Over the past few weeks we’ve received a bunch of emails from Giants fans asking if we think the season-ending knee injury suffered by Saquon Barkley is the final proof that taking him with the 2nd pick overall in 2018 was a big mistake. To paraphrase the apparent thinking ‘sure Saquon was the best player available, but taking a RB that early just didn’t reflect positional value.’ The consensus also appears to be that the Giants should have taken former Notre Dame OG Quentin Nelson, who was ultimately selected with the 6th pick by Indianapolis, at that spot.
Truth be told, we are something of an agnostic when it comes to Barkley or Nelson; they’re both really good players. But we are a numbers guy who is always looking for data/evidence to make better sense of draft decisions. In that context, we wondered what past trends said about the positional value of a RB versus OG when it comes to premium draft picks.
To operationalize the exercise we decided to try and compare how many RBs were taken with top 5 picks over the ten drafts prior to the Barkley/Nelson picks compared with the figure for OGs. Note too that we decided to only count OGs who both played the position in college and were ticketed inside at the next level. That meant that technically Brandon Scherff who was selected by Washington with the 5th pick in 2015 didn’t count as he actually played LT at Iowa.
For the record, in the ten drafts between 2008 and 2017, a total of 4 RBs were selected with a top 5 pick. On the other hand, other than Scherff, there were no OGs taken with a top 5 in that period. In fact, only one OG – Jonathan Cooper who was selected 7th overall by Arizona in 2013 – was even chosen with a top ten selection in that period.
And that begged the question when, in fact, was the last OG selected with a top five pick? So we carried on. In fact, over the next decade, no OG was taken among the first ten players off the board between 1998 and 2007.
So we carried on. We got down to 1990 and still no OGs taken with a top 5 pick. It was at that moment that the thought hit us: ‘OMG you are not going to tell me that the last OG taken with a top 5 pick was John Hicks!’ So we carried. Nada again in the 1980s. At that point, we’d pretty much convinced ourself that it was going to be John Hicks! But it wasn’t. In fact, Indianapolis chose former North Carolina OG Ken Huff with the 3rd pick in 1975, the year after the Giants had taken Hicks, the former Ohio State All-American, also with the 3rd pick. And just for the record, one has to go back another decade to find the last OG selected as early as the 2nd pick.
Not sure what it all means, other than its really tough to make the case that the Giants should have taken Nelson with the second pick in 2018 because of greater positional value. One could probably make the positional value argument with DE Bradley Chubb, who Denver took at #5, although the fact that he tore up his knee and missed almost all the 2019 season, kind of blows that argument. And I suppose if one wanted to play revisionist history, the Giants could have taken QB Josh Allen there, but that would just prove once again that hindsight makes geniuses of us all.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a case to be made for taking Nelson. There’s a case, but it’s the same case as for Barkley. And that is that Nelson was a terrific prospect who would have been good value at that spot. However, we’ve talked to people around the league and still haven’t come across anyone who would have taken Nelson over Barkley. Fact is that no matter how good an OG is, he’s still an OG and just isn’t going to make the kind of impact plays that change plays.
If I do have a criticism of the Barkley pick, it’s that the Giants themselves often seem to have misinterpreted what they got in #26. They didn’t take Barkley because they were looking for a RB; they took him because he was the most explosive, dynamic big-play offensive threat to come to the draft in years.
But then successive coaching administrations appear to have taken the approach that ‘great we’ve got an ace RB, let’s run the ball!’ However, Barkley’s never really been a traditional back who’s going to grind out 4-5 yards a pop. The NFL is loaded with RBs like that. What Barkley is a big-play guy with the potential to rip off 45-50 yards every time he touches the ball. And there are very few guys in the league like that.
This file is sub-titled ‘Thinking Outside the Big Blue Box!’ So to follow the script it is our perception is that the real value of a player like Saquon Barkley is not that he’s going to run for 1,500 yards and catch 90 passes for another 1,000 yards, but that the threat that he will run for 1,500 yards and catch 90 passes for another 1,000 yards is going to force other teams to bring extra guys up into the box to try and defend against that threat. And within the concept of complimentary football, that should open up all kinds of other opportunities for the passing game to make plays downfield.
As such, you are theoretically going to be awfully difficult to defend against because if other teams then back off, you hit them with some Saquon. In fact, Barkley doesn’t need blocking; he just needs a little space. Instead, what the Giants appear to have done the past couple of years, including the one game this fall, is try and keep hammering him into 9-10 man boxes until their heads hurt!
Now we just hope that Saquon can come back at close to 100% next fall.
Closing comments: Please don’t send any of those ‘you’re just covering for Dave Gettleman’ commentaries. I personally don’t think he’s done a very good job at all and I’ll have more to say on that going forward. However, criticizing him for taking the best player in a draft isn’t one of them. … Mentioned Buffalo QB Josh Allen above. Several people have asked me where I think Daniel Jones is so far this year. My answer is right around where Allen was at this time last year, early in his second season. Of course, there are no guarantees that DJ makes the same jump that Allen did in his third season, but let’s give the kid a chance.
Have a great weekend. And to all our fellow Canucksters, Happy Thanksgiving, just keep it small!!