Saquon Barkley’s lofty sta­tus in fan­tasy foot­ball not an in­di­ca­tor when games mat­ter.

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - BY DEN­NIS YOUNG

Saquon Barkley is the con­sen­sus No. 1 pick across ev­ery pop­u­lar fan­tasy foot­ball league and for­mat, ac­cord­ing to Fan­ta­syPros. Fan­tasy own­ers with the top pick in their drafts should bank on a strong sea­son.

Gi­ant fans shouldn’t.

Even without Odell Beck­ham Jr. (or Golden Tate, or Sterling Shep­ard, or any pass-catcher you’ve ever heard of ) to stop de­fenses from stack­ing the box, Barkley will prob­a­bly be worth it for fan­tasy play­ers. He rushed for 1,307 yards and scored 15 to­tal touch­downs be­hind last year’s por­ous of­fen­sive line, and the Gi­ants have shored up their block­ing by ac­quir­ing Kevin Zeitler and Mike Rem­mers.

An­other in­di­ca­tor in Barkley’s fa­vor is that on av­er­age, the No. 1 pick in a fan­tasy draft ends up be­ing the most valu­able player in it, and by a sig­nif­i­cant mar­gin. It’s safe to bet that Saquon will likely match or ex­ceed his out­ra­geous rook­ieyear pro­duc­tion. (In case you for­got, that was 1,307 yards rush­ing while av­er­ag­ing an ef­fi­cient five per carry, 91 catches, and 15 to­tal touch­downs.)

There are gen­er­ally two kinds of fan­tasy league-MVP run­ning backs: vi­tal cogs in world-de­stroy­ing of­fenses and one-man shows who sin­gle-hand­edly drag their teams to medi­ocrity.

In the first group, you have star RBs on jug­ger­nauts like Mar­shall Faulk on the Great­est Show on Turf Rams, Shaun Alexan­der on the 2005 Sea­hawks, LaDa­nian Tom­lin­son on the 2006 Charg­ers, and Todd Gur­ley on the 2018 Rams. Even if Eli Man­ning turns back time or Daniel Jones is sud­denly the se­cond com­ing, the 2019 Gi­ants will not be in that cat­e­gory. If the of­fense can stay on the field, keep the quar­ter­back safe, and throw the ball well enough to stop op­pos­ing de­fenses from stack­ing the hell out of the box, that would be a suc­cess.

The best case for the Gi­ants prob­a­bly looks like the se­cond cat­e­gory: OJ Simp­son’s 1975 sea­son or Priest Holmes’ 2002 sea­son. OJ had 1,817 yards and 23 to­tal touch­downs — in a 14game sea­son — for a Bills team that went 8-6 and missed the play­offs. Had fan­tasy ex­isted then it’d be on the short­list for the great­est fan­tasy sea­son ever.

(For truly great run­ning backs, fan­tasy dom­i­nance is not a bad short­hand for ac­tual value. Tom­lin­son’s ‘06 sea­son is the No. 1 sea­son of all time by Foot­ball Ref­er­ence’s Ap­prox­i­mate Value met­ric, and Faulk’s ‘99 sea­son and Simp­son’s ‘75 are tied for se­cond.)

There was fan­tasy in 2002, and Priest Holmes’ per­for­mance that year is widely con­sid­ered one of the best fan­tasy sea­sons of all time. He had 1,615 rush­ing yards and 24 to­tal TDs for a Chiefs team that went 8-8 and fin­ished last in the AFC West.

Th­ese are the tem­plates for the best-case Gi­ants sea­sons. Barkley’s fan­tasy value is so high in part be­cause the rest of the G-men’s of­fen­sive op­tions are so bad. What if he’s not good enough to cover up for that? Con­sid­er­ing that they’ve started 1-7 each of the last two years and had ex­actly one win­ning cam­paign since 2012, it’s fair to ask if even an MVP-level Saquon could lift Big Blue to the mid­dle of the NFL pack and the fringes of wild-card con­tention.

Even with the self-in­flicted losses of Lan­don Collins and Odell Beck­ham, Jr., the answer to that ques­tion is … maybe? While Ve­gas has the Gi­ants com­ing in around five or six wins, there ac­tu­ally are some rea­sons to hope. After that 1-7 start, the team split the se­cond half at 4-4, fin­ish­ing 15th in Foot­ball Out­siders’ com­pre­hen­sive Weighted DVOA, ahead of the Ea­gles and Cow­boys, who both made the play­offs. And by one mea­sure, Pythagorea­n wins (ex­pected wins based on point dif­fer­en­tial, ba­si­cally), the Gi­ants were the least-lucky team in the league.

A lit­tle change in luck and the same Saquon could have the Gi­ants look­ing a lot like a medi­ocre team with one great player. Con­sid­er­ing the post-Su­per Bowl years, Gi­ant fans should be as elated with that as Barkley’s fan­tasy own­ers will be.

ERNIE LONG/THE MORN­ING CALL

Saquon Barkley is the dar­ling of many fan­tasy foot­ball magazines.

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