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Saquon Barkley hasn’t played a down of regular season NFL football. Yet expectations for The Bronx-born running back are as massive as his quads and the New York Giants, who selected Barkley with the second overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft—instead of a potential franchise quarterback—need him to meet those expectations.
The G-Men finished with an abysmal 3-13 record last season (the franchise’s worst since 1974), and trotted out a running attack that ranked 26th in yards per game. Meanwhile, Barkley was breaking Penn State’s major rushing records, including most rushing TDs in school history, and earning his second straight Big Ten Player of the Year award. Barkley and Big Blue couldn’t be more compatible.
Despite suffering a hamstring injury that limited him to just four carries during the preseason—which includes a 39-yard beast mode run on his first play from scrimmage—Barkley will be ready for the start of the season. He’ll take his spot in the backfield as one of the offensive weapons the Giants will flex in 2018, bestie and $95 million man Odell Beckham Jr. included, fellow wideout Sterling Shepard also in the mix. And don’t ever sleep on two-time Super Bowl champ Eli Manning, who’s benching in 2017 may just ignite the fire that sets the offense ablaze this season.
“I believe we have a great chance to be a special team this year on the offensive…and defensive side of the ball,” Barkley tells Complex. “Our expectation is to win the Super Bowl.”
We caught up with Barkley just days before his NFL debut to chat about his #relationshipgoals with Beckham, his favorite Drake album, and the new Pepsi commercial he’s starring in.
"A lot of people talk about he’s arrogant, he’s this, that, and third, which in my opinion is so far off because he is one of the most caring people that I’ve ever known or met."
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
With you being a Jets fan growing up, how do you think 12-year-old Saquon would have reacted if he heard he was going to be a New York Giant one day?
I think he definitely would have been a little shocked, but I think he also would have been proud because growing up, the mindset and mentality that my parents gave me was you can do anything you put your mind to. And even though I did say I wanted to grow up and play for the Jets, I’ve also always said I wanted to be in the NFL. And I'm in the NFL. I'm living my dream. I wake up every single day being an NFL player and go to work with a smile on my face, enjoying life. I really couldn't ask for anything better.
I’m a big Giants fan, and it’s been a while since I can remember being this excited for the start of the season, especially with the offense with you, Odell, Shep, Eli leading the charge. Can you talk a little bit about just how effective you think this offense can be?
Yeah, I mean we didn’t have a chance to put that on showcase in the preseason (with the injuries), but I’ve definitely seen it in practice, especially at my position. When I look to my left and look to my right, and I got Eli with me in the backfield. Odell, Shep, Evan Engram, the new additions to the offensive line. We have the potential to be a great offense, but in the NFL, everyone's great. Everyone is so talented and everyone has potential, but I do think with the leadership that we have—just the vets and the players that we have—I believe we have a great chance to be a special team this year on the offensive side of the ball and on defensive side of the ball. So I'm just excited to get the season started. Start playing my first game and actually get an NFL season under my belt.
I know that you and Odell go back pretty far. Can you take us back to the first day you met him, but then also discuss your relationship with him?
The first time I actually met Odell was going into my junior year of college football. I was at a camp [in Oregon] to be a counselor, and Odell was there. All the kids went crazy, and I remember I wanted to ask him for a picture, but I didn't want to seem like too much of a fan because in a year, I could be playing against this guy. Now I look back on it, and I'm playing with him. That was actually the first time I got to meet Odell.
Definitely our relationship got stronger in L.A. when I was training out there. I got to congratulate him on the big deal he signed. I'm so happy for him. He’s just been such a great role model, a great big brother taking me in under his arms and showing me the way. I just feel so thankful for him.
I saw you and Shep celebrating Odell's big contract in that video where you guys were dancing. Can you put into words your reaction to the deal, as well as the rest of the locker room?
My reaction was I was so happy for him. So happy cause it's not about the money to be honest, it's just the principle. It's the way he created himself. I think anyone would say he’s the best wide receiver in the league, and one of the best players in the NFL. I've got to see it first hand how he carries himself, his work ethic, and how he pushes himself every single day in practice. Even when he didn't have a contract and negotiations were still going on, he could have handled it a different way. But he didn’t. He was there every single day being a leader, being a great teammate, having that energy—that swagger—that he always brings. Showing us young guys how to do it the right way.
Right, and it’s so interesting with Odell because obviously he’s a tremendous athlete, but also he’s such a polarizing figure. His teammates seem to love him, but for the people that don’t, is it that they’re missing something? Maybe they’re only seeing or paying attention to a piece of the picture and not the full thing?
Definitely, I think just people in the media and in the world of sports, everyone is going to have an opinion on someone without really knowing them. I think people mistake his passion for the game. A lot of people talk about he’s arrogant, he’s this, that, and third, which in my opinion is so far off because he is one of the most caring people that I’ve ever known or met.
