Saquon Barkley still hasn’t secured his desired new Giants contract, but he might have a firm grip on an unwelcome place in NFL Draft history.
Despite Texas’ Bijan Robinson running a 4.46-second 40-yard dash, jumping 37 inches, being named as the top player that prized defensive end Will Anderson played against, and doing everything he could Sunday at the NFL Combine to prove he is one of the best rookies available, teams still are penalizing college running backs for the wear and tear endured at their position.
Too bad for Robinson that former general manager Dave Gettleman — who drafted Christian McCaffrey for the Panthers with the No. 8 pick in 2017 and Barkley for the Giants at No. 2 overall in 2018 — is “retired” instead of still building rosters.
“Everybody says that Bijan Robinson is not only the best running back in this class, he is one of the five best players in this class. He is elite,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a well-connected former scout, said before the NFL Combine. “You then transition to, ‘OK, where does he go?’ Then all of them say, ‘I have no idea.’ Does he go under the 20s? If he were to go in the top 10, he would not get laughs around the league because people know how good this guy is.”
The first running back selected in each of the last four drafts was with picks No. 24, No. 32, No. 24 and No. 34, respectively.
Robinson might become the highest selected since Barkley, but it begs the question: When will the NFL see another top-five (or even top-10) running back? Is Barkley the last for a decade? Longer?
“If you’re up there in the top 10, it’s hard to take them there,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told reporters last week, sounding regretful of using No. 4 in 2016 on Ezekiel Elliott. “If you’re taking a player in the top half [of the first round], you’re hoping you got a player that’s going to be here 10 years. And it’s tough for running backs to last 10 years. There’s not many Emmitt Smiths or guys that play that long.”
The mistake some critics are making at the moment, however, is bringing anti-running back sentiments from the draft into free agency. Just because the two primary aspects of the offseason overlap does not mean they are the same.
In fact, whether or not Barkley was the correct draft pick — an ongoing five-year debate — should have no impact on whether he is re-signed before Tuesday’s franchise-tag deadline, before free agency begins March 13 or after testing the open market.
There is no turning back the clock for the Giants to get quarterback Josh Allen (the obvious choice in hindsight), or to choose between pass-rusher Bradley Chubb and offensive guard Quenton Nelson to fix debilitating issues that have lingered for the past five years, or to trade back to accumulate more picks and select Barkley later in the first round.
“I don’t mind taking a running back in the first round, as long as your team is ready to win right now,” Jeremiah said. “Because if you take into account the guy has 4-6 years of elite production … I don’t want to waste carries on a crappy team. I want to have all of his carries over that period to count and help push towards a championship.”
Most teams with top-10 picks are not championship-ready, of course.
The Giants wasted Barkley’s first four seasons, two of which were marred by injuries, with a 19-46 record.
But re-signing Barkley, 26, to a three- or four-year deal in the range of $13 million to $14 million after he just had a career-high 1,312 rushing yards and team-high 10 touchdowns isn’t compounding an old mistake; it is preventing a future one by not creating a shortage of difference-makers for a team that just reached the second round of the playoffs.
The Giants had five years to collect better offensive playmakers than Barkley, allowing for an easy goodbye like the Eagles will say to free-agent 1,200-yard Pro Bowl rusher Miles Sanders because their offense features A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert in the passing attack and a dominant offensive line.
“It’s hard to roll with just one running back in this league,” Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said.
The Giants’ search turned up no one better, a few underwhelming additions such as Golden Tate, Kadarius Toney and Kenny Golladay, and only waiver-wire gem Isaiah Hodgins as a suitable secondary option, so moving forward without Barkley is a step backward.
The Post already busted two common myths by showing the past five running backs to receive extensions worth $12 million per year or more had career-best rushing totals after re-signing and that the leading rusher for the past 14 Super Bowl winners averaging a $1.06 million salary is a statistic built on loopholes to exclude high-paying deals to Marshawn Lynch and Ray Rice.
Robinson, who interestingly enough chose Barkley as his best player comparison, must overcome that rookies receive contracts based on draft slot instead of position, so a high first-round pick is a cost-controlled way to avoid the high price tags of veteran quarterbacks, offensive linemen, pass-rushers and cornerbacks. That doesn’t apply to Barkley.
