As a rookie in 2018, Saquon Barkley took the NFL by storm, ranking as the RB1 in PPR and RB2 in standard. Since then, he’s missed 17 games over the past two seasons, dealing with ankle, hamstring, and knee injuries. However, as one of the best running back prospects the league has ever seen, he’s still a hot fantasy commodity dispite his recent issues, including a slow return to the field in 2021 after a torn ACL the year before.
Many expect him to bounce back just fine and regain his place as one of the premier players in fantasy football, but when will he be at 100 percent? And if he’s not fully healthy early in 2021, where should he be drafted?
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Put even more bluntly: Should you take Barkley in the first round? And if you do, where in the first round is the appropriate spot?
Note: It’s important to remember — it’s your fantasy draft. If you feel strongly about Barkley, take him. If you hate his prospects, fade him. Just be sure to know all the possible factors and most recent news surrounding his outlook.
Saquon Barkley current and past injury news
DraftSharks lists four significant injuries on Barkley’s rap sheet since he entered the league — three of them causing missed games. In 2019, he suffered a high ankle sprain that cost him three games. In ’20, he tore his ACL and sprained his MCL in Week 2, resulting in a lost season and 14 games missed.
Heading into this season, we all expected him to be ready to go for Week 1. After all, his injury came on Sept. 20 in 2020 — almost a full year beore the Giants’ ’21 season opener set for Sept 12. However, his recovery has gone slower than planned, the New York is being extra careful with him. After being activated off the PUP list on Aug. 9, Barkley has merely been a limited participant in practice, taking live reps in a non-contact jersey for the time on Aug. 26. His Week 1 availability is still up in the air, and there’s also no certainty that he’ll even be available by Week 2. Even when he is back, his snaps could be reduced.
UPDATE 9/2: ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported there’s a “strong chance” Barkley is ready for Week 1.
UPDATE 9/6: NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Barkley is “close” to being cleared for Week 1, which suggests he will play and likely get an appreciable amount of touches.
Saquon Barkley fantasy ranking and ADP
SN Fantasy has Saquon Barkley ranked RB3 in PPR and RB4 in standard. Obviously, we aren’t out on Barkley, per se, but we know to proceed with caution. Remember, ADP is different from rankings. Rankings indicate the perceived pecking order of who will outscore who as determined by a particular fantasy site. ADP is more indicative of where players are being selected across a wide sampling of drafts. Individual drafters might be more risk-averse than others, greatly affecting a player’s ADP.
In standard leagues, Barkley’s FantasyPros ADP sits at No. 8 among RBs behind Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara, Nick Chubb, Ezekiel Elliott, and Aaron Jones. In PPR, he’s the RB6, passing Chubb and Jones. Without injury concern, Barkley would likely comfortably sit at the top with McCaffrey, so obviously many drafters are concerned. Keep a watchful eye on his ADP right before your draft. If it takes a sharp decline, you likely missed out on an injury or availability update.
Saquon Barkley Fantasy Outlook: Should you draft him in the first round?
Put simply, drafting Barkley in the first round is a risk, but it’s one that could pay off tremendously. As stated earlier, he’d be viewed similarly to McCaffrey if the injury concerns weren’t present, which obviously means he has CMC upside and is a contender to be the No. 1 RB in all of fantasy football. Since he’s not being regularly drafted inside the top-five in either scoring format, that’s obviously an exciting possibility.
With that being said, you don’t need to draft him before the No. 6 pick. It’s tough to pass up on the premier backs with fewer injury questions, especially in standard leagues. In PPR, the risk feels more worth it, as Barkley is one of the league’s best receiving backs. He still doesn’t have a great offensive line in front of him, which doesn’t help his case on the ground.
We ran a poll on Twitter (@sn_fantasy) asking our audience to weigh in on Barkley’s situation. The question raised was: If you knew Saquon Barkley was going to miss the first two weeks of the NFL season, where would you feel comfortable drafting him? Out of 65 voters, 23.1 percent said first round, 43.1 percent said second round, 24.6 percent said third round, and 9.2 percent said not all.
Newsflash: There’s no chance he makes it to the third round. Missing the first two weeks of the season seems like the worst case for Barkley, but it’s not out of the question. Missing two weeks doesn’t sound all that significant, but you’re likely going to be a major underdog in your Week 1 and 2 matchups if you took him early. Do you really want to have to climb out of a 0-2 hole?
We tend to agree with the results from our poll. If there’s a strong indication he’ll be out for Weeks 1 and 2, don’t take him unless he falls to the second round. If he’s slated to just miss Week 1, a mid-to-late first-round pick could be worth the risk. If he’s active for Week 1, even if he’s limited, his current ADP seems like a good spot for him.
The fun part is we likely won’t know until the day before, if not the day of the Giants’ opener. The best thing to do is continue to monitor reports all the way up to the moment of your drafts. If you’re one who throws caution to the wind and swings for the fences of upside, he’s probably your kind of guy this year. If you’re ultra-safe on the injury front, there are plenty of solid options in the first two rounds. If you decide to draft him, be sure to pair him with a handcuff RB (especially Barkley’s handcuff, Devontae Booker) or a late-round sleeper (or deep sleeper, depending on your league size).
You don’t always want to “hedge your bet,” in fantasy football, but with a player who is perceived to carry tremendous risk, it might be appropriate in this case.