Dissension in the ranks: Debating Jonathan Taylor vs. Saquon Barkley for fantasy football 2024


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If you’ve looked at early ADP lists for fantasy football 2024, you’ve probably noticed that veteran running backs Saquon Barkley and Jonathan Taylor are running neck-and-neck in terms of where they are being drafted. With an industry telling us these running backs are basically the same in terms of fantasy value for the upcoming season, we’ve enlisted Jake Ciely and Dane Martinez to help break this virtual tie. Ciely’s money is on Indy’s bell cow, while Martinez believes Barkley, now with the Eagles, will fly higher in 2024. Read their cases below and declare your winner in the comments section.

Dane Martinez stumps for Saquon Barkley:

Fantasy managers frequently consider what an upgrade at quarterback can do for receivers and their fantasy potential (have you seen the buzz on Drake London and Garrett Wilson?!?!). I believe an upgrade at offensive line can do even more for a running back, and nobody is getting a bigger upgrade than Saquon Barkley. Last year, he was hit in the backfield on 46% of his carries, the third-highest rate in the NFL. By contrast, D’Andre Swift was hit behind the line on only 27% of his carries — lowest rate in the league! The Eagles O-Line has been a huge factor for other backs recently as well. Look at Miles Sanders, who averaged a very strong 5.0 YPC over four years with Philly, an average that dropped to a paltry 3.3 YPC with Carolina last year. Barkley averaged 3.9 YPC last year and that number is sure to rise — the O-Line matters!

Also, put yourself in the mind of a defensive coordinator facing the Giants over the past few years. The only player you had to game plan for was Barkley. That means heavy boxes and nobody to take attention away from him. That won’t be the case now as defenses facing the Eagles know if you load up on Barkley, A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith will kill you on the outside. I know one of the other players to plan for is Jalen Hurts, but he was banged up towards the end of last year and the Eagles have indicated they will use the “Tush Push” a little less this season, especially after the retirement of HOF-bound center Jason Kelce. Adding Barkley actually saves the Eagles from having to risk Hurts as much in the run game, including at the goal line.

By contrast, Taylor’s rushing production will be compromised more than ever before with Anthony Richardson as QB in Indy. They only played together in one game last year, but Richardson was on pace to have similar rushing yards and even more rushing TDs than Hurts, who tied Josh Allen with 15 rushing scores to lead the league among QBs last year. In my opinion, Eagles RBs will get a bigger piece of the pie this year while the inverse happens in Indianapolis. Sportsbooks across the board also expect the Eagles to contend for a division crown with a win total of 10.5, while the Colts are the consensus third choice in the AFC South, meaning Barkley should benefit from a rushing game script and the “closer” role late in games more often than Taylor. 

If you have a choice… take Saquon!

Jake Ciely counters in favor of Jonathan Taylor:

I love the upgrade for Barkley, but Taylor is a tier ahead. The simplest reason for Taylor is workload. Once Taylor was near 100% healthy in Week 7, he averaged 21 touches, even while getting hurt and returning from injury a second time. Only two running backs eclipsed those numbers last year: Kyren Williams (21.7) and Christian McCaffrey (21.2). Barkley had 20.6, but while his team upgrade is massive, the Eagles haven’t seen a running back top 16.7 touches per game since LeSean McCoy in 2014 (21.3). The Eagles paid for one of the best talents in the league, but they don’t need Barkley to average 20+ touches. Look at the Colts depth chart. Trey Sermon is the current “next man up,” which means few — if any — running backs should have as many touches as Taylor.

People have seen and know what a quarterback threat like Anthony Richardson also does for the running back. While Week 1 was miserable for Colts running backs, it was a Deon Jackson/Jake Funk backfield. In Week 2, Zack Moss had 18-88-1 and 4-4-19-0; Week 4 he finished with 18-70-0 and 1-0-0-0; and Week 5 was 23-165-2 and 2-2-30-0 (in Taylor’s first game back). Yes, some of those touches came with Gardner Minshew under center, as Richardson got hurt in Weeks 2 and 5, but the opportunities and efficiency upside are there. Given his talent and share, Taylor should be the only running back approaching 300+ carries this year, and he’s the favorite to lead the NFL in total touches. Add in Taylor’s 4.3% touchdown rate on rushes for his career, and you have a running back with a better fantasy outlook than Barkley, and in fact, he might be the only one to challenge Christian McCaffrey.

(Top photos of Jonathan Taylor, Saquon Barkley: Trevor Ruszkowski, Eric Hartline; USA TODAY)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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