EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson knows a little something about rookie running back success. He holds the single-season rookie record for rushing yards and total yards from scrimmage.
Dickerson said it didn’t take him long to realize Barkley was going to be a “great player.” Only a few plays actually. The way he moved said it all.
“He’s a different breed,” Dickerson told ESPN earlier this week. “The one thing I saw, and I didn’t see him play in college … he made a cut and was able to run sideways pretty much — some stuff I saw myself do when I was young — full speed. And he turned upfield.
“I was like, ‘This guy is special.’ I just think he’s going to be that guy.”
It appears that way. Barkley is entering Dickerson territory. Barkley is not going to reach Dickerson’s 1983 rookie record of 1,808 rushing yards, as the Giants rookie has 1,155 rushing yards, but Barkley could threaten Dickerson’s 2,212 total yards from scrimmage.
Barkley is 403 yards shy of Dickerson’s total yards from scrimmage record. He would need to average 202 yards per game over the final two weeks to set a new mark. It’s a tall task against the Indianapolis Colts and Dallas Cowboys, but not impossible. And even if Barkley falls short, it’s hardly a failure.
“The fact that I’m close enough to get that record is an honor,” he said. “But obviously, if it happens, it happens. I’m more worried about finding a way to win these next two weeks. If I can get that, I’m pretty sure it will help the team win too. That’s kind of the mindset I have and have never been big on records.
“But obviously, to even be considered close to that record that has held up since ’83 … it’s an honor to even be close to that.”
Barkley only has one game with over 200 total yards this season (Week 6 vs. Philadelphia). He would likely need two more to pass Dickerson.
“That’s a lot [of yards]. If anybody has the talent to do it, he does. But that is tough,” Dickerson said. “Yeah, he’s got a lot of work cut out for him. It’s going to be pretty tough for him. Wish him luck for me. Do I want him to break it? Absolutely not. I’m going to be honest. But good luck to you.”
The Giants rookie has caught the eye of other legendary backs. The back he’s often compared to, Barry Sanders, is a big fan. They met earlier this year when the Giants played a preseason game in Detroit.
The last Giants running back to compile 2,000 total yards in a season, Tiki Barber, also likes what he has seen. He’s keeping close tabs on his former team and its star running back, who is 191 yards away from hitting the 2,000 mark in total yards.
“That is amazing [to do it as a rookie],” Barber said. “And the way that he is doing it is amazing. Because he’s going to have 90 catches on the season as well as rushing for over 1,300 or 1,400 yards. It’s an epic season.”
Barkley has 1,155 yards rushing to go along with 82 receptions for 654 yards and 13 total touchdowns. He already owns most Giants rookie records.
Barber had the chance to sit down with the No. 2 overall pick earlier this year. He knew then, at that dinner in the spring, there was something special with Barkley.
“The thing that impressed me most is his curiosity and desire to learn all the little details, which is something most guys don’t think about when they first enter the league. You see now why,” Barber said. “He wanted to process it. When you look at the evolving success of his rookie season — and he’s still getting better — it’s because of that.
“It’s not like he was here with his eyes wide open. ‘Oh, I’m happy to be here!’ There is this thirst for knowledge so he can be great, and it’s showing.”
Dickerson, Barber and Brian Westbrook agree that Barkley has gotten better as the season progressed. That is impressive in its own right given the demands of being a first-year pro and handling the physical rigors of a 16-game season against the world’s best football players.
Barkley said Wednesday he feels pretty good and seems to have avoided that rookie wall. His favorite part has been learning and growing as the season has progressed.
This falls right in line with what Westbrook saw when he was helping out with the running backs at the NFL scouting combine in April. That’s when Barkley asked him how he could make a good impression on the coaches.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if next year — and you’re talking about one of the better rookie seasons — I wouldn’t be surprised next year if we saw a better Saquon Barkley,” Westbrook said.
In that case, Barber’s franchise record of 2,390 scrimmage yards set in 2006 and Dickerson’s NFL record 2,105 rushing yards in 1984 could be in jeopardy.