“You can still take a running back in the first round,” said Bills general manager Brandon Beane, a Gettleman disciple. “Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey who was [part of] the last draft I was at with Carolina, those type guys are clearly weapons. So you do have position values, but there are guys even on lower-value positions that still belong in the first round.”
First round. Still not Barkley territory.
“Just creating mismatches for defenders all over the field and being able to create space for yourself and opening up the offense,” Robinson said, “I think that’s a high value that everybody should look at.”
Including the Giants, who already have it.
Today’s back page
🏈 Jets’ Duane Brown returning for 17th season … Derek Carr ‘slightly leaning’ toward Jets
⚾ Jose Quintana injured … so is Tommy Kahnle … but David Peterson is OK
🏀 Mikal Bridges (33) leads Nets rout over Hornets … Durant hits Suns winner vs. Kyrie’s Mavs
Numbers to know: Knicks 131, Celtics 129 (2 OT)
The Knicks started the weekend with Julius Randle’s buzzer-beater in Miami, and ended it by winning a double-overtime slugfest in Boston for their ninth consecutive victory. The Knicks (39-27) remained one game out of fourth place in the East — who wants to face them in the playoffs?!? — and now own the second-best road record in the NBA. Here’s a snapshot of numbers to know from Sunday night’s thriller:
3️⃣8️⃣ Points for Immanuel Quickley, a career high, starting in place of Jalen Brunson, who was sidelined due to a foot injury
5️⃣5️⃣ Minutes for Quickley, including the entire second half and all of both overtimes — it was a career high and the most in the NBA this season. Quickley added eight rebounds and seven assists.
1️⃣4️⃣ The Knicks’ deficit halfway through the third quarter
7️⃣ The Knicks’ lead with 1:07 remaining in regulation
2️⃣0️⃣1️⃣3️⃣ The only time in the past 25 years the Knicks had a longer winning streak than the current nine-game run — they won 13 in a row from March 18-April 9, 2013 — and oh by the way, the last time they won a playoff round. The Knicks go for 10 straight Tuesday night at the Garden against the Hornets.
— Jonathan Lehman
Mets rookie right-hander Kodai Senga made his spring training debut Sunday with two innings in which he allowed one run and recorded two strikeouts. Six Mets have won the National League Rookie of the Year award. Who are they?
(Scroll down for the answer.)
Postcard from St. Lucie
Hover around the field before games for enough time, and it’s the little things you pick up on.
Before the Mets faced (and beat) the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla., on Sunday afternoon, a group of Mets prospects walked from the dugout to the cage. Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty, the promising young catcher and third baseman, respectively, were among the group, but it was a non-roster invite who apparently had caught Alvarez’s eye.
Alvarez gave Jaylin Davis, a recent minor league signing with 38 games of major league experience, a shove. Alvarez, a prodigious slugging prospect, said he did not want to take batting practice with Davis.
“You’re too good,” Alvarez said in jest of Davis, who has not done much in the majors, but drilled a combined 35 home runs in 2019 at Double-A and Triple-A, spending time in the minor league systems of the Twins and Giants.
The 28-year-old Davis likely will begin the season with Triple-A Syracuse and will try to catch the Mets’ attention. With loud BPs, the slugger already has captured the attention of the Mets’ catcher of the future.
One more thing caught my eye Sunday afternoon: Francisco Lindor working with first-base and baserunning coach Wayne Kirby for a long while. Kirby appeared to be giving advice on taking leads off the bag and rounding the bases, which are larger this season.
The Mets stole just 62 bases last season, the eighth-worst in baseball, but everyone figures to be running more this season. Pitchers now can only disengage from the pitching rubber to attempt a pickoff twice per plate appearance, and because of the larger bags, the distance between first and second base (and between second and third base) has shrunk.
Lindor, who was second on the club with 16 steals last season, is in line to up that total.
— Mark W. Sanchez
March Madness appetizer
Selection Sunday is less than a week away, which means the pre-Madness madness of conference tournaments is upon us. Here are five things to watch, both locally and nationally:
Big Ten: What a collapse by Rutgers, which lost six of its past eight to fall from contention for a league title to maybe the wrong side of the NCAA bubble after the season-ending injury to starter Mawot Mag. The Selection Committee doesn’t emphasize conference tournaments as much as in the past, so one more win might not be enough to cancel out Quad 3 losses to Minnesota, Temple and Nebraska. Once again, weak non-conference scheduling is a bubble detriment. The best-case scenario might be a second straight trip to the First Four. The worst-case scenario is an automatic qualifier steals its bid.
