Things have been pretty hectic for the New York Giants over the last few weeks. The team has overhauled its coaching staff, bringing in now-former Patriots special teams coordinator Joe Judge as its head coach and hiring ex-Cowboys coach Jason Garrett as his offensive coordinator. Longtime quarterback Eli Manning is on the way out, too, as he’s announcing his retirement on Friday and permanently handing the reins over to the guy drafted to be his successor, Daniel Jones.
Fortunately for these new (or, in Jones’ case, relatively new) pieces, the Giants should be able to rely on a strong running game led by one of the most versatile backs in the league, Saquon Barkley. Ever since his college days, Barkley’s been able to do it all as a running back — he can put his head down and run between the tackles just as easily as he can bounce it outside for a big gain. If asked to catch passes, he can do that, too, as evidenced by the fact that he led the New York Giants in receptions as a rookie and came in second on the team this season. He’s the kind of weapon that coaches, coordinators, and quarterbacks dream of having out of the backfield.
Despite a year in which he dealt with a pesky ankle injury, Barkley was a bright spot on the Giant offense, rushing for a team-high 1,003 yards and six scores while pitching in 52 receptions for 438 yards and a pair of touchdowns through the air. In a city where the bright lights can be a lot for young athletes, Barkley has rarely looked like he wants to back away from the spotlight.
Uproxx Sports caught up with Barkley over the phone recently via Spotify, which the 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year uses as a way to consume one of his favorite sources of information, podcasts. In addition to the various goings on with the Giants, Barkley discussed his love of podcasts, the upcoming Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers, and how everything happening in his career right now is just as surreal as they were when he was a freshman in college.
Let’s talk Spotify a little bit, what do you have going on with them?
Obviously when you think of Spotify, you think of just music, and obviously everyone loves music, I’m a big fan of music. But something that I’ve kind of been finding myself getting into, especially with the NFL offseason coming, is podcasts. I think it’s kind of important for athletes to stay up on podcasts because there’s so much that goes on — not only in the sports world. But for me, as a competitor, I like to stay up on a lot of things with my competition, and I use Pardon My Take, Around the NFL. The Pat McAfee Show is one of my favorites, he’s hilarious. I think it’s kind of awesome, usually when you see ex-NFL players, it’s usually quarterbacks or running backs, in this case, it’s a special teams player, a punter who had a lot of success with the Colts, a very long career. So yeah, that’s what I’ve been up to with Spotify, and you can check out my playlist on Spotify, all you gotta do is search my name. (Ed. note — you can check it out right here.)
It sounds like you’re relatively new to listening to podcasts as a way to get info, how’d you get turned onto them.
The way I kinda started with podcasts, I got invited to do a podcast. I have a trainer, Ryan Flaherty, and I went on his podcast and there were just so many interesting things that we were talking about. For me, when I’m traveling, on the road, flying across the country, even if I have the little 30-minute drive from my house to the facility, you can turn on things and just learn something. Especially with Ryan, I know he’s big on mental toughness and physical health, all those things. Or a guy like Joe Rogan — when you think of him, you think of UFC, but he has so many people coming on and talking about different things. Not just about fighting, but Robert Downey Jr. talking about losing his eyesight, just all different types of things that you can learn from listening to podcasts. I’m always wanting to try and learn and expand my knowledge, understanding of a lot of things.
Is that what you enjoy about them? The fact that you can find a podcast about anything that’s interesting you at the moment?
Yeah, exactly. You can find a podcast about anything. Sometimes, the only thing you find that you can go back to is a book, just pick up a book and read a book the old-fashioned way — don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that, I’ve been trying to dive into those, too. But with podcasts, you have so many successful people. They don’t even have to be successful, so many people come on to talk about different topics, and sometimes it can have different sways on your opinions, whatever the conversation could be. You can think one way but just hearing someone else’s opinion can open your mind to another way of thinking.
What’s something that you didn’t know before that you just found yourself being captivated by when you sat down and listened to any podcast you stumbled onto?
Well, I’ll say there’s a couple with Ryan. He just has a lot of people come on, but he trains a lot of great athletes. Not so much that I didn’t know before, but just something that you continue to hear, common things between a lot of successful people. A lot of the day, a lot of the things you want to accomplish need hard work, you’ve gotta put yourself through it, you gotta be self-motivated, you gotta find that drive, find that why, and have a relentless approach to it. I’ve heard that, especially on Ryan’s podcast the most. They’re things I already know, things I’ve already had an understanding of, but when you hear it from other people, it sits in a different place.
There are plenty of athletes who have podcasts, are you and Spotify gonna work out a Saquon Barkley show sometime in the future?
You’re on speaker right now so you never know, maybe we can get that thing rocking, hopefully they hear you. I think I would do a really good job on a podcast, but you never know, right?
Let’s say down the road, that happens, and you can sit down with one person and interview them. Who would that person be?
Can it be someone I’ve sat down with already?
So I would have two. From the sports world, it’d be Kobe Bryant, you know anything about me, the Mamba Mentality, he’s amazing. Second is someone who I’ve met multiple times but I just feel like he would have a lot of great things to say, that’d be Bob Iger.
I noticed how all of the podcasts are football-related and you said you like staying up on things happening in the NFL. Why is staying immersed in the game of football important to you?
I think you gotta find a balance. Sometimes you listen to things and you hear people talking about yourself, which is never a good thing, whether it’s bad or good. But it’s also good to keep up with news — sometimes you’re so stuck in your environment, so focused on football, that you can find out things going on about the league, about some people that you know close, some ex-teammates, or you can see some stuff that pops up that you can learn from in a game and it can help your game. I guess you can say I try to stay entertained with that, but it’s also a balance, because being a professional athlete, especially in New York City, there could be some things said about yourself or your team that’s good or bad.
