Dynasty Football Factory

The Case FOR and AGAINST drafting Saquon Barkley

Saquon Barkley is experiencing a hype phenomenon not unlike what we see with every iPhone launch. People are lined up for the next big thing. Throwing their savings, hopes, dreams, and expectations onto a product, they know next-to-nothing about. But who cares? It’s fancy, has plenty of tools, and all the experts say he’s the hot ticket item.

Even as a cynic, it’s hard not to love Saquon Barkley. The last time we saw a Running Back with this much hype, Ezekiel Elliott stepped into the league and put up just under 2,000 total yards on his way to being the #2 overall RB. Last year, Leonard Fournette was also the conductor of his own hype train. He may have finished 8th overall, but he did that over 13 games and was on pace to be the RB4 if it wasn’t for injuries.

Now, we have potentially the most touted RB prospect in the last 10 years. What is his value? Where does he need to be drafted in redraft?

Well, since this is a question I’ve been trying to decide for myself, let’s dive deep on all the reasons FOR and AGAINST drafting Saquon Barkley at his current ADP of 7th overall (RB #6).

The Case FOR drafting Saquon Barkley

In short, here are some of the main points as to why I believe Barkley IS worth drafting at his ADP

  1. Possible generational talent
  2. Ended up in the best possible situation based on where he was projected to be drafted.
  3. Pat Shurmur’s offense will put him on full display
  4. 100% certain to be a workhorse back
  5. Pass-catching ability just as dangerous as his ground game
  6. Consistently produced from day one of college

Unbelievable Production

Saquon Barkley was built to dominate in the modern NFL.

Two years ago when Ezekiel Elliott hit the scene, it was his legs that got him the hype. While Barkley didn’t put up the same YPC numbers Zeke did in college, he managed a career 5.8 YPC in college. Where Barkley shreds Zeke (and almost every other college back ever) was in his receiving prowess. Barkley caught 54 passes for 632 yards in his Junior season, which made up about 33% of his total production. In today’s NFL, where the elite fantasy RBs are churning up defenses with their pass-catching, Barkley will fit right in.

While at Penn State, Barkley set records for most rushing TD in a career, most yards by a freshman and most yards by a sophomore. He kept himself out of trouble and was, by all accounts, a dedicated and passionate athlete. He showed that he could be leaned on in any situation or pressure and still put up results.

At the combine, Barkley found a whole new stratosphere to rise above. He blazed to a 4.40 40-yard dash time, he managed 29 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press (tied for the lead amongst RBs) and had a 41-inch vertical jump (best amongst RBs).

Say what you want about the NFL combine, but Saquon showed up as the top RB prospect and completely dominated. He certainly looks like a star.

2018 Season Situation

Honestly, aside from the Steelers trading LeVeon Bell to move up and select Barkley, could his situation have been much better?

The Giants are perhaps not the biggest offensive juggernaut in the league, but they have more than enough receiving options to keep opposing defenses from zeroing in on him alone. He also doesn’t fall into any sort of RB controversy and should have the job completely to himself. He’s more than likely going to see over 300 touches this season, and is even a candidate for overall RB1 production, especially in PPR.

You could see Barkley’s pairing with Eli Manning as a negative. Manning attempts a higher-than-average number of pass attempts per season. The Giants posted the fourth-highest pass ratio in the NFL last year, attempting passes on 62.58% of their plays. Now, this would be bad news for a guy like backup Jonathon Stewart. But Saquon, as mentioned, is a pass-catching Maven. Even with Evan Engram’s presence on short passes, Barkley could easily see 80 targets this year to add to his likely 25 rushes per game, and he’ll be absolute money.

Let’s not forget that he’ll have his plays called by Pat Shurmur. A man who has an impressive history of getting the most out of his players, especially Running Backs. He squeezed the most out of Trent Richardson’s rookie season and made him the overall RB8 in fantasy, something Richardson never did again.