Big East: Villanova, winners of four of the last five tournaments and seven-time finalists since 2015, is the No. 6 seed. But who wants to face this team? No one. The Wildcats have a friendly draw — Marquette, Providence and Connecticut are on the other side of the bracket — and, at long last, health. Former All-Big East guard Justin Moore returned from last year’s torn Achilles on Jan. 29, and has shaken off the rust at the right time to form a 1-2 punch with likely one-and-done lottery pick Cam Whitmore, who also missed time earlier this season when the Wildcats dug a hole in their resume. No. 8 seed St. John’s, which faces No. 9 Butler in Wednesday’s tournament opener, and No. 7 Seton Hall, which tips off against No. 10 DePaul, each needs a miracle four-day run to snag an auto bid.
ACC: It’s past time to give up North Carolina recapturing its magic. One year ago, the Tar Heels were in danger of missing the field before finishing the regular season on a 7-1 roll. After a hiccup in the ACC tournament, another streak — five straight wins to reach the NCAA Tournament final as a No. 8 seed — began. That was a fun ride. This is totally different: The Tar Heels deserve to be the first preseason No. 1-ranked team to miss the field since expansion to 64 teams in 1985. The No. 7 seed Tar Heels need a big run, including upsetting No. 2 Virginia and No. 3 Clemson en route to the final.
CAA: A strong case could be made that Hofstra is the best team in the greater New York area, but the No. 1 seed needs to win its conference tournament, which holds its semifinals Monday night. That’s not necessarily the case for No. 2 seed College of Charleston, which has the at-large resume to turn the CAA into a two-bid league.
Mountain West: All the clamoring to let more mid-majors into the field resulted in four bids for the Mountain West last year. The teams responded by going 0-4 in a performance even more underwhelming than the Big Ten’s. Is the committee going to make the same decision this year and let in San Diego State, Utah State, Boise State and Nevada? The top four seeds — well, maybe not San Diego State — have to do their part by advancing upset-free to the semifinals.
Watch out, Manning brothers
Someone order up a DNA test: Maybe the Kelces actually are distant cousins of the Mannings.
Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce scored big praise for his gig this weekend as host of “Saturday Night Live,” delivering the best performance by an athlete since Eli Manning (May 5, 2012).
And Eli was only the second-best host in his family after Peyton’s memorable turn (March 24, 2007) that included throwing footballs at children in a memorable “United Way” sketch.
Well, Kelce not only appeared in each of the first five sketches of the episode, he also incorporated his older brother, Jason, into his opening monologue and one sketch. The Chiefs just beat Jason’s Eagles in Super Bowl 57.
Like the Mannings, both Kelces could be headed to the Hall of Fame in retirement. Maybe their shared “New Heights” podcast — or some new project — eventually gets elevated to “Manningcast” levels because of their newly discovered sense of comedic timing. For now, here are the best sketches from Saturday night:
1. Straight Male Friend: Playing on a stereotype of jocks having no emotional depth, Kelce’s character is hired to be in a “low-effort, low-stakes relationship that requires no emotional commitment, no financial investment and, other than the occasional video-game-related outburst, no drama” with a gay man seeking respite from straight female friends.
2. American Girl Café: Kelce never broke character in his first sketch, setting the tone for a funny night. He played a creepy, childless, dandy who brought two American Girl dolls to lunch at the café, which caters to an audience of parents with daughters. Kelce tries to set up one of his girl dolls with another patron’s boy doll, and coldly rejects a child’s offer to share her pizza with his dolls because they “don’t need the carbs.”
3. Abby’s new boyfriend: Heidi Gardner’s character, Abby, is a crying mess at bumping into Kelce’s character, her ex, with his pregnant fiancée. It turns out they only went on one two-hour date in 2019. But, in a twist, Kelce might not be over his feelings, either. Enter Jason Kelce in a cameo as Abby’s new boyfriend, who threatens to beat up Travis because “I definitely could.” Suddenly, Travis is crying. The perfect unspoken reference to Jason as Travis’ older brother, sibling roughhousing and Super Bowl revenge.
Tom Seaver (1967), Jon Matlack (1972), Darryl Strawberry (1983), Dwight Gooden (1984), Jacob deGrom (2014), Pete Alonso (2019)
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