The NFC East and NFC South might be the two most loaded divisions in the NFL, but good luck guessing who will come out on top.
USA TODAY Sports
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It took all of one play for running back Saquon Barkley to flash for the New York Giants.
Later, however, the rookie lamented that it could’ve been even better.
The No. 2 overall selection in the NFL draft, Barkley made his pro debut Thursday night in New York’s 20-10 preseason-opening loss against the Cleveland Browns and turned heads on his very first snap.
In the first offensive play of the game, Barkley took the handoff from quarterback Eli Manning and took a few short steps forward before he met a wall of Browns defenders engaged with Giant offensive linemen. So Barkley bounced outside to his right, then made a quick cut inside and knifed up the field and past two Browns defenders.
Barkley then scampered up the right sideline, evading one defender with a stiff-arm before he was pushed out of bounds for a gain of 39.
“I mean, you know me,” Barkley said after the game when asked if he thought he should have scored. “That’s how I am. Every time I touch the ball, I think I should’ve scored. That’s my mindset. But it’s the NFL.”
Giants fans in attendance here at MetLife Stadium erupted in glee at Barkley’s unveiling.
The Giants ranked 26th last season with just 96.8 rushing yards a game. And though Barkley should help improve that significantly this season, a lot of it will fall on New York’s offensive line, which has been a weak spot over the past couple of seasons.
Case in point: in Barkley’s four carries after his 39-yard rush — which were characterized by clogged running lanes — resulted in only four yards.
For New York, the line is a work in progress. Of its five players, four are new starters (two are free agent additions, one is a rookie, and one was selling cars three years ago), and Ereck Flowers is transitioning from starting at left tackle last season to now playing on the right side.
But even in the attempts that did not gain big chunks of yards, Barkley showed patience and an ability to draw defenders in, before breaking outside. That may be enough, provided he stays healthy, to inject plenty of highlight rushes into New York’s offense this season.
“Well, I loved the first run,” head coach Pat Shurmur said. “I wish they could all be like that. You could see that it wasn’t too big for him. He probably played in front of bigger crowds at Penn State. It really wasn’t too big for him and I think he took the next step in his progress of getting ready for the season.”
Barkley’s final stat line of the night, after the starters were replaced after just two drives: five carries for 43 yards, and a whole lot of hype for what lies ahead.
Hype that Manning tried to temper.
“Ah, it was just a run,” he said with a smile. “Let’s not go berserk yet. It was a good run. Offensive line blocked things well, he had a good cutback, and it was a good play.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.
If you love talking football, we have the perfect spot for you. Join our new Facebook Group, The Ruling Off the Field, to engage in friendly debate and conversation with fellow football fans and our NFL insiders.