Saquon Barkley, while training for the NFL Scouting Combine, opted to work out in Orlando, and saw players who were preparing for the Pro Bowl gathering in that central Florida city. Such proximity to the NFL elite prompted Barkley to consider what might become of him.
“I remember saying in the back of [my] head, ‘You want to be here one day,’’’ Barkley said Wednesday. “To be able to accomplish that as a rookie definitely means a lot. But you couldn’t do that by yourself. You got to give credit to your teammates and the coaches in this building also.’’
Yes, indeed, Barkley as a rookie is headed to the Pro Bowl in Orlando, voted in based on a poll of fans, coaches and NFL players. Barkley’s head coach, Pat Shurmur, was not yet born the last time a Giants rookie running back was so honored. The last time it happened was 53 years ago — Tucker Frederickson in 1965.
Clearly, this was a goal for Barkley and he has not fallen short of anything in his first NFL season, other than the Giants failing to qualify for the playoffs as they take a record of 5-9 into Sunday’s game with the Colts in Indianapolis. It has been a full workload, but Barkley has no interest whatsoever in easing off the accelerator in the final two games.
“I hope my workload is whatever it is to help the team win,’’ Barkley said. “Obviously I would never want my workload to decrease. I know people probably think that because we’re technically eliminated from the playoffs that what are we playing for, but I don’t see it that way at all.
“We got two games left in our season, two games left for the rest of this year with the guys on your team, with the guys you worked your tails off with to get to this point. You got to go out there and you got to continue to fight, obviously for yourself and the competitive nature that you have, and your teammates. I would love my workload to be whatever it can be to help the team win. If that’s 10 carries or if that’s 40 touches.’’
Barkley has 223 rushing attempts this season and it looks as if he will lead the team in receptions. He has 82 and has surged ahead of Odell Beckham Jr., who has 77 catches and will likely end up missing the final four games of the season, as his quad contusion is showing little or no improvement.
Barkley did not have a strong game in the 17-0 loss to the Titans, but he was on the field for all 65 offensive snaps, an uncommon occurrence for a running back. A case can be made to dial back Barkley just a bit in these final two games, as he is the youngest (21) player on the roster and there is no sense in subjecting his rock-hard 233-pound body to unnecessary pounding, given the significance of the games and the importance of Barkley to the future of the franchise.
This is not a case Shurmur is making.
“Yeah, the big picture is to win this game,’’ Shurmur said. “The big picture is certainly moving forward, but certainly, listen, this is a dangerous game at times, but guys are very competitive and they want to go out and play, and I think it’s important that guys that are healthy enough to play, play.’’
Barkley is healthy enough to play. In fact, he has traversed through his rookie year without any setbacks since the regular season began, despite defensive players trying to get shots at him on a weekly basis, as Barkley does not often steer away from contact.
“Physically I feel pretty good,’’ he said. “I’m not gonna sit here and lie to you and say I feel 100 percent. No one feels 100 percent at this point, that’s just the nature of the game. That’s where you got to grind it out and continue to stick with your routine and try to come in Sunday as best as you can be to help your team win.’’
Shurmur said he and the training staff keep tabs on Barkley and every other player and would decrease the workload if Barkley was showing wear and tear. There are no signs of that.
“I think he’s holding up very well,’’ Shurmur said. “He’s a very physical guy, in very good shape, he’s obviously super talented. We’re just keeping track and monitoring him and encouraging him to do all the things necessary so he can get ready to go. And he’s done a good job with that.’’