EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants passed on an heir apparent to two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning and took a running back that many think is the best to come out of college in decade.
The Giants selected Penn State’s Saquon Barkley with the second pick overall, a player many football experts consider the best running back to enter the NFL since Adrian Peterson came out of Oklahoma in 2007.
Barkley, who entered the draft after his junior season, has all the ingredients to become a great. He has quickness, speed, strength, character and can pass protect. He also can catch and is a dynamic returner, although the Giants don’t plan on using him as the top returner.
Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said he hasn’t seen a player like Barkley in almost three decades. He has the speed and feet of the little guy with the power and strength of a big guy.
“This kid makes our quarterback better,” Gettleman said. “He makes our wide receivers better. He makes our O-line better. He makes our defense better because we’ll have a much stronger ability to hold the ball. He is a great kid and he is going to be great for our culture. He was the unanimous best player in the draft.”
The Giants didn’t take long to make their selection once the Cleveland Browns took Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield at No. 1.
Gettleman quipped he would have made the pick sooner but the league mandates teams wait five minutes before picking.
“At the end of the day, a great player is a great player,” said Gettleman, who called the pick easy. “He is a touchdown maker. He is a threat to take it to the house every time he gets his hands on the ball.”
The Giants need help, coming off a 3-13 season that cost coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese their jobs.
Drafting Barkley gives new coach Pat Shurmur a player who can do it all, while showing the Giants believe the 37-year-old Manning has more in the tank.
“He is our quarterback, we believe in him,” Gettleman said of Manning. “He threw the hell out of the ball for three days [in minicamp]. He has not lost one bit of arm strength.”
Shurmur expects Barkley to be an every-down player, but first he has to learn the offense, which is more diverse than the one Penn State employed.
“If he is the best Saquon he can be, then he will find his way into the lineup and he will find a way to help lead this team,” Shurmur said. “That’s the challenge for him.”
Gettleman expects Barkley to meet the challenge. He recalled watching video of a game earlier this season when he got to the second level and was confronted by two linebackers and a safety. He put together three moves and left them in the dust.
“I watched it and saw all the other stuff and just put the clicker down and went to the next guy,” Gettleman said.
He’d seen enough.
By the time Barkley spoke to reporters in New Jersey in a conference call, he had received welcoming texts from Manning and receiver Odell Beckham Jr., whom he had recently trained with in Los Angeles. He said he felt at home after his visit with the Giants.
“I know that I have to work my butt off every single day to get to where I want to go,” Barkley said. “And it’s not going to happen in one day. It’s going to take baby steps and it’s going to take a long trip up that mountain, but every single day I’m willing to work.”
In three seasons, Barkley finished as Penn State’s second all-time leading rusher with 3,843 yards, including 1,271 this past season when he scored 138 points. He had 18 rushing touchdowns, pushing his career total to school-record 43. His 53 overall touchdowns also are a school record.
Coming out of the backfield, he had 54 receptions this past season. His 1,195 career yards receiving is a school record for a running back.
Barkley ended his career as the school’s career all-purpose yards leader with 5,538 yards.
Orleans Darkwa led the Giants with 751 yards rushing in 2017, running behind a weak offense line.
By the way, the last time the Giants had the No. 2 overall pick was in 1981. The late George Young selected Lawrence Taylor.