In 2013, Shurmur’s first year as Offensive Coordinator for the Eagles, LeSean McCoy emerged as the overall fantasy RB2 in Philly after a disappointing 2012. When Shurmur took over as the Offensive coordinator for the Vikings full-time in 2017, he led Dalvin Cook to an amazing start before his injury and then turned Jerrick McKinnon into a fantasy asset.

Shurmur also employs a style of play-calling that favors Barkley’s skill set. His West Coast/Spread offense focuses on high percentage passes, which will put the ball in Saquon’s hand’s plenty. If that weren’t enough, under Shurmur in 2017, the Vikings attempted the second most rushing attempts in the league. Wow. Shurmur’s presence as the head coach and primary offensive play-caller will be a plus for Barkley

The Giants strength of schedule is one knock on Barkley’s 2018 outlook, as the Giants face the second-most difficult RB schedule. However, his role in the passing game should help him grind through those tough matchups, as the Giants schedule is far easier from a passing-game perspective. Plus, he gets the Colts in fantasy championship week, which is a mouth-watering prospect.

Historical Success of Highly-Touted Prospects

Yes, he will draw comparisons to Ki-Jana Carter, Reggie Bush, and Trent Richardson. But with the evolution of the NFL over the last five years and a focus on all-around backs who can support high volume, it’s likely that he falls more into the vein of the Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette crowd.

The Giants thought highly enough of Barkley that they bucked all conventional wisdom to get him. Yes, Manning needs to be replaced. But when a potential generational talent comes your way, drafting for need goes out the window. The Browns could end up regretting this one for a long time, as Browns will do.

Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, and Leonard Fournette are all recent top RB draft picks that had success because their teams didn’t have a solid running game. They were also teams with a decent, growing passing game, except perhaps Gurley, who had the quietest rookie season of all three backs. Barkley gets to have the type of rookie season that Zeke and Fournette had, and Zeke and Fournette finished as the #2 and #8 RBs in standard scoring in their respective rookie seasons. Fournette actually was paced for RB4, but due to injury, he came up short.

If Barkley does get the volume that Zeke and Fournette saw in their rookie seasons, he’ll be a Top 5 RB. Therefore he will be a value at his RB7 ADP.

Conclusion

Fantasy football is always a gamble. You can sit amongst the crowd of safe thinkers and go for the Kareem Hunt or Melvin Gordon route. Or you can roll the dice on a rookie.

Rookie RBs are a different beast in today’s NFL. In 2017, Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara all surpassed their ADP. In 2016, Zeke surpassed his ADP of RB3 to become the RB2, and in 2015 Todd Gurley surpassed his ADP.

The Rookie RB needle is pointing up, and Saquon Barkley stands at the very top of the mountain, ready to shred his RB6 ADP and carry your fantasy team to glory.

The Case AGAINST drafting Saquon Barkley

I hate to rain on your parade, but there are just as many reasons NOT to draft Saquon as there are to draft him. In short, here are some of the reasons why he’s not worth his ADP:

  1. Recency Bias has driven up the value of ALL rookies, especially Saquon
  2. His game still needs work to fit the NFL style. Can’t go for home runs every touch
  3. First RB drafted rarely ends up having the best rookie season OR career.
  4. Some disturbing advanced statistics
  5. His schedule is extremely difficult
  6. Racked up a lot of mileage in college

Let’s dive right in with a little more detail, shall we?

Highly Touted Prospects = Hit and Miss

Look, I know we are all excited. But it has to be kept in mind that nobody, not even NFL scouts, truly know how a player is going to adjust to the NFL. The Running Back position has been no stranger to busts. I could go for the low hanging fruit and mention Ki-Jana Carter, Lawrence Phillips, Curtis Enis, etc. But let’s take a look at ALL top RB draft picks over a longer period.

Since 1998 (20 seasons), the top drafted RB ended up with the best rookie season (fantasy points) 7 times. Which equates to 35% of the time. For you dynasty guys, this ends up happening seven times as well.

