Where should you draft Saquon Barkley in Fantasy?

Most fantasy football leagues don’t hold their drafts until training camps, in order to gain the most accurate information ahead of the season. The fluctuations in average draft position between now and then often shift based on a variety of factors, including opportunity, workload, health, and many, ultimately, based on preseason performance.

At the moment, Saquon Barkley is being viewed as a talented yet unproven rookie. He enters his first year with high hopes for a productive season and a bright future. But fantasy owners tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to their first round selection, mostly because it can often make or break their season.

So when it’s your turn to draft, what should you do about Barkley? Is he worth risking your first round pick on, or should you pass on him for a more proven player, who perhaps has more limited upside?

The first thing to consider about Barkley is his expected opportunity. The Giants were unwilling to hear any trade offers for their number two pick. They knew all along that the Browns would take a quarterback with their first pick, leaving Barkley on the board. And they were more than content with that strategy. Dave Gettleman clearly views him as perhaps the best running back prospect of all time. The heavy price used on drafting him will likely mean that they will lean on him heavily from the onset of his career.

Since it is fair to expect that the team will feed him heavy volumes, both in the running and passing games, Barkley should be viewed as one of the safer running back bets in the entire league. Three-down running back workhorses are becoming more of a rarity, which might be good for real-life football, but is less appealing from a fantasy perspective. Barkley certainly checks this ever-important box.

But is that enough to warrant first round consideration for an unproven back? The thing is, that Barkley is expected to be just as big of an asset in the receiving game. He is extremely fast, and he runs crisp routes. He also has tremendous hands, which will quickly earn the trust of Eli Manning as an explosive safety valve out of the backfield. I know it’s rare for any player, but Barkley truly has a chance at gaining over 1,000 rushing AND receiving yards. The sky is the limit for him from a fantasy standpoint.

The Giants also made a concerted effort to revamp their offensive line during the offseason. The acquisition of Nate Solder through free agency, as well as Will Hernandez through the draft, will shore up the holes that severely hindered the offense last year. If Barkley has holes to run through, he will be nearly impossible to stop.

In general, the Giants offense can be expected to see dramatic improvement from a season ago. Odell Beckham Jr. will be back from a season-ending ankle injury he suffered last season. His absence from the lineup last year made room for the emergence of tight end Evan Engram and wide receiver Sterling Shepard. The Giants should field one of the most productive and explosive offenses in the NFL next season, and that should create a lot of opportunities for Barkley. He should have plenty of scoring opportunities from close. And unlike many other running backs in the league, he doesn’t have any competition for these scoring chances.

When analyzing rookie players for fantasy, it is important to consider their respective positions. Running backs tend to make faster transitions to the NFL than any other position (WR, TE, etc.). In recent years, we have all witnessed tremendous play right off the bat from several rookie runners, including Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, Leonard Fournette and Kareem Hunt.

All of this add up to one simple conclusion – do not hesitate to use your first round pick on Saquon Barkley this year. In 12-team leagues, I do not think there will be 11 better players when it is all said and done.