Football

Dennis Young: Saquon Barkley’s fantasy god status doesn’t mean the Giants will be good

Saquon Barkley is the consensus No. 1 pick across every popular fantasy football league and format, according to FantasyPros. Fantasy owners with the top pick in their drafts should bank on a strong season. Giant fans shouldn't.

Even without Odell Beckham Jr. (or Golden Tate, or Sterling Shepard, or any pass-catcher you've ever heard of) to stop defenses from stacking the box, Barkley will probably be worth it for fantasy players. He rushed for 1,307 yards and scored 15 total touchdowns behind last year's porous offensive line, and the Giants have shored up their blocking by acquiring Kevin Zeitler and Mike Remmers.

Another indicator in Barkley's favor is that on average, the No. 1 pick in a fantasy draft ends up being the most valuable player in it, and by a significant margin. It's safe to bet that Saquon will likely match or exceed his outrageous rookie-year production. (In case you forgot, that was 1,307 yards rushing while averaging an efficient five per carry, 91 catches, and 15 total touchdowns.)

What that means for the Giants is less clear. There are generally two kinds of fantasy league-MVP running backs: vital cogs in world-destroying offenses and one-man shows who single-handedly drag their teams to mediocrity.

In the first group, you have star RBs on juggernauts like Marshall Faulk on the Greatest Show on Turf Rams, Shaun Alexander on the 2005 Seahawks, LaDanian Tomlinson on the 2006 Chargers, and Todd Gurley on the 2018 Rams. Even if Eli Manning has a career resurgence or Daniel Jones is suddenly the second coming, the 2019 Giants will not be in that category. If the offense can stay on the field, keep the quarterback safe, and throw the ball well enough to stop opposing defenses from stacking the hell out of the box, that would be a success.

The best case for the Giants probably looks like the second category: OJ Simpson's 1975 season or Priest Holmes' 2002 season. OJ had 1,817 yards and 23 total touchdowns – in a 14-game season – for a Bills team that went 8-6 and missed the playoffs. Had fantasy existed then it'd be on the shortlist for the greatest fantasy season ever.

(For truly great running backs, fantasy dominance is not a bad shorthand for actual value. Tomlinson's '06 season is the No. 1 season of all time by Football Reference's Approximate Value metric, and Faulk's '99 season and Simpson's '75 are tied for second.)

There was fantasy in 2002, and Priest Holmes' performance that year is widely considered one of the best fantasy seasons of all time. He had 1,615 rushing yards and 24 total TDs for a Chiefs team that went 8-8 and finished last in the AFC West.

These are the templates for the best-case Giants seasons. Barkley's fantasy value is so high in part because the rest of the G-men's offensive options are so bad. What if he's not good enough to cover up for that? Considering that they've started 1-7 each of the last two years and had exactly one winning campaign since 2012, it's fair to ask if even an MVP-level Saquon could lift Big Blue to the middle of the NFL pack and the fringes of wild-card contention.

Even with the self-inflicted losses of Landon Collins and Odell Beckham, Jr., the answer to that question is ... maybe? While Vegas has the Giants coming in around five or six wins, there actually are some reasons to hope. After that 1-7 start, the team split the second half at 4-4, finishing 15th in Football Outsiders' comprehensive Weighted DVOA, ahead of the Eagles and Cowboys, who both made the playoffs. And by one measure, Pythagorean wins (expected wins based on point differential, basically), the Giants were the least-lucky team in the league.

A little change in luck and the same Saquon could have the Giants looking a lot like a mediocre team with one great player. Considering the post-Super Bowl years, Giant fans should be as elated with that as Barkley's fantasy owners will be.

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