The hype for Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley went from large to gigantic in his NFL preseason debut Thursday night. The second overall pick in this year’s draft needed only his first touch to make that happen.
Barkley got two series in the first quarter against the Browns. Four of his carries totaled 4 yards from scrimmage, but the focus should be on his game-opening 39-yard cutback burst through the line and down the right sideline.
The Giants drafted him exactly for everything he showed on that play: patience, vision, exceptionally quick feet and home-run speed. It was also an indication that their three big offseason additions to the offensive line mesh well with his running style.
Left tackle Nate Solder, who had an off 2017 in pass protection with the Patriots, remains a mauler in the rushing attack. He slammed the door shut on last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Myles Garrett.
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Left guard Will Hernandez, the Giants’ second-round pick after Barkley, delivered the nastiness and aggressiveness that was missing up front last season. Right guard Patrick Omameh showed the athleticism that made him effective in helping Leonard Fournette have a big rookie season for the Jaguars.
Even tight end Evan Engram, the Giants’ first-rounder in ’17 who has been much maligned as a run blocker, held his own on the play, teaming with second tight end Rhett Ellison to support Omameh. They were needed, because right tackle Ereck Flowers, the team’s 2015 first-rounder, remained the weakest link.
The blocking is one thing; the instincts and innate breakaway ability are other things. The Giants gave Barkley an improved setup that their messy committee of backs didn’t get often last year, and he immediately responded with a big play. He also showed his toughness in bouncing off contact to create space in the open field.
On the other runs, Barkley got perhaps too hungry for another home run and the Browns’ defensive speed, faster than anything he saw at Penn State, was able to cut him off before he could really get started The Giants will live with some dancing, given that Barkley’s competitiveness will help him in grinding out yardage when needed between the tackles.
Barkley won’t face any stacked boxes when a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. is flanking Sterling Shepard at wide receiver. Look for new coach Pat Shurmur and offensive coordinator Mike Shula to employ plenty more two-receiver, two-tight end sets, where Engram can essentially serve as a slot receiver while Ellison can take pressure off him and Flowers.
Barkley is an extremely talented player, but that doesn’t mean much without the proper execution. It’s clear the Giants have a good plan to execute and ensure he has a great rookie year.