Saquon Barkley’s role in lifting up Daniel Jones cannot be understated

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He was one of seven captains before the start of just his second season, and there should be no doubt why Saquon Barkley will be voted one of Joe Judge’s captains by his teammates.

“I stress to the players leadership is about doing your job well, it’s about putting the team first, and it’s about being unselfish,” Judge said as preparations began for the Monday night home opener against the Steelers. “You’ve gotta be able to bring people with you to actually be a leader. Otherwise you’re just out there giving speeches and kinda rah rah.”

There is only one scenario that would ultimately prove that Barkley should not have been the second-overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft: Sam Darnold develops into what Giants general manager Dave Gettleman calls a Gold Jacket Guy, and Daniel Jones is a bust.

There are no indications yet that those conversations should be scheduled to begin anytime soon.

There is no need to worry about Saquon Barkley’s future. Or present.

For now, it cannot be argued that Jones, as he begins his sophomore season, has the good fortune of having Barkley along for the ride, while Darnold does not.

There are many reasons why the Giants are 9-23 since Barkley arrived and he is the least of them.

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Saquon Barkley jokes with Daniel JonesGetty Images

The Joe Judge Giants will go as far as Daniel Jones will take them, but Barkley’s mandate is to help carry the young, second-year franchise quarterback there so he can hush the legion of skeptics who railed against the philosophy of drafting a running back second overall because how many Super Bowls has Adrian Peterson won? Ezekiel Elliott? How many did Barry Sanders win? Eric Dickerson? LaDainian Tomlinson?

Barkley was more than a running back when he was drafted and he will be more than a running back for however long he wears blue 26.

He is a weapon, the kind of weapon who can be a difference-maker on a championship contender alongside the right franchise quarterback.

He is The Best Player in New York.

This is his time.

He will be the centerpiece of the Joe Judge-Jason Garrett offense, be for Garrett what Elliott was for him with the Cowboys, be the vanguard of a punch-you-in-the-mouth-for-60-minutes philosophy espoused by the rookie head coach, be an invaluable safety valve/security blanket/matchup treasure for Jones.

Elliott has exceeded 300 carries in three of his first four seasons and has caught 131 passes over the past two seasons. Barkley’s high is 261 carries as a rookie. Barkley doesn’t have the elite offensive line that Elliott did, but when he is healthy, remember what Gettleman said when he passed on Darnold and Josh Allen and Josh Rosen (and Lamar Jackson) and drafted him: “This kid makes our quarterback better, he makes our wide receivers better, he makes our O-line better, he makes our defense better.”

Barkley’s sophomore season was compromised by a high ankle sprain and his first two seasons were compromised by an offensive line that was, to borrow a phrase from Bill Parcells, a little less than perfect. Those Saquads are intact, and the hope is that gifted rookie No. 1 draft pick left tackle Andrew Thomas and roughneck center Nick Gates should upgrade the blocking.

If he is indeed the generational talent we think he is, then it will not be asking too much of Barkley to either lead the league in rushing, or in combined rushing and receiving yardage.

Or both.

Remember, he caught 91 passes (7.9-yard average) as a rookie. While Odell Beckham Jr. was still a Giant. Jones will attack downfield more than Eli Manning did, but Barkley can be more than a checkdown option in the passing game.

It is not lost on Judge or the front office or ownership that Barkley is a willing ambassador for the franchise, always parroting and promoting the-glass-half-full party line, relishing his burgeoning role as one of the leaders of the Giants.

Barkley and Jones are the twin faces of the franchise, and you can take it to the bank that the Giants will show Barkley the money sometime before his fourth season even if the shelf life for running backs presents a cautionary tale in the person of Todd Gurley, cut by the Rams after receiving a four-year, $60 million extension with $45 million guaranteed in 2018, and now a Falcon.

“He’s a touchdown-maker,” Gettleman said. “He is a threat to take it to the house every time he gets his hands on the ball.”

Twenty-three touchdowns in 29 games, even with little help around him. A 230-pounder with the moves of a 190-pounder. Best player on the team. Best player on the field next Monday night against the Steelers. First Giants back to rush for 1,000 yards in his first two seasons.

There was a moment in Judge’s first Giants intrasquad scrimmage when a free-agent running back, since released, turned a corner for a nice gain, and there was Barkley darting from the sideline to shout his approval for Javon Leake.

Barkley’s teammates follow him because this is what happens when the best player is also the hardest worker.

Barkley was one of the moving voices and faces on the “Stronger Together” Black Lives Matter video that triggered a better-late-than-never response from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

As long as Barkley can stay healthy, he will one day be remembered as the best running back in Giants history.

The very first time he touched the ball as a Giant, he raced for 39 preseason yards. The best is yet to come. Le’Veon Bell is 28. He is in ridiculous shape, but Frank Gore seems to be nipping at his heels. If he can remember how to be Le’Veon Bell, then Darnold will be lucky to have him this season. Jones is luckier to have 23-year-old Saquon Barkley. For this season and beyond.

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