The NFL careers of Saquon Barkley and Sam Darnold are likely to be linked for a long time.
They were the second and third players picked in the NFL Draft, and both will play in New York – Barkley for the Giants and Darnold for the Jets – where they will be under intense media scrutiny in the nation’s largest media market.
In a win-now mode and hoping to get a few more years out of Eli Manning, the Giants took the running back.
The Jets, who had traded up to get the third pick, then grabbed Darnold to be their quarterback of the future.
Barkley figures to have a more immediate impact. He’ll start the opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars — if he’s healthy. He ran 39 yards on his first carry from scrimmage in the first preseason game against Cleveland, but suffered a mild hamstring strain after making a fingertip catch of a pass in practice on Aug. 13. The Giants say he is day to day.
Darnold, who played the majority of the reps in the first two preseason games, is trying to beat out Teddy Bridgewater and Josh McCown for the starting job. Coach Todd Bowles said he won’t name a starter until after the final preseason game.
Darnold’s next game is Friday night against the Giants in the annual preseason game between the two New York teams, who play each other only once every four years in the regular season.
But Darnold had no complaints about the Giants bypassing him when he spoke at a recent press conference.
“The Giants are a top-tier organization,’’ Darnold said.”They’re great people over there. I know Saquon loves it. When I visited there, I had nothing but great things to say about them, so I’m looking forward to seeing some of the guys that play for them on Friday, and I’m also looking forward to to competing against them.’’
Darnol said he got to known Barkley “pretty well’’ during the predraft process.
“Saquon’s a great dude,’’ Darnold said. “Obviously, he’s a special athlete. But he’s even a better person, so it’s just really cool to be able to play against him and really be in the same city with him, hopefully for a long time.’’
They last time they were on the field together was in the Rose Bowl after the 2016 season, when Darnold’s USC Trojans beat Barkley’s Penn State Nittany Lions, 52-49, as Darnold passed for 453 yards and five touchdowns.
Barkley ran for 194 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries and caught a touchdown pass in that wild affair.
In three drives in second preseason game against Washington, Darnold’s stats (8 of 11 for 62 yards, one pick and a 48.3 rating) weren’t dazzling, but his stats are similar to Bridgewater’s over the first two games.
Darnold went 21 of 29 for 158 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Bridgewater was 17 of 23 for 212 yards and a pick. They know what the veteran McCown can do, and he has played sparingly, completing his only pass for four yards.
It won’t be surprising if Darnold gets the nod because he’s the future. At least two teams have called to see if the Jets want to trade Bridgewater.
Nobody knows if Barkley will turn out to be a better pick than Darnold for the Giants.
There is more upside over the long term with Darnold because quarterbacks tend to play much longer than running backs.
On the other hand, if the Giants win now with Barkley and find a franchise quarterback in the future, it may pay off for them.
It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out and whether the Giants made the right pick or will regret not taking Darnold.
And it will happen in the white-hot glare of the New York media spotlight.
And the Jaguars may get an up close and personal look at both players since they play the Giants in the opener on the road and the Jets at home in their fourth game.