NFL: Barkley or Darnold? The 2018 Draft Question Still Lingers for the Giants

Sam Darnold hands the ball off against the Washington Redskins.
Jets at Redskins 8/16/18

In the 2018 NFL Draft, the New York Giants had the chance to set the direction for the future of their franchise. They were coming off a highly disappointing 3-13 season the year before, in which Odell Beckham Jr. got injured early, and Eli Manning and the Giants struggled mightily over the course of the season. Their poor play put the Giants in unfamiliar territory, as they ended up with the second overall pick. 

The Giants had to decide whether or not they should use this coveted draft pick on their next franchise quarterback or on an impact player that could help them win immediately. They chose the latter, as they selected running back Saquon Barkley at two. After the Cleveland Browns selected Baker Mayfield with the first pick, the Giants could’ve chosen another quarterback from the draft class, such as Sam Darnold, Josh Allen or Josh Rosen. Instead, they chose to go with Barkley, who was one of the highest rated running backs in years. 

While many Giants fans were pleased with the acquisition of Barkley, some people were frustrated that they decided to stick with Eli for another year. Manning has shown significant regression since his second Super Bowl win in 2012, aside from a one-and-out playoff run in 2015. For some, the 39-year-old is washed and his tenure as the starter should’ve had run its course. These people argued that the Giants, having the second pick, should’ve drafted  Darnold. Many had Darnold as the top-rated quarterback heading into this draft.

Yet, the Giants decided to go with the generational talent at running back with their pick. While Barkley has done nothing but impress during his rookie campaign, there is no denying that having a franchise quarterback is more valuable, in terms of winning games, than a franchise running back.

Barkley can help a team win now, but the Giants were simply misguided if they thought that Eli was the quarterback that could lead them there. Saquon may very well end up being a Barry Sanders, Jim Brown-type of transcendent player–but it won’t matter if Darnold ends up being a franchise quarterback that is capable of winning Super Bowls.

Darnold has shown signs of brilliance during his short time with the New York Jets. With not much to work with at wide receiver, tight end and running back, Darnold has provided glimpses of greatness. Even behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league, he’s managed to keep his composure in the face of heat.

The 21-year-old is exceptionally well at maneuvering around the pocket and making ad-lib throws. However, Darnold has also made plenty of rookie mistakes. He leads all quarterbacks in interceptions this year, with 15 to his 12 touchdowns. Overall, with not much to work with, the 21-year-old has impressed many people with his raw talent and instincts.

Meanwhile, Barkley has smashed all expectations heading into his rookie season, posting historic numbers. Through 13 games, he has 1,124 yards and 9 touchdowns. He has also been a factor on the receiving end, as he’s compiled 629 yards and 4 touchdowns. His overall electric game has been a much-needed bolt in a stagnant Giant offense. He has the ability to run past, leap above, and push through almost any defender in the league. He’s third in the league in rushing yards as a rookie, and may very well end up winning the Rookie of the Year award. There is no doubt that Barkley can be one of the top running backs in the league over the next 10 years, as he is already one of the most explosive players at the position.

Nonetheless, the question remains if the Giants should’ve drafted him over Darnold. 10 years of an all-time running back is great, but 10-to-15 years of a potential franchise quarterback is even better. Both of their careers are obviously hypotheticals at the moment, but the intent of the NFL Draft is to think about the next 10-to-15 years, not just the next five, and ponder over every hypothetical. The decision to pass on drafting a potential franchise quarterback shows that the Giants still have faith that Eli Manning can win in the NFL.

Unfortunately for Manning,  evidence to the contrary has been there to see. While Manning has had a solid statistical year, posting a career-high 67 throwing percentage, he hasn’t been able to take full advantage of all of the weapons he has. With Barkley having the insane rookie year he’s having, as well as a healthy Odell, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram, Manning should be posting up amazing stats.

Eli’s never been the type of quarterback to post crazy offensive numbers, and as a result, the Giants are 5-8 this year. Furthermore, Manning has become completely immobile against the pass rush, which has led to him getting sacked repeatedly, leaving the Giants in tough offensive situations. 

The Giants are 26-38 since they drafted Beckham in 2014, (one of the best offensive weapons in the league,) and 42-45 since their Super Bowl victory in 2012. The numbers show that Eli is still an average quarterback, even with a top wide-receiver. Therefore, even with the offensive help and solid defense, Manning and the Giants are a below average team.

Although Odell has been sensational, the Giants are beginning to waste some of his prime years by keeping Eli in as quarterback. At some point, the Giants will have to realize that Eli Manning is not the future of the team anymore, and they need to start looking for the next franchise quarterback. They had the opportunity to do so in the last draft, but chose to stick with Manning for the foreseeable future. 

If the Giants’ plan was to pick the player that’d help them win immediately, then they made the right move by drafting Saquon. However, if Darnold or one of the other quarterbacks taken begin to win at a high level, then the Giants will regret their decision. There is a possibility that it works out for both the Jets and the Giants.

For the Jets, they got their franchise quarterback. For the Giants, they got their franchise running back–but the Giants will at least have to admit that they need to move on from Manning. If the Giants decide to pursue a top quarterback to replace Eli, whether it be in the draft or free agency, then the decision to draft Barkley won’t seem so bad.

Yet, the fact that the Giants aren’t a complete mess like last year, and have been competitive in many of their games this season, means that Manning will likely return in 2019. Basically, the Giants are stating that they’re accepting average play at quarterback. Barkley can, and probably will, have another great statistical year and Odell will astound many with his flashy catches.

The bottom line is that the Giants are passing up on moving on from Eli and upgrading their quarterback position. Because the truth is that Manning simply isn’t a top quarterback anymore. This truth is hard for many Giants fans to recognize, considering he won two Super Bowls, but it’s plain to see now if you watch what he does with the talent surrounding him.

Barkley, Darnold, the Giants and the Jets will forever be linked together from the fateful 2018 draft. The Giants and Jets were back-to-back in the draft, with both futures of their franchises on the line. The Giants decided to take one of the best running back talents in decades, which in turn meant that they’d stick with Eli. This left the quarter back-starved Jets with the opportunity to draft the best quarterback in the draft class, and a potential franchise guy.

The Giants’ decision to draft Barkley over Darnold will determine the future of New York football, for better or for worse, for both teams. It may very well be a win-win in the end.

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