NFL player prop debate: Saquon Barkley's rushing total is far less than 1,000 yards

·3 min read

Saquon Barkley's career was going very well.

He was one of the most hyped running back prospects ever out of Penn State. Even if no running back should go second overall anymore in the modern NFL, at least he was a blue-chip player. The New York Giants didn't regret the pick in 2018, when Barkley had 2,028 total yards and won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Barkley had a good follow-up season in 2019 as well, though injuries limited him a bit.

Then in 2020 Barkley tore his ACL, and he hasn't been the same since.

Barkley had a rough 2021, with just 593 rushing yards in 13 games. He was outplayed on his own team in many ways by journeyman Devontae Booker. Barkley's lack of explosion was hard to miss.

But that might mean a buying opportunity. Barkley's rushing yardage total at BetMGM this season is just 900.5. That's pretty low for an unquestioned starting running back with Barkley's pedigree.

The case for the over on Saquon Barkley's rushing yards

Barkley has been a fast riser in fantasy drafts, mostly because of positive reports on his health.

Another year removed from that ACL surgery, beat reporters, teammates and coaches at Giants camp have all noted how explosive Barkley looks. Clearly, the Giants want Barkley to be a centerpiece of the offense.

There's very little behind Barkley on the depth chart aside from Matt Breida, a talented veteran who rarely stays healthy. This is the last year of Barkley's contract so there's little reason for the Giants to hold back on his workload, and it's not like they'll want to voluntarily force anyone else snaps at running back.

Barkley is reportedly healthier than he has been in a while, with no back on the roster that should cut into his playing time. With even a little health, he should get over 900.5 yards rushing. Fantasy players think that'll happen.

New York Giants' Saquon Barkley is coming off a rough 2021 season. (Winslow Townson/AP Images for Panini)
New York Giants' Saquon Barkley is coming off a rough 2021 season. (Winslow Townson/AP Images for Panini)

The case for the under on Barkley's rushing yards

It's injuries. Barkley missed three games in 2019, 14 games in 2020 and four games in 2021. Barkley might not be at a level anymore in which he can miss a few games and get more than 900 yards rushing. He has 1,630 rushing yards on 398 over the past three seasons combined. He had just 592 rushing yards last season, and even over 17 games that was just a 775-yard pace.

For Barkley, 900.5 yards seems low. But he wasn't on that pace last season, has missed significant time in three of his last four seasons, and we're blindly buying into positive training camp reports on his explosiveness. Barkley hasn't been a great back since at least 2019, arguably 2018, and he looked sluggish last season.

Those betting on the over are probably doing it more for Barkley's reputation than his recent production. That's rarely a good idea.

The verdict

I'll take a tepid over on Barkley. He is in a contract year so there's a lot on the line for him. It does make sense he'd look better physically this year, and at 25 he's still at a prime age, even for a running back.

Mostly, 900.5 yards for a starting running back in the NFL isn't too high of a bar to cross. It's about 53 rushing yards per game. Barkley has virtually no competition, should get a healthy workload (he was at 61 percent last season and that should rise) and he does have talent. He just hasn't been able to get fully healthy in a while, and that's the biggest concern for taking the over. If you could guaranteed Barkley would play 17 games, the over would be easy.

But it's never that easy in the betting world. It's definitely not that easy figuring out what to do with Barkley this season.