Barkley is one of the most popular bounceback candidates this year, but no one is expecting him to bounce all the way to his 2018 form, when he was arguably the best running back in football. While Barkley has had his share of injuries, he's still just 25 and there's some hope that Brian Daboll will make this offense the best it's been since Barkley's rookie year. With an improved offensive line there's also some hope Barkley's efficiency can improve. He's worth a pick in Round 2 of redraft leagues as a high-end No. 2 running back. If everything goes right, he has upside well beyond that.
We all know about Barkley entering the league as an elite prospect (drafted 2nd overall) and leading the position in fantasy points as a rookie. It’s just gotten easy to overlook those facts because of 3 straight injury-inhibited campaigns. Barkley is finally healthy, though, and his rough stretch has fantasy drafters apprehensive. As of this writing, Barkley’s Underdog ADP still sits early in Round 3, at RB13. FFPC best-ball drafting has him at about the same spot, 14th among RBs. Interestingly, though, early Footballguys Players Championship drafts have bumped him a little – to RB11, in the middle of Round 2. The difference, that’s a lineup-setting format. Don’t be surprised if Barkley keeps getting nudged up the board as we get closer to the season. We’re ready to chase him all the way through Round 2, though. At full strength, Barkley presents as high a fantasy ceiling as anyone at the position (maybe excluding Christian McCaffrey).
It's been a downward spiral for Barkley since he paced all running backs in fantasy points as a rookie in 2018. The Penn State product followed that up with a 10th-place finish (three missed games) in 2019 before missing all but two games due to injury in 2020. A pair of early-season top-10 outings last season had Barkley back on track, but a freak Week 5 ankle injury cost him four games and he never quite bounced back. Perhaps the new coaching regime will re-ignite Barkley's career -- he's only 25 years old and has minimal competition for touches -- but the rough 2021 efficiency and 21 missed games over the last three seasons means we must lower expectations. Barkley is best viewed as a mid-range RB2.
General manager Joe Schoen inherits a poorly constructed roster and knows he faces a multi-year rebuilding effort. The prior regime's decision to pick up Saquon Barkley's fifth-year option gives the new staff little choice but to make Barkley the offensive centerpiece, provided he can stay on the field. Barkley is on a shortlist of the league's best ball carriers when healthy. As a rookie, he led the league with 2,028 yards from scrimmage and scored 15 touchdowns. He can run inside with power, break outside, is deadly in the open field, and is an above-average route runner with soft hands. Although Barkley has missed 21 games in the last three seasons, he's had another strong camp and should be a workhorse --- and fantasy darling -- this season.