10 of the 20 seasons, the top drafted RB was taken with a Top 5 pick. Those RBs were the top scorer in their rookie season 4 times (40%) and had the best career just three times, or 30%.

Granted, there are players like Willis McGahee and Steven Jackson who wouldn’t have been top fantasy picks due to injury and having an incumbent starter well ahead of them. But the fact remains that highly touted RB prospects are far from being a lock to produce right away.

But, thanks to Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, etc. Owners have been blinded with recency bias that tells them that going for a rookie RB is somehow some sort of no-doubt pick.

Football is a game of heroes and busts. There is NO tried and true method of finding each. We all do our best, but Barkley’s potential is a complete unknown, unlike the proven guys being drafted after him.

Troubling Analytics Results

Saquon Barkley may very well be an impressive physical specimen, but he lacks some tools and pedigrees that fantasy owners should be looking for.

Before the draft, playerprofiler.com did an impressive look at why the Browns shouldn’t select Barkley. In it, they mention Barkley’s lack of dominance at the college level despite what you’ve been led to believe. Credit to playerprofiler.com for the table below.

 

College Dominator Rating is essentially a measurement of how much a player affected the success of his team’s offensive success in college. A score of 35% or more is generally thought to be a probable RB1, while 20 – 34.9% is a player who is decent with some upside. Barkley scores a 32.2%, which falls on the suspect side of things.

Another great group of statistics, this time from SBnation.com, shows that Saquon Barkley could struggle to hit elite RB1 numbers in the NFL. Marginal efficiency is a stat that showcases how often a player exceeds the expected result for a given play based on down, distance, etc. Barkley scores a 0.6%, which is the worst number of any of the backs drafted in the first three rounds. Then, when you get to the NFL, it gets even more difficult. As shown in the table below, not a single RB selected since 2010 has improved on their college percentage when jumping to the NFL.

Advanced statistics are invaluable when forecasting the effectiveness of any player. In Barkley’s case, it is certainly not ALL sunshine and roses.

Conclusion

Barkley is riding the crest of a wave that is bound to crash. Rookie RB values have inflated themselves to a level that has just not been seen in fantasy football. It has gotten past the point of value, and we’re into gambling territory without a doubt.

Taking Barkley, a potential Top 5 RB, at the same ADP that you could grab no-doubt Top 5 WRs Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins is ridiculous. Hell, Barkley’s teammate OBJ is being drafted behind him despite four proven seasons of elite play.

Take my word for it, Barkley is not worth drafting at his current ADP.

Is Barkley Worth Picking At His ADP?

This was one the toughest decision so far in this series. But after deliberating for quite some time I think I have an answer.

Saquon Barkley is not worth picking at his current ADP… However, I will likely be one of the people who gamble on him if the situation is right.

The reason why I will be taking a stab at him is volume. Despite the deeper analytics not telling the greatest story, what matters most to me is the number of opportunities Barkley will get. He is going to get opportunities, possibly as many touches as Zeke did in his first year. Maybe even more. With that number of touches, he’ll have every opportunity to succeed. He might not pass the geek test as well as some other backs, but he will be a fantasy asset.

Throughout college, Barkley consistently ranked at the top of his class when it came to “Big Plays”. That’s his game. If he is seeing 30+ touches per game, then he is going to be able to find those home runs.

See, the thing is, the stats I listed in my reasons NOT to draft Barkley speaks more to why the Giants shouldn’t have invested a 2nd overall pick in an RB. But they don’t actually suggest Barkley can’t be a stud at the NFL level.

To be crystal clear, it is not wise to take Barkley in the middle of the first. Especially when you could be taking AB or Hopkins, or even a more proven RB. But, if I get a chance to nab Barkley with the 1.10 after AB and Hopkins are gone, then you better believe I’m going to roll those dice.


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mlawson

@DFF_MitchLawson / Writer, Editor & Analyst for @DFF_Redraft & @DFF_Dynasty. #DFFArmy #FantasyFootball. Canadian. Occasionally witty, stay tuned

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