EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — When it comes to football, Saquon Barkley has a knack for doing what might sound impossible.
Whether it’s his freakish feats in the weight room, or his game-breaking plays during a three-year career at Penn State (during which he scored a school-record 53 touchdowns), the 6-foot, 233-pounder earned another distinction when he was selected second overall by the Giants in the draft last month instead of a quarterback.
In a QB-driven league where an every-down back is an endangered species, Barkley was the highest running back drafted in more than a decade.
The next hurdle for the Bronx, New York, native? Tempering expectations that he’ll become the Giants’ hometown hero.
“I don’t see them,” Barkley said. “I know a lot of people try and set expectations for me. No offense to you guys, but I set my own expectations.”
Which will start by using the same mentality he’s always had.
“I have to believe in myself, set goals for myself, set expectations for myself and continue to work for those goals every single day,” Barkley said. “Just to continue to come in, be humble. I don’t want to be that guy that thinks he is a high draft pick and that he has it all. Nothing is given to you. Everything is earned. You have to have that mindset that you have to work every single day. Learn every single day. Be a student of the day, learn from the guys and the coaches. The Elis (Manning) and the Odells (Beckham Jr.) on the field and off the field. Just work. Hard work got me here.”
Like the highest running back taken since Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush in 2006, Barkley is more of a do-everything player than a conventional running back, returning kicks, including two for touchdowns last season, one of which was 98 yards.
Citing Ezekiel Elliott and Le’Veon Bell as examples, Barkley talked about how valuable versatile running backs can be.
“I am not a guy that just lines up in the back field and is going to bang his head, bang his head, bang his head,” he said. “I am a guy that is willing to do anything for his team. Whether it be a kick returner or a punt returner, running down on kickoffs, lining up in the slot, running a dummy play or a fake play, whatever it takes. I want to be an athlete, not just a running back. Obviously, I play the running back position, but I want to be an all-around guy and an all-around player.”
While coach Pat Shurmer senses the Giants drafted a quick study, he knows Barkley has to dive into the playbook before he can truly assess that.
“He needs to be everything he thinks he can be and then we’ll worry about that (expectations) later,” Shurmer said, adding: “I’m certainly high on Saquon . If you ask him, he’ll tell you he wants to learn what he’s doing and compete at a high level and regardless of what my expectations are for him.”
The expectation among fans and some in the media is that Barkley makes an immediate impact, which would result in a potent offense featuring wide receivers Beckham and Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram, as long as 37-year-old Eli Manning can return to his two-time Super Bowl MVP form.
For now, Barkley, along with the other players at the Giants’ three-day rookie minicamp this weekend, will get the first taste of what NFL practices are like, and what it’s like to not only be an NFL player but a New York Giant.
“We’re going to put them through the paces for three days here and try and teach them,” Shurmer said. “I think what’s important is and I’ve talked to the staff, I’ve talked to our current players, we want to teach our rookies the right way from the very beginning — here is your iPad, here is your locker, here is where you need to be, here is how you need to dress, here are the fields, `please’ and `thank-you’ work, push in your chair. We want to really train these guys in the New York Giants’ way and I think it’s every facet of their life and then, certainly what is most obvious, football.”
A mentality to which the well-polished Barkley is looking forward.
“It is an honor to play for this franchise. Right when you walk in the building, you see the four Lombardi Trophies and you already know what the standard is for this team and this program,” Barkley said. “I am just happy to be a part of it.”