Each week throughout the season, I’ll cover at least two rookies in the Rookie Report Card and try to always include the biggest performers from that particular week. On top of reviewing my expectations for each player coming into the league and covering how he’s performed at the NFL level to this point, I’ll actually give him a grade in three categories. Those categories are performance to date, 2018 potential and long term upside.
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Saquon Barkley, RB NYG
Week 11 Stats: 27 carries, 142 yards, two touchdowns, two catches, 10 receiving yards, one touchdown reception (three targets)
I’m not even sure that it’s worth my (or your) time to review Barkley’s credentials entering the league but we’ll breeze through them anyway.
Incredible speed (4.4 40-time) for a guy his size (6’-0”, 230 pounds) and athleticism (41-inch vertical jump) that seems boundless along with great strength (29 bench reps) made him one of the most remarkable players to ever participate at the NFL Scouting Combine. When you add what he did in Indianapolis to the laundry list of skills Barkley showed at Penn State, he was easily one of the biggest slam dunks in the history of dynasty rookie drafts.
Great burst, incredible vision and elite change of direction. Barkley possesses all of it. Power at the point of contact, a vicious jump cut and wicked stiff arm. Check, check and check. We all remember how coveted Barkley was leading up to the NFL Draft by both NFL GMs and dynasty owners.
Nothing has changed.
It’s truly incredible what Barkley has shown so far in his rookie campaign. Playing behind a bottom third of the league offensive line (ranked 26th by Pro Football Focus going into week 11), Barkley is a top-five rusher in the NFL through ten games. Piling up 728 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 158 carries (4.6 YPC) on the ground, Barkley routinely makes defenders miss in the backfield and breaks tackles at the second level to gain extra yardage.
Those numbers on the ground alone would be enough to rank Barkley as a top-15 fantasy running back, but what’s separated Barkley from most tailbacks in fantasy this year has been his production as a pass catcher. Already tallying 64 receptions for 540 yards and three scores, the Giants’ coaching staff has used him perfectly as a check down option for Eli Manning as most of his catches have come near the line of scrimmage. Immediately turning into a runner in the open field, he regularly breaks tackles on the perimeter to pile up yards – and fantasy points.
Against the Buccaneers in week 11, Barkley was in top form from start to finish. Used in play-action only to catch a wide-open touchdown in the flat on the opening drive was only the beginning. Barkley went on to carry the ball 27 times with the Giants holding the lead for the entirety of the game. His punishing running style created what seemed like unlimited yards after contact and his change of direction skills created running lanes that simply wouldn’t have existed for other runners. He jumped over tackles before diving for the goal line, danced around unblocked “tacklers” in the backfield to turn negative runs into double-digit yards and carried linebackers for multiple steps before shedding them to carry on to the third level.
It was a brilliant performance for Barkley. And one that should have confirmed his truly elite skills to anybody that still questioned him for some reason.
Already being ranked as a top asset to dynasty owners by nearly everybody that does such rankings, he has the potential to be the top pick in startups for multiple seasons going forward. Honesty, if there was an A++ grade available as Barkley’s long-term upside, he’d get it.
Gus Edwards, RB BAL
Week 11 Stats: three catches, 81 yards, one touchdown (five targets)
Gus Edwards was a relative unknown to many dynasty owners during draft season. Because he played in the Big Ten, however, I had a couple chances to watch him during his senior year. In one of those games, he was relatively impressive (vs Maryland) and in the other, he looked overmatched (vs Michigan State.)
A hard-nosed runner with enough speed to get to the outside, he showed good decision making to find rushing lanes and enough burst to reach the second level. Good at the point of contact, he appeared more interested in running through defenders than trying to get around them – particularly outside the hashes or in the secondary. Even when he did get wrapped up, Edwards consistently would fall forward for extra yardage.
Despite those positives, however, there were things about Edwards’ running at Rutgers that made me overlook him throughout the pre-draft process. Perhaps it was because I watched him play only a couple times and/or his playing on a subpar team, but Edwards never really looked like a pro prospect to this amateur scout.
Standing 6’1” and weighing in at 235 pounds, Edwards didn’t always appear to play to his size. While his speed gave him enough juice to get to the edge, he relied on it too much for my liking – particularly considering it wasn’t elite. Choosing to bounce to the perimeter rather than lower his shoulder and get what was there, he didn’t appear to enjoy taking on linebackers head-on but relished in the chances to take on smaller defensive backs. Also lacking go-to moves to make defenders miss in the open field or the ability to contribute as a pass catcher, I questioned if he could make a roster let-alone become a regular contributor.
Fast forward a few months and not only was I wrong about Edwards making a team, but he’s also already been active for five games and had a coming out party in week 11.
Against the Bengals, Edwards played the part of featured back for much of the game despite Alex Collins starting. And to be blunt, he made me think twice about a couple of the weaknesses I wrote about above.
On a 12-yard run in the second quarter, he chose to lower his shoulder between the tackles rather than bouncing to the edge, broke a tackle from the linebacker in the hole with a side-step and stiff arm, and ran through a tackle from a safety coming down in run support. In the third quarter, Edwards did a lot of the same on a pair of 15-plus yarders where he slid through tiny creases and broke multiple arm tackles before being dragged down. He capped that drive with another 12-yard contact filled run between the tackles for a touchdown.
Really, the only things I had right about Edwards coming out of college were that he’s a hard-nosed runner with enough speed and that he always finishes runs by falling forward. He did those things consistently on Sunday.
Edwards was great against Cincinnati. Hastily hitting the hole, running behind his pads to break arm tackles and capping runs with power, he ran to his size throughout the game and was a key reason the Ravens came out on top. He out-carried Collins 17-to-7 and out-averaged him 6.8-to-2.6.
With the Ravens clearly willing to make Edwards a big part of their offensive game plan going forward, it’s no doubt that he’ll make him a big waiver wire addition for dynasty owners everywhere this week. Although I still hesitate to think he has the long-term upside to give dynasty owners a longstanding asset, I’ll be placing whatever FAAB money I have left to get his services for the rest of 2018. And if he continues to run like he did in week 11, you never know about 2019 and beyond.
Find Dan on Twitter at @dmeylor22