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Giants still being second-guessed on Saquon Barkley pick: ‘The quarterback is everything’

Ralph Vacchiano | Facebook | Twitter | Archive

The Giants have no regrets about GM Dave Gettleman’s decision to pass on several potential franchise quarterbacks to take Saquon Barkley with the second pick in last year’s draft. Gettleman still believes Barkley is a “gold jacket” player. The Giants have no doubt he made the right call.

Around the league, though, it seems the jury is still out.

It’s not at all a knock against Barkley, who might be named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year on Saturday night. It’s more about the fact that the Giants passed on Sam Darnold, who looks like a rising star at quarterback for the Jets. Barkley is a rising star too, but the Giants still don’t have a quarterback of the future.

And that’s a problem many agree the Giants have to solve.

“Look, Barkley is fantastic, explosive, dynamic – everything he was advertised to be,” said one NFC executive. “This kid is probably already one of the best running backs in the league. But you don’t win in this league, in this era, without a quarterback.

“Do the Giants have one for two, three years down the road? I don’t know. I’m not sure they know either.”

Right now what the Giants have at quarterback is a 38-year-old starter in Eli Manning who is entering the final year of his contract, and who is likely to return for at least one more season as the starter. The Giants still believe Manning is good enough to lead them to the playoffs even though not everyone agrees. But even they know that time is running out on Manning’s career and they still don’t know who comes next.

“The problem is they have Barkley for five years, assuming he stays healthy, and that’s about what’s left in Odell Beckham‘s prime, too,” said an AFC general manager. “Those two could be as good a 1-2 punch as there is in the league.

“But they just wasted a year of their careers. If Manning struggles, they’ll waste another one. Then what? Another year or so waiting for a young quarterback to grow up?”

“The quarterback is everything,” added an NFC scout. “Maybe you don’t need a great quarterback to get to the Super Bowl, but you need one that’s playing great. A top running back is nice. But when’s the last time a running back led a team to a championship? How many championships did Barry Sanders win in his day?”

Video: Saquon Barkley’s historic rookie year by the numbers

The Giants understood the importance of a quarterback as well as anyone. It’s why they traded up in the 2004 draft for Manning even though they had Kerry Collins on their roster and in his prime. They felt that to really compete for a championship they needed to upgrade at that position. Two Super Bowl titles later, they obviously made the right call.

And they seriously considered the quarterbacks in last year’s draft too, but they never could come to a consensus in the organization on which one was best. They were all in agreement on Barkley being the best player, though. And he proved they were right by becoming just the third rookie in NFL history with more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage (1,307 rushing, 721 receiving).

But Darnold, whom they let slide to the Jets, “is the real deal” the scout said. He only completed 57.7 percent of his passes for 2,865 yards in 13 games, with 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, but he was terrific down the stretch. And the AFC GM insisted “he’s going to set the Jets up for a long, long time.”

Meanwhile, the Giants could be in what Gettleman once called “quarterback hell”.

“I don’t know what they’re going to do,” said another NFC executive. “Dwayne Haskins might not be as good as the four kids at the top of the draft last year. If they take him, he may need a few years to develop. Maybe they’ll fall in love with one of the other kids, but they all are risky. And now the Giants have to take one. They can’t push this off another year.”

So should they have taken Darnold last year instead? Gettleman was asked about that in his season-ending press conference and he was unflinching in his response.

“I respond to it by saying you’ve got to take the best player available,” Gettleman said. “If you start reaching, you’re going to get into trouble. I’ll say it again: Us taking Saquon was not a referendum on the quarterbacks. It was a referendum on Saquon – on the player he is, and on the person he is. 

“If I was in that situation 100 times, I’d draft him 100 times.”

So would a lot of other people around the league.

“I don’t think anyone would say they made a mistake,” the AFC GM said. “Barkley’s so good. Who wouldn’t want him? But they do have a quarterback problem that’s hard to avoid.”

“This really has nothing to do with Saquon,” one of the NFC executives added. “He’s going to be the best player to come out of that draft. But how many years is he going to be the best player on a team struggling to find a quarterback? That’s the question they have to answer.”

And they probably have to answer it soon.

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