better with experience, and his 50-yard run against the Eagles was a prime example of the damage he can do with a poor offensive line blocking for him.
Ezekiel Elliott had one of the best rookie years that a running back has ever had. He had one game under 80 rushing yards, which was his debut against the Giants (20 for 52 yards, 1 TD). The Cowboys offensive line helped his cause, but it’s difficult to ignore how lethal Elliott was all over the field.
The ability to break tackles out of nowhere and run straight over the top of the secondary would provide the Cowboys a huge asset in the backfield, and one they could build around for years to come. Elliott, based on his 2016 season and his form since, would get the better of Barkley rushing.
Saquon Barkley – 40 receptions, 373 yards, 9.1 YPC, 2 TD (Projected 107, 995, 5 TD)
Ezekiel Elliott – 32 receptions, 363 yards, 11.3 TPC, 1 TD
A tailback is the second-most targeted receiver on the Giants roster, as well as the second-most successful in terms of yards per carry and tied for touchdowns. Barkley has the ability to create something out of nothing as well as just being able to eat yards. This leaves for an interesting prospect, with the potential for Barkley to become just the third running back to get 1,000+ receiving and rushing yards in the history of the NFL.
The record of the Giants (1-5) helps this cause, as the Giants have to rely on more passing plays during the catch-up period, with generally sees Barkley get multiple receptions per drive. Case in point, see the incredible screen play against the Eagles in Week 6.
Elliott was not called upon nearly throughout the whole of his rookie season as Barkley has been so far, yet he was just as effective. With 8 less receptions, he had 10 less yards and his average was a solid 2.2 YPC higher than Barkley. Prescott had the use of more than just one target in his receiving core, which allowed for Elliott to be an almost pure running back.
The ability to be able to control the game from both a passing and rushing aspect meant that there was no need to heavily rely on Elliott. There is no arguing that fact that he is a dual threat when needed, but Barkley far outshines Elliott.
Saquon Barkley has had a trial by fire with his blocking capabilities that coaches were high on during rookie camp. An ineffective offensive line has meant that Barkley must do his fair share of the blocking duties, as well as trying to carry an offense with Odell Beckham Jr.
With the chances that Barkley has had to show off his blocking, he makes a good name for himself. It takes time for defenders to get around him, and that is assuming that they even make it around the back. Barkley does enough that on screen and pick plays, he is able to halt the defender and get around to be a free receiver for his quarterback.
Ezekiel Elliott has been fantastic in regarding to his pass blocking, and that has been a pretty solid staple for him throughout his career. The Athletes Hub correspondent Devon Withers has been high on this facet of Elliott’s game.
“Elliott has been an above-average pass blocker since entering the NFL. Thanks to his development since coming out of Ohio State, I’m surprised to see Elliot playing a versatile role as a running back, blocker, and even a slot receiver at times”.
He isn’t the only one to recognize it, with Fox Sports bringing up the fact that he didn’t miss a blocking assignment during his final year at Ohio State, and barely missed a block during his rookie season.
Trying to compare these two explosive running backs is like comparing Aaron Rodgers to Tom Brady, as both have certain aspects of their game that outweigh the other. Elliott is the more explosive runner, as was so his rookie year. Barkley is by far a bigger dual-threat, with the Giant on track to earn the most scrimmage yards since 1983.
There is no denying that these two dynamic backs are towards the top of the NFL ranks, with the likes of Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley keeping them in good company. Time will tell us who will end up being better by the end of their careers, but for now, we can sit back and enjoy watching two great backs at work.