2018 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Saquon Barkley looks like a legit stud

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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ -- Before we get to Thursday night with Saquon Barkley's magical first run in his NFL debut against the Browns, let's hit on the latest news for the Giants rookie running back. And thankfully it appears like all is well.

On Monday in practice, Barkley suffered a left leg injury after a long reception. Coach Pat Shurmur said, "Saquon has a mild strain, and we'll be smart with him as we move along here."

While it's not ideal for any injury, it appears like Barkley has avoided anything that should keep him off the field for Week 1. Most likely, his preseason action could be cut short, but he might have done enough already to solidify his standing among Fantasy owners.

Barkley is definitely going to be a first-round pick in the majority of leagues.

He didn't need a strong preseason performance against the Browns to make that a reality, but his first NFL carry was explosive. On the Giants first play from scrimmage, Barkley took the hand-off from Eli Manning slightly to the left of the offensive line, he jump-cut to his right and burst upfield, galloping for a 39-yard gain.

It was a thing of beauty for Giants fans, Fantasy owners and Barkley's teammates:

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Saquon Barkley NYG • RB • 26
2017 stats at Penn State

"I've been watching it all camp," Giants receiver Sterling Shepard said. "He couldn't wait to cut it loose, and that's just what he did. That's just a little snippet of what '26' has, and I can't wait to see him the rest of this season."

Added Shurmur: "I loved his first run. If only they all could be like that. You could see, it wasn't too big for him. He's probably played before bigger crowds at Penn State. It really wasn't too big for him, and I think he took the next step in his progress to get ready for the season."

In college, Barkley was a statistical monster. He finished his collegiate career as Penn State's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (43), total touchdowns (53) and all-purpose yards (5,538). And he became the only player in Penn State history and just the fourth player in Big Ten history to gain 3,000 yards rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in a career. 

The Giants selected him as the No. 2 overall pick in this year's NFL Draft, and the hope for Fantasy owners is he performs just like Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette did as rookies. Those are the past three running backs taken first in their NFL Draft class (Gurley in 2015, Elliott in 2016 and Fournette last year), and all finished as at least the No. 7 Fantasy running back in non-PPR leagues. 

There's a lot of excitement that Barkley could perform at that level, and his current Average Draft Position puts him at No. 7 overall. But Giants left tackle Nate Solder, who is part of the revamped offensive line that will open holes for Barkley along with rookie left guard Will Hernandez, doesn't want to put unrealistic expectations on the rookie phenom.

Solder said Barkley is "a very talented guy," but it's "too early to say" if he'll be a star. Still, Solder was impressed with that first run.

"It was excellent," Solder said. "I don't know if it was great blocking or if it was great running. I haven't seen the film yet. But to have a few big plays like that relieves a little of the pressure where we can just continue to keep working and keep grinding knowing that we're capable of doing those things even when we're not perfect."

To his credit, Barkley didn't get overly excited about his big play. Maybe it's because he had three other carries against Cleveland that went for just 4 yards in his limited playing time.

Barkley said he was relaxed in his NFL debut, and he was happy to perform well in his limited touches.

"For some reason, I didn't get nervous," he said. "I didn't really get anxious. It was kind of a weird feeling. They said it would probably hit me when the national anthem goes off, but I kind of just got locked in so quick. I just have been preparing for this moment for my whole life and being able to play in the NFL, and I didn't want any other thing to ruin it. It didn't matter if I broke a long run, I just wanted to go out there and enjoy and have fun and take advantage of every rep and opportunity I got."

Barkley also knows things will only get tougher for him as the season goes along.

"One of the coaches told me that it's going to get worse, don't worry," he said. "I'm definitely preparing for that."

And while it's easy to get excited about one big play in a meaningless preseason game, Giants quarterback Eli Manning tried to keep things in perspective. After all, Manning is entering his 15th season in the NFL, and he's seen plenty of big plays when it matters most.

Manning was impressed with Barkley's first carry. But he's not ready to put Barkley in the Hall of Fame just yet.

"Just a run," Manning said. "Let's not go berserk yet. It was a good run, offensive line blocked things well, had a good cut back and it was a good play."

It was a good run. It was a great play. But it doesn't mean Barkley is automatically going to have success in his rookie campaign.

Still, this is what you wanted to see from Barkley if you plan to invest in him with a first-round pick. And thankfully all appears well with his leg following his injury at Monday's practice. 

We might not see Barkley again until Week 1. But as long as he's healthy, Barkley showed us enough against the Browns that the potential is there for him to be a star.

So what sleepers should you snatch in your Fantasy Football draft? And which huge running backs do you need to jump all over? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that called Alvin Kamara's huge breakout last season and find out.        

Senior Fantasy Writer

Jamey Eisenberg has been a Senior Fantasy Writer for CBS Sports since 2006 with a focus on Fantasy Football. A University of Florida grad (class of '98), Jamey got his start in the newspaper business and... Full Bio

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