Like I said, for me, he's welcomed me with open arms, and he's been like that for a lot of guys on the team. He just plays with so much passion on the sidelines that I think a lot of people misunderstand that, but his passion and love for the game is the reason why he just such a competitor. He's just a huge competitor in whatever we’re doing especially with me and him. We bump heads with sports, but other games too. It doesn’t matter if it’s rock-paper-scissors, cards, or whatever. We’re going at it. I guess you could say people view him in a different way if they’re not around him, but getting to know him and spend time around him, be around him, I say he’s a loving person. I’m just so happy he got that.
Diving through your IG and Twitter accounts a little bit, I saw that you've met LeBron James, obviously you've signed with Roc Nation so you met JAY-Z. Is there anyone you've met that you've been totally starstruck by?
Not really, not really. Oh, I'm tripping, I'm tripping. Barry Sanders. Barry Sanders was probably the guy for me. Jim Brown also. Those was probably the two guys where I was just like, “Wow, I can't believe I'm in the same building, the same area as this person.” It’s cool meeting all these people, but definitely Barry Sanders was the guy. Barry Sanders and Jim Brown were the ones that I was just like, ‘Wow, like this is really, really happening.”
And also speaking of celebrities, I wanted to talk about Drake for a minute because I noticed many of your IG captions are Drake lines. I'm also a huge Drake fan, I went to his concert at MSG last week. I'm always curious though talking to other Drake fans, what's your favorite album of his?
It’s gotta be Take Care. Or Scorpion. That album is really, really good too. I mean, to be completely honest, Drake really never misses. Anything he puts out, you know is going to be a hit. But Take Care is probably my favorite album of Drake's so far.
Mine too, definitely. It’s such a classic. What is it about Take Care that you love so much?
Not to say it’s only the songs, but it’s just the vibe of the album. They’re all classic songs, like anytime me and my friends are hanging out and we go to through the throwback songs—it’s not actually that far throwback—but you can put on any Take Care song and you know it's gonna be fire. I’m trying to pick a favorite song off of that album. “Underground Kings” is great. It’s tough to pick my favorite one. I know right now my favorite song of his is “Nonstop,” but Take Care is definitely the best Drake album, in my opinion.
I'm totally with you. I remember my super fandom for Drake starting when I heard “Marvin's Room.” Which I don't even think was supposed to be on Take Care initially but people loved it so much that…
“Over My Dead Body.” I’m trippin’. “Over My Dead Body” is the best song. “Look What You’ve Done,” another one. It’s tough to pick. I gotta go back and listen to it.
Oh, that’s such a good one. What if you had to assemble a Mt. Rushmore of rappers? Who would be on there for you?
Now, or all time?
I'ma go Tupac, definitely the biggest head in my Mount Rushmore. Biggie, JAY-Z, and I'mma go Drake.
Shifting gears back to football for a minute. The running back position is one that tends to have a shorter shelf life than other positions. They get banged up a lot, they don’t play for as long as quarterbacks, for example. Is that something you think about when it comes your football career and the ventures you decide to participate in off the field?
Yeah, definitely. You gotta be aware, if you’re a running back or play another position, that just with the nature of the game, at any given moment it can all be taken away from you. That's why even though I’m at a young age, I'm trying to make smart investments to save my money. Save my contract money, don't touch that, just live off my off-the-field marketing deals. Because like you said, the running back life is short and the game of football can be taken away from you at any given moment, so you gotta keep in mind that myself, I have a daughter and family to provide for, and I wanna one day make sure that however many kids I have, that I don't have to worry about paying for college. So I gotta continue to live smart and handle myself smart. Try to handle my money and surround myself with the right people and smart people to put myself in the best spot to make the best decision.
Right, that’s great. Obviously heading into this season, expectations for you are high. You were the second overall pick, you’re playing in New York City. How much do you pay attention to social media or what people are saying on TV? Do you use what people are saying as fuel?
I'm really active on social media so I seen a lot of stuff, but I wouldn't say those things motivate me. I'm happy that I hear a lot of good things. There are obviously a lot of bad things too, but you can't focus on that. One thing I've learned is you can only control what you can control, and I personally hold myself to a standard that even though everyone has an opinion on what I should be or how good I should do, I really don't let it bother me at all or pay any attention to it. It's all in my head, my own expectations, what I gotta live up to, the work I put in. I’ll get out what I put in.
Can you talk a little bit about your partnership with Pepsi?
So far Pepsi has been amazing. I was able to do a little commercial with them with the Rookie of the Year campaign. Just growing up, loving football, watching what Pepsi did and interacting with NFL players, was cool. To be able to be a part of Pepsi is actually such a special honor.