The King of New York. It sounds like something from Game of Thrones. And we're not talking about the song from Newsies, the Broadway musical. This is real.
We're talking about running backs. And two prominent ones at that.
A star on the rise vs. a fading star hoping to recapture past glory.
The King of NEw York
NYG N.Y. Giants • #26
Age: 26 • Experience: 6 yrs.
Le'Veon Bell RB
TB Tampa Bay • #6
Age: 31 • Experience: 8 yrs.
It's a fascinating story in Fantasy and reality, and we get to watch it play out in 2019. The two will even meet head-to-head in Week 10 this season on the field they both share.
But who will claim the title of King of New York as the best running back in the Big Apple — and possibly the NFL? It's something Fantasy Football managers are curious about as well.
It didn't take long before Bell was asked about Barkley in his first appearance with the New York media during Jets minicamp in June.
"He's an amazing player," Bell said. "It's going to be fun sharing a stadium with him. Obviously, there's going to be internal competition, but I'm a guy who's going to root for him. I want him to be the best player he can be."
Bell is right to show respect to Barkley after his dominant rookie campaign in 2018. And Barkley is the obvious choice to wear the mythical crown of King of New York — at least coming into the season.
While Barkley was destroying defenses last year with 261 carries for 1,307 yards (5.0 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns, as well as 91 catches for 721 yards and four touchdowns, Bell was watching from home. New York and the Jets weren't exactly on the forefront of his mind.
He sat out 2018 in a contract dispute with the Steelers, and eventually signed with the Jets on a four-year, $52.5 million contract as a free agent, with $35 million guaranteed.
And now Bell has to remind everyone of just how great of a player he was — and will hopefully be once again.
"Maybe people have forgotten a little bit because they haven't seen it in a long time," Bell said. "It's normal. That's what humans do. But I feel like once I get here and play, first game coming up, people will be reminded."
Fantasy players and Jets fans are hopeful Bell will still be the same player he was with the Steelers, although many are skeptical. He's 27, coming off a year where he didn't play and going from one of the best rosters in the NFL to a team in rebuild mode.
In Pittsburgh, Bell got to line up behind Ben Roethlisberger and a standout offensive line, flanked by Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Not many running backs have that luxury, and Bell flourished in that system.
With the Jets, the offensive line isn't as good, and you can't compare a second-year quarterback like Sam Darnold to Roethlisberger. And Robby Anderson and Jamison Crowder don't compare to Brown and Smith-Schuster at all either, even if there's promise with this Jets offense under new coach Adam Gase.
But if Bell can return to form, watch out. When we last saw him in 2017, he had 321 carries for 1,291 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns, as well as 85 catches for 655 yards and two touchdowns in 15 games. He averaged 22.7 PPR points per game that season, and he's been among the best Fantasy running backs since 2014.
It would be great to see him on that level again, but his tenure with the Jets got off to a bit of a rocky start off the field.
After the Jets fired general manager Mike Maccagnan in May, it was reported Gase didn't want to sign Bell at his price tag. Gase addressed that report with the media, saying "the contract was what it was. Everybody can criticize the contract all you want, but he's here. I'm excited he's here ... When you get a chance to coach a great player, I'm excited for that opportunity."
Bell then opted to stay in Florida with his personal trainer instead of showing up for voluntary workouts with the team, though he reported for the mandatory minicamp. He found out he has a lot of work to do in learning Gase's offense and developing a rapport with his new teammates, especially Darnold and the offensive line.
"It's great for the coaches (to have Bell around), and it's good for the other guys as well because you have to get used to a guy's running style," Gase said. "We all know he has a unique running style, that patience he has. I think it helps the line, helps the quarterback and just kind of getting used to the communication that those two guys have, that's critical of routes. There are a lot of tiny details you really can accomplish in person compared to just talking through a meeting or talking over the phone or through text message."
The good news is Bell showed up for training camp ready to work. And Gase is reportedly excited to get him going in the offense. But the best thing about Bell this year is, barring injury, he's going to play. Thankfully, we don't have to go through another season of worrying about his contract. We get to see him perform on the field.
But will he be as good as Barkley? Not if things go according to plan, though that's not necessarily a knock on Bell. Barkley just has a higher ceiling heading into 2019.
