EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — When the Giants drafted Saquon Barkley, they believed they were getting a player with what GM Dave Gettleman called “gold-jacket potential” and one who he added was “touched by the hand of God.” The 21-year-old still has a ways to go, of course, to live up to those lofty descriptions.
But one thing is clear by now: When the Giants drafted Barkley, they drafted the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.
With six games still to go, this race is basically over and it really hasn’t been very close all along. Barkley has been by far the best rookie in the NFL this season and is miles ahead of everyone on the offensive side of the ball. When the votes are tallied after this season he should win it unanimously. And if he doesn’t, there is really something wrong.
Barkley, through 10 games, is seventh in the NFL with 728 yards rushing, the best of any rookie (though Denver’s Phillip Lindsay with 670 and Detroit’s Kerryon Johnson at 641 are close behind). When his receiving totals — 64 catches for 540 yards — are factored in, he shoots far ahead of the competition at running back. In fact, he’s 12th overall in the NFL in catches. No rookie receiver is even close.
Add in the fact that he’s running behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, that he’s had to carry the Giants’ offense at times and that his moves and breakaway runs are just spectacular, and it’s hard to see any other rookie as serious competition.
That said, here’s a look at the other rookies who could be in the competition, and how far behind Barkley they really are:
QB Baker Mayfield, Browns
He’s shaping up to have the best season of the four quarterbacks drafted in the top 10, having completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,984 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his first 7 1/2 games. And he seems to be improving, having completed 85 percent of his passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Atlanta two weeks ago. In fact, in the last four games he’s thrown for nine touchdowns and just two interceptions, a startling ratio for a rookie. If he stays hot down the stretch and the Browns actually start winning, maybe he could earn himself a vote or two by the end.
RB Phillip Lindsay, Broncos
The undrafted rookie out of Colorado is the second best rookie running back in the league at the moment, but his numbers are so far behind Barkley he doesn’t have much of a shot. His 670 rushing yards and 24 catches for 187 yards are impressive, and he’ll benefit from becoming the main back in the Broncos’ rotation. But there isn’t nearly enough time for him to catch up.
WR Calvin Ridley, Falcons
Ridley looked like he might be competition early in the season, especially after his big Week 3 game against the New Orleans Saints (7-146-3) and a two-touchdown game one week later. But as the Falcons struggled and Julio Jones re-emerged, his numbers took a hit. His 47 catches for 625 yards and eight touchdowns are good overall, but 15-239-4 of that came in two games against New Orleans. Against everyone else, he’s just OK.
RB Kerryon Johnson, Lions
Limited use (six games with 12 or fewer carries) and a knee injury that kept him out on Thanksgiving will hurt him, especially since he can’t put up enough numbers to compare to Barkley. He is the Lions’ top back and a middling threat to be a receiver out of the backfield, but they’d have to use him a ton more down the stretch.
RB Nick Chubb, Browns
He burst onto everyone’s radar with a 92-yard touchdown two weeks ago and 176 rushing yards. If he has a strong finish now that he’s the Browns’ No. 1 running back, he’ll open some eyes, but he’ll never make up for the fact that he carried just 16 times in the first six games (even though he gained 105 yards and ran for two touchdowns on three carries in one of them).
QB Sam Darnold, Jets
At this point it would take a quick recovery from his foot injury and a huge finish, because his numbers just aren’t good (55 percent completion percentage, 1,934 yards, 11 touchdowns, 14 interceptions). Considering his inferior team, he could generate some buzz if he does have a big finish. But with the lack of offensive weapons on the Jets, that seems implausible. At this point, even the Jets are just hoping for a return to positive signs.