EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Saquon Barkley needed one play to justify the hype.
After banging and grinding for small gains much of the game, the No. 2 overall draft pick wowed New York Giants‘ fans in his NFL debut with a spectacular 68-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run in a 20-15 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
The Penn State product finished with a game-high 106 yards rushing, caught two passes for 22 yards and showed there was a good reason why he was the most-hyped rookie to join the franchise since Lawrence Taylor started a Hall of Fame career in 1981.
“That’s why we drafted that young man,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said after the Jaguars spoiled his coaching debut with New York.
Defensive end Calais Campbell, one of six Pro Bowlers on a Jaguars defense that was ranked No. 2 overall last season, was impressed with Barkley after the first few plays of the game, a run for zero and another for minus-3.
“The first run and the first couple of times I tackled him, I said, this kid has something,” Campbell said. “Obviously, you see it on tape, but we didn’t get to watch a lot of tape on him. It’s his college tape. Coming into the NFL against a team like ours, and making some of the plays he made, that kid’s going to be special.”
Campbell said he traded jerseys with Barkley after the game.
“I was like, “OK, if he can stay healthy, he might one day be a Hall of Famer,” Campbell said.
The touchdown run was impressive. Barkley took a handoff from Eli Manning inside, cut it to the outside, stepped out of a tackle attempt and ran down the right sideline, getting a great block from receiver Sterling Shepard.
“It was amazing; it was a great feeling, but it was a feeling that came and went,” Barkley said. “One touchdown is not going to win the game, and that touchdown didn’t win the game this week, but to get in there, it was a dream come true to find the end zone. I did keep the ball, but it was just like ‘Move on, next play,’ and find a way to get in there again.”
For most of the game, the Jaguars held Barkley in check . Eleven of his 18 carries were for 3 yards or less.
“Yeah, obviously, you wish that they were all 75- and 80-yard runs, but it wasn’t like that in college and I didn’t expect it to be like that in the NFL,” the 21-year-old said. “You have to take what they give you. It’s kind of like playing chess: When you get your opportunity, you have to execute.”
Barkley said there was one play where he realized that NFL is going to be a lot different than college. He made a player miss on a run, broke outside and was tackled by free safety Tashaun Gipson Sr.
“In college, that was a touchdown,” Barkley said. “It was a great play by him.”
It just reminded Barkley that big plays are special.
“Today, we didn’t pop one until like the fourth quarter or end of the third, so you just have to continue to stay with it,” he said. “That’s what I kept saying, the offensive line and also to just stay with it, something is going to pop, and when they give us that chance, we have to make them pay for it.”