The NFC East and NFC South might be the two most loaded divisions in the NFL, but good luck guessing who will come out on top.
USA TODAY Sports
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Saquon Barkley is not afraid to ask questions.
This did not start with his introduction to the NFL as the rookie phenom and first-round running back for the New York Giants. Go back as far as those closest to Barkley can remember and he’s always been the grand inquisitor of the group.
And not just on football, mind you, but seemingly everything and anything he feels the need to know.
Back in high school in Whitehall, Pa., Barkley had no qualms about incessantly raising his hand in Justin Kondikoff’s environmental science class, and he was not doing so to feign interest in order to curry favor from the teacher.
“In class, there were times I had to put limits on the number of questions he would ask because he would take up the whole class. He would literally filibuster the entire class because he was so inquisitive. He inquired about everything,” Kondikoff recalled for The Record and NorthJersey.com back in April shortly after Barkley was drafted by the Giants. “Now, this was environmental science class, so that’s not his thing. But he was in the class, so he would take advantage of it. ‘What is a carbon footprint?’ He would ask about any topic we discussed and he genuinely wanted to know. He would kind of take over the class, and not on purpose, just – he wanted to know. If you had information, he wanted to know about it. If there was something new he didn’t know about, tell me more.”
At 21, Barkley is already making an impression. He’s electric on the field, but his professionalism behind the scenes is what teammates are raving about.
Eli Manning joked recently that he’s never had a teammate ask so many questions, and from Barkley’s perspective, his curiosity is certainly not from a lack of self-awareness.
The former Penn State star with remarkable skill and a brand-new contract worth $31.2 million has mastered the art of being an annoyance, and in a good way.
“Eli’s an amazing teammate, and I know I’m probably a little annoying to him. I do ask him a lot of questions,” Barkley said Friday. “But he also, actually, challenges me by asking me questions. If we’re out on the field, he’ll call me aside and be like, ‘What do you do in this scenario?’ And I’ve got to answer the question. Hopefully most of the time I’m right, but if I’m wrong, he’ll let me know why I’m wrong and what we should do.”
Giants co-owner and team president John Mara acknowledged Thursday that all the attention Barkley has received since being picked No. 2 overall makes him a bit nervous.
JOIN OUR FACEBOOK GROUP: Talk about this story and more with fellow NFL fans
He can’t recall a rookie coming to the franchise with this much expectation and anticipation dating back to when the Giants last selected second, and they landed a future Hall of Fame linebacker named Lawrence Taylor.
Still, Mara believes Barkley has the right mind-set to live up to the hype.
“Possibly 1981, Lawrence Taylor when he came to camp, but maybe not quite this much,” Mara said. “I mean, his jersey is already the No.1-selling jersey, he’s gotten a lot of attention. But again, I think in speaking to him and watching how he conducts himself, I think he is able to handle that, so I feel good about that. But still, you know I’ve used this line a million times before — let’s not get him ready for Canton just yet, let’s let him play some games first.”
The Giants open the regular season in what should be Barkley’s NFL debut in 44 days when they host the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium.
So there’s plenty of time between now and then for more questions.
“He would ask the same questions in football, too: ‘If the D-tackle is in this technique versus this technique, how should I make this step?’ It was the same thing that he did in class, he did on the football field,” Kondikoff said. “And that’s what makes him special: He’s not afraid to open himself up and ask those questions where a lot of students, a lot of athletes, don’t want to ask those questions.
“For him, it’s important to him, whether it’s something in environmental science class or how to take the proper step carrying the ball.”