Barkley Injury Shows Why You Shouldn’t Build Your Team Around A Running Back

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A running back is a finishing touch, not a building block. I get the appeal. I do. You see Saquon Barkley available in the store window of the NFL draft, and you just have to have one.

The New York Giants took Barkley with the second pick in the 2018 draft, and they’ve loved watching him ever since. But when he blew out his knee Sunday in Chicago, it should have been a reminder of the No. 1 rule of the draft:

You don’t take a running back early in the first round. You also don’t build a team around a running back.

Now Barkley is out with a torn ACL, the main ligament surrounding the knee. And with the snap of one 4.5 millimeter thick elastic-band of ligament, Barkley’s career and the Giants franchise are a shambles. They are both in the hands of medical science now.

Athletes know. Will he ever be the same? Maybe, maybe not. And they were tweeting messages of hope to him Monday, and he was retweeting in thanks:

Like the one from Barry Sanders: “Thinking of Saquon today and sending him and his family my prayers.’’

Ali Krieger: “So gutted for you, Saquon. . .but I know you’ll be back stronger than ever.’’ And her women’s national soccer team: “So sorry for the setback, saquon! We’re rooting for you and a speedy recovery.’’

And this one from Adrian Peterson, who has been through it: “saquon a born winner!! The comeback is going to be scary 100.’’

It was Bloody Sunday in the NFL the other day. And the theories are out there about sticky turf and lack of preseason. I’m going to go with blind luck, blind bad luck in a violent game. There were just so many injuries, even to stars.

Barkley’s was the most impactful.

The Giants blew it when they chose him, and it endangered his career and put such a high risk on the Giants’ rebuilding. They were in a spot where they were going to need to replace Eli Manning at quarterback, not to mention needing to fix the offensive line.

Bringing in Barkley was a waste of his talent. You can’t win behind a stud running back and nothing else, anymore. These aren’t the days of Jim Brown.

The shelf life isn’t long for a running back, either. Peterson is a modern miracle, not the norm. And even he, for all his amazing skill, has won just one playoff game in his career.


Barkley was always going to take a beating on this Giants team. And while a running back’s career is usually going to be limited, it was going to take the Giants a while to build this thing. They had a No. 2 pick and put all their chips on a running back.


So what was the thinking? That the Giants were a year or two from winning the Super Bowl? Hah! 

Was it to let Barkley take three or four, maybe five, years of beatings before his championship-type of skills can be used to try to win a championship?

And it was never going to do the Giants any good to just let Barkley take a beating for four or five years while the team around him slowly got better. You don’t bring in that type of talent just to be a place-setting.

They could’ve used that No. 2 pick to get someone who could have helped to build the team.

A week ago, a former Giants running back was saying the Giants can’t have Barkley on the field on passing downs because he doesn’t block. And Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr was calling for the Giants to trade Barkley:

“… squandering that talent and having nothing to show for it might refocus all of that negativity, especially when a proactive decision could have offered him an opportunity to dig out of that hole.’’

Barkley had his amazing rookie year, but then got the dreaded high ankle sprain last year. When he gets the ball, he makes things happen, that’s true. What’s also true is that very large men run after him at full speed all the time and don’t have rules to stop them.

It’s a grinding position.

The Giants went 5-11 in Barkley’s rookie year, 4-12 last year. They’re 0-2 this year. That’s 9-25 for his career so far. And not one playoff game.

Highly drafted running backs lately include Trent Richardson, CJ Spiller, Knowshon Moreno, Darren McFadden, Cadillac Williams.

I mean, there are examples of successes, too. Yes I’ve heard of Leonard Fournette.

But the risk is too high.

The running back doesn’t mean as much as he used to, can get hurt too easily. And you can get good-enough ones later in the draft and save your No. 2 pick for something that will have more meaning on your rebuilding.

So here’s to hoping Barkley gets better. When he was at Penn State, I had the chance to go to Coplay, Pennsylvania, to visit with his parents at the family house and then to meet him at Penn State.

Barkley kept a Bible and a Quran and a Book of Mormon in his room. He wanted to learn from all of them and hadn’t committed to one faith. His Dad was a cook at Chili’s, I believe.

The whole family was just so likable. And Barkley’s mom did what only moms can do: She said if Saquon starts pushing the tough-guy act on me, remind him that she said he cries at movies.

“I just can’t believe she told you that,’’ he said for my story in Bleacher Report. “I’m going to have to have a talk with her. Don’t put that in the story.’’

I put it in. It showed that he’s human. 

So did Sunday.

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.


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  1. So they should have taken Darnold? Whom nobody cares about anymore and now we have people saying the jests are going to tank and get Lawrence. Fat load of good Darnold would have done. Just because a bunch of people in the media, the same garbage media everybody hates, said that there was no reason to build around Eli doesn’t mean there wasn’t reason to think he could still lead them to the playoffs. The same media that has written Brady’s obituary five times.

  2. There are only one Barry Sanders or AP and evening then you only know they were good on a bad team after they survived being great on a bad team. I saw AP in college and he was the most violent runner I’d ever seen, wouldn’t go down easily. Glad he did it in the pros. Hope Barkley recovers and has success.

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