Let’s dive into ball a little bit. Looking back on this past season, I want you to reflect a bit — where were the areas where you were happy with yourself, and where are the areas where you’re going to put in a little extra work this offseason?
The biggest thing I’d say I was happy about was probably what everyone thought was my downfall, getting hurt. I think me getting hurt kinda was one of the first time I’ve faced adversity in my football career. Obviously it can be way worse than what it was, and I’m very thankful for that, but fighting through the injury, even though I might not have felt like myself throughout the whole season, but to be able to still have that mindset, come with the same mentality and focus every single day.
Even though it wasn’t going well in the middle, as the season went on, I kinda got back to myself, showing me you gotta persevere through some things. That’s gonna help you in the long run, not just as a player, but also [it] helps you realize as a team, obviously these last few years haven’t been what we want as a team, but we’ve gotta keep grinding, keep fighting in order to turn this thing around.
I’m big on, it sounds cliche, but I’m focused on everything, fix everything. I feel like there’s never gonna be a point in time where I’m gonna be satisfied with my game, and I wanna be one of the best to ever do it. I have to have that mindset that I’ve gotta prove it every single year to try to be able to accomplish that goal.
Your coaching staff’s gonna look a little bit different next season. Have you gotten to speak to Joe Judge and what excites you about him coming down from New England?
I got to speak to coach Judge over the phone once he got hired, and I came in and we sat down in a meeting and talked there. Obviously the background he has and the coaches he coached with — coach Saban, Belichick — you can just tell by talking to him that he’s very focused, he’s gonna challenge us, it’s gonna be something that we really need. He’s a great guy and I’m really excited about the hiring. I can’t wait to go, I love it but, like, we’re not able to, with the rules, be really able to go over plays or go to practice, we haven’t been able to do that yet. But I can’t wait for it, I look forward to it, and I’m really excited about this offseason.
And you guys also just got a new offensive coordinator in Jason Garrett. I have to imagine having the guy who coached Zeke for so long and had him be such a productive running back has you hyped, no?
Yeah, I got on the phone with him to congratulate him and one of the first things he said to me was, “You know we like to run the ball, right?” I said, “Trust me, I know for sure.” Obviously I’m excited about that, but everyone’s talking about how they used Zeke, and they did a really good job of using Zeke, but I think you look at Dak, he had some successful years over there. Amari, I know he’s not there right now but Cole Beasley, the tight ends always played really well. Coach Garrett is gonna help find a way to get the ball to all our talented players, and it’s our job to make those plays happen. Like I said, with all the hires, I’m really excited.
The biggest difference in New York next year may be that Eli isn’t gonna be around, sounds like he’s calling it a career. Saw you thanked him on IG yesterday, what stood out about Eli in your time as teammates?
I only got two years, but the biggest thing that stood out to me is, obviously, these last two years things haven’t been going our way, and with him being the quarterback of the New York Giants and a two-time Super Bowl MVP, the list goes on and on, when things weren’t going our way, he didn’t change. The way that he came to work every single day was the same, the way that he carried himself, the way that he challenged us, the way that he led us, all continued to stay the same. That’s the biggest thing that I learned from him, through great times or through adversity, still be who you are and find a way to fight through it.
Wanna get your take on the Super Bowl. Chiefs-Niners should be one hell of a game, what are your thoughts on the two teams that are gonna be playing for the Lombardi Trophy this year?
Someone asked me who I want to win and I said “nobody.” Both of those teams are really good — the Chiefs’ offense is on a whole other level led by Patrick Mahomes, has some great talent with Hill, with Kelce, Williams, so on and so on. Their wide receiving corps is amazing, I feel like you kinda have to double Hill, and when you’re doubling Hill then Kelce’s going off and you gotta double Kelce, then someone else is going crazy.
It’s gonna be an interesting game, but I think the 49ers defense is one of the best in the league. They’re a top-2 defense and top-2 defenses are something like 15-5 in the Super Bowl all time, so they say defense wins championships. But I feel like the 49ers offense is slept on, they do a really good job of rotating their backs and running the ball.
Guessing who you want to win every year is the New York Giants, but can I get a prediction for what you think’s gonna happen?
The top-2 defenses are 15-5, so if I was a betting man, I would say I would pick the 49ers to win the Super Bowl. But something in my gut tells me don’t go against Patrick Mahomes, so I think it’ll be a very, very interesting game, a fun game to watch, but I think I have to go 49ers to close it out in a close one.
My last question is from your time in college. You had that game in 2015 against Ohio State which led to Ezekiel Elliott calling you “the truth.” You gave a quote a few months after saying, “It was kind of a surreal moment. I was like, ‘Wow, I’m going against future NFL players, these guys are legit.’ But they’re saying that I’m good, too. I can be on that level one day. It was just a surreal moment, something I’ll never forget.” Two years into your NFL career, is this all still surreal, how much is happening on and off the field?
Yeah, it’s amazing. Everything’s surreal, it’s everything that I dreamt of, everything I worked my butt off to accomplish. I still haven’t accomplished everything that I want to accomplish, I know it’s been a quick two years but like you said, not only with football, off the field, having a daughter, an amazing family, all those things. I wake up every single day and I’m blessed, that’s why win, loss, or draw — obviously I wish it was more wins than losses or draws — but at the end of the day, I get to say I’m living my dream, I’m an NFL football player, I’m an NFL running back, and I know there’s a lot of people who would do a lot of things to be in my position, so I don’t want to ever take that for granted.