The Giants offense is built around Barkley, especially after trading Odell Beckham to the Browns this offseason. They got a standout right guard in return in Kevin Zeitler, and the Giants also added free agent right tackle Mike Remmers from Minnesota.
Eli Manning will open the season as the starter, but he could eventually be replaced by rookie Daniel Jones, the No. 6 overall pick in this year's NFL Draft from Duke. That could be a downgrade for Barkley.
Golden Tate was signed as a free agent from Philadelphia, and he will try to help Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram replace Beckham's production. That's another potential downgrade for Barkley because none of those guys, clearly, are on Beckham's level. And Tate is expected to miss the first four games of the season with a suspension.
But Barkley proved to be a special talent in 2018. He became the third rookie in NFL history with more than 2,000 total yards, joining Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James. His 91 receptions set the rookie mark for catches in a season by a running back, breaking Reggie Bush's record of 88 in 2006.
According to NFL's Next Gen Stats, Barkley hit 21.9 miles per hour during his 78-yard touchdown run in Week 14 against Washington, which was the fastest speed reached by any player on a rushing touchdown during the 2018 season. Giants coach Pat Shurmur said after the game that play was the fastest he's ever seen Barkley run, even on film from his days at Penn State.
That game showed us something else about Barkley, which is important for this season, especially since Beckham was out against the Redskins with a quad injury. He finished the game against Washington with 14 carries for 170 yards and a touchdown, but he truly earned that production.
According to NFL's Next Gen Stats, Barkley had eight carries for 141 yards and the touchdown while going against eight-plus defenders near the line of scrimmage. It's the most rushing yards for any player while facing eight-plus defenders since NFL's Next Gen Stats began tracking the stat in 2016.
But Barkley knows what he accomplished in 2018 won't just carry over to this season. He has to keep developing his game. He talked to CBS Sports at the Pro Bowl and on radio row at Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta about what he has improve in 2019.
"Elevate your game. Every part of it," Barkley said. "Watch film. The way you lead. That's the biggest thing that I've learned. Now you know what to expect. You know the work you have to put in."
Added Shurmur: "Just become the best Saquon he can become. If he does that, he will do all the things we need him to."
Shurmur said the Giants aren't concerned about Barkley's workload after he had 352 total touches in 2018, which was second behind Ezekiel Elliott (381 in the regular season). Shurmur said "it is a good thing when he touches the ball."
Barkley said he wants the ball as much as possible.
"I don't think any number is too high for me," Barkley said. "I know I sound like a broken record, but for as long as I'm in the NFL — as long as I take care of my body, my body will take care of me. Whether it's 350 touches, 400 touches or less touches, whatever I have to do to have this team compete for a championship, I'm going to do."
Bell knows all about a heavy workload from his time in Pittsburgh. He had 406 total touches in the regular season in 2017 (431 including the playoffs), and he had 336 total touches in 2016 in just 12 games in the regular season. Over 16 games, that would have been 448 total touches.
Gase said his preference would be to not overwork Bell, adding "that's why, historically, I've always used a lot of running backs." But we still expect Bell to dominate touches for the Jets in 2019.
So who will be better this season? We'll find out once the games start for real, but Fantasy players know the answer now — Barkley.
His Average Draft Position in July was No. 1 overall, while Bell was at No. 8 as the sixth running back off the board. We'll see what that looks like in August when the majority of Fantasy drafts take place, but it's doubtful Bell will pass Barkley in ADP, barring an injury.
And in the past 20 years, the Giants and Jets have each had a 1,000-yard rusher in the same season just seven times. Tiki Barber and Curtis Martin did it four times (2000, 2002, 2003 and 2004), Brandon Jacobs and Thomas Jones did it twice (2007 and 2008) and then Bradshaw and Greene.
We expect Barkley and Bell to reach that milestone — and hopefully do more. The perfect scenario is Barkley builds off what he started as a rookie in 2018, and Bell doesn't miss a beat in joining the Jets after sitting out last season.
But there can only be one King of New York. Only one of these running backs can sit on the throne. And it should be fun to watch this battle play out on the field this year.
So what 2019 Fantasy Football sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which RB2 can you wait on until late? Visit SportsLine now to get 2019 Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that called Andrew Luck's huge season, and find out.