Health of Saquon Barkley, playmakers has New York Giants feeling optimistic

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants finally seem to be getting healthy on offense. In running back Saquon Barkley's case, when the Giants (3-6) play on Monday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN), it will have been six weeks since he took a handoff in a game.

He is not alone in returning from an ankle injury. Starting left tackle Andrew Thomas has missed the past three games with foot/ankle injuries. Both have a realistic chance of returning against the Bucs (6-4), according to sources.

That could make Monday's game the healthiest the offense has been since the start of the season. Of the Giants' top six playmakers, only receiver Sterling Shepard (quad) appears unlikely to play Monday night.

"Yeah, that's exciting, and I know those guys are working hard to get back," quarterback Daniel Jones said.

The Giants, who rank 24th in points per game at 19.9, have been limited much of this season because of the injuries and a makeshift offensive line.

Barkley, who missed the past four games, has played one full game when rookie first-round receiver Kadarius Toney was also a significant part of the offense. That was Week 4 in New Orleans, where the Giants pulled an upset and had by far their most productive offensive game this year with 485 total yards.

"There's been flashes of the offense in the previous weeks," tight end Evan Engram said.

Yes, there have been flashes, but there has not been a single game when all six of the Giants' top playmakers have been healthy. Each has missed at least one game. All but Toney have missed at least two.

The New Orleans game was one of two games when Kenny Golladay, who was acquired in the offseason, was close to full speed. The veteran wide receiver, like Barkley, was hurt the next week against the Dallas Cowboys.

Golladay, who was bothered early in the season by a hamstring injury suffered in training camp, missed three games after hyperextending his knee in Dallas. He returned prior to the bye for a Week 9 win against the Las Vegas Raiders, but he wasn't completely healthy and finished with two catches for 26 yards.

Toney wasn't a big part of game plans early in the season because of an offseason that featured various injuries, a shoe malfunction, a brief holdout during OTAs and a positive COVID-19 test just before training camp. He entered the Raiders game with a thumb injury and has also missed a game because of an ankle injury.

Engram missed the first two games with a calf injury; receiver Darius Slayton missed three (from Weeks 2 to 4) because of a hamstring pull; Shepard is on his third injury stint this season.

However, coming out of their bye with improved health has the Giants feeling optimistic about the second half of the season. They envision Barkley in the backfield, Golladay flanked wide alongside Shepard or Slayton with Toney running in motion behind Engram.

"The more guys you have like that, the harder it is on a defense," Jones said.

How it might look Monday night:

Running back

Barkley would be the feature back with Devontae Booker still in the picture for a few weeks at least.

Barkley is not ready to handle a full workload, and Booker's 4.4 yards per carry the past two weeks is the best two-game stretch by a Giants running back this season. Booker, who also is dealing with a minor hip injury, has earned playing time even with Barkley back.

"Yeah, I think he's done enough all along, and the plan is to have multiple guys who can carry the ball either way," coach Joe Judge said last week. "Obviously, Saquon is a large part of our team and a huge part of our offense, and we will find different ways to create opportunities for him to get the ball through runs, passes, different ways."

Also, don't discount fullback Eli Penny's involvement. He averaged a healthy 4.4 yards per carry in the four games without Barkley, despite some of those being short-yardage attempts.


Golladay is the No. 1 and Slayton is the No. 2 with Toney as the slot/move receiver. He will play all over the formations.

Golladay being close to 100% for the first time since he was injured in Dallas is massive for Jones and the offense. In the two games he was close to full strength, he totaled 10 catches for 180 yards against the Atlanta Falcons (Week 3) and Saints.

Toney should also be ready to handle a full workload after seeing only one target against the Raiders.

Tight end

Engram has played more than 50% of the offensive snaps in every game he's played. He averages 27 routes run per game, by far the most of this group. Veteran Kyle Rudolph has averaged 32 snaps per game (mostly as a blocker and, recently, a red zone target) since Engram's return. Kaden Smith has clearly become the third tight end.

Other than Shephard still being out, these are the playmakers the Giants envisioned in their lineup when they put together their team this offseason.