EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – You thought the bright lights in the big city couldn’t get any stronger, but they did when the New York Giants selected Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 overall pick in the first round on Thursday night.
The Giants added the draft’s most marketable player to a team that already included uber-star Odell Beckham Jr. and quarterback Eli Manning. Even if these Giants can't win, at least they will be able to sell.
Saquon, Eli, Odell. SEO. East Rutherford’s finest, meet Madison Avenue.
Beckham and Manning were already the fourth- and sixth-most popular players in the NFL, according to a 2017 Neilsen poll. As if that wasn’t enough star power, Barkley had the bestselling jersey ever on draft night. He also provides the most social media value to his endorsers -- including Bose and Nike -- of anyone in the 2018 draft class, according to MVPIndex, which analyzes athletes’ social media portfolios and calculates a digital brand value.
Manning, Beckham and Barkley are an intriguing mix. The selection of Barkley over a potential franchise quarterback meant the Giants have quadrupled down on Manning. He remains the clear-cut starter for at least another year and finally has the running back, receivers and an improved offensive line. No more excuses with Barkley added to the mix.
“If you think about it, [Barkley] makes our quarterback better, he makes our receivers better, he makes our O-line better,” general manager Dave Gettleman said after the selection. “He makes our defense better because he has the much stronger ability to hold the ball. He is a great kid and he will be great for our culture.
“He was the unanimous best player in our draft.”
With a lofty draft status and expectations comes responsibility for Barkley. One day into his Giants career, he was already being asked questions about serving as the face of the franchise. And this is on a team that already has Beckham and Manning.
This won't be an easy road to navigate, and it will be on coach Pat Shurmur and the Giants to make sure the hype and attention doesn’t derail the season. Barkley has yet to take the field as a professional and he’s already being billed as a game-changing icon.
“I keep reminding myself this is a 21-year-old. I’ve got five kids and … he’s a role model. I think he’s going to be a role model for his generation,” co-owner Steve Tisch said moments after watching Barkley handle his introductory news conference with the same poise he has in a one-on-one matchup with a safety. “It’s a lot of responsibility to ask for a 21-year-old to be a role model. I’m not suggesting he needs to take that responsibility, but I think just because of who he is and the team he’s playing for, he’s going to probably accept that responsibility, and I think he’s going to be pretty impressive.”
Listening to Barkley talk, it’s easy to see what Tisch is intimating. What’s not to like?
The talented running back is more polished than a young Manning. He talks and it’s hard not to believe what he’s saying, especially after watching tape of him leap defenders or shaking would-be tacklers on kickoffs. Barkley has the look of a great player with outstanding tools and a level head.
“I had a conversation with my father and my mom about that and teammates and how you come in a locker room at the age of 21 and lead when you’re with guys like Eli Manning and Odell, and, well, I just have to be who I am,” he said. “That’s the best advice that I’ve gotten throughout this whole process. It’s ‘be Saquon Barkley’ and everything else will take care of itself.”
We’ve already seen some of the effects fame can have on a young player. It has at times thrown Beckham into the spotlight and off track.
Barkley appears more prepared for the challenge. He enters the NFL with a higher profile and more experience handling the circus, and he has begun preparing for its demands. He is keeping his inner circle tight, centered around his family. Agent Kim Miale and the Roc Nation marketing team handle most of his business affairs, and Barkley has laid out a vision to them of what he wants to accomplish on that side.
“He wants to be a person that does great things off the field and gives back to people,” Miale said. “He feels so blessed where he is in life and all he’s achieved and anything he’s embarked upon. It’s very important for him to do something that gives back and creates a legacy off the field as well.”
How that takes shape is yet to be determined. Right now, it’s just a blueprint. But it’s his own blueprint, despite seeing from a distance what Beckham has accomplished with his record Nike deal and long list of high-profile endorsements.
While Barkley already noted that Beckham has served a big brother throughout the process, he’s not looking to follow in his superstar footsteps.
“Saquon is his own person,” Miale said. “He has a very unique and specific vision for himself and what he wants to do with his career. I wouldn’t say he’s going to copy anybody’s blueprint. He’s going to create his own.”
Still, the business side remains secondary. Barkley is adamant about his interests off the field not getting in the way of what got him into this position in the first place. It's football first.
“You can ask my agent, you can ask my marketing guy, when it comes to the media, if it has anything to do with distracting me from training or football, I just wouldn’t do it,” he said. “I had been approached a lot during the NFL combine and prepping and all that, and I denied a lot. But the main thing is keep your circle tight, keep a great team, which I believe I have -- and I know I have -- and continue to stay focused on football.”