Giants RB Saquon Barkley catapulted himself into the conversation as the NFL's best running back after just one season in the blue and white.
That's why Hall of Famer Barry Sanders knows that there will be a target on Barkley's back this season.
Opposing teams had seen what Barkley accomplished during his days at Penn State, but after 1,307 yards rushing and 2,028 total yards from scrimmage, they now have a full year of film to see how they can eliminate that type of production. Add that in the absence of Odell Beckham Jr. to draw attention away from Barkley, and the running back has a tough task ahead of him in his sophomore season.
"I think he should be just as motivated going into this year knowing the success he had last year, knowing they're gonna be gunning for him, and it'll probably be even more difficult potentially this next season," Sanders told The Daily News' Pat Leonard. "It's one of those years it'll certainly tell a lot about the kind of player he's going to be."
Barkley is now being asked to be a leader on this Giants team, and the offense will certainly go as he does. Some players in the past haven't been able to replicate stellar numbers like Barkley put up consistently. There are many flash-in-the-pan playmakers in NFL history.
Sanders -- a player that Barkley has consistently been compared to -- doesn't see that for the Penn State product.
"There are a lot of guys who have really good first years (only), but he appears to be one of those guys who has that potential for all-time greatness," Sanders said. "And I would think he's just as hungry, just as driven to really restore the Giants to former glory."
Barkley was able to meet Sanders before he posted those insane rookie numbers during the Giants' preseason bout with the Lions last season. He told Leonard he was "kind of more in awe" when he was talking to him, and though he wasn't able to watch him live growing up, he made sure to check out YouTube highlight reels of Sanders during his playing days.
But it wasn't the insane jukes or speed that Barkley was watching necessarily. It was what Sanders did once he was done dropping jaws that caught his attention, and uses today as he tries to become a new leader on the Giants.
"You see him spin, 'boom-boom-boom,' make eight people miss, score a touchdown, and then you see this: he's carrying three Gatorades and giving them to his teammates," Barkley said.
"You see those little things, and those are the things I admired about Barry Sanders."
Barkley is already instilling that kind of leadership this preseason, as he watches from the sidelines in no pads. Even though he isn't in the game getting his reps in, you can still see him hyped for a great rush by Wayne Gallman or a solid catch and run by Jon Hilliman. He's making sure his teammates are good on the sideline, and always remains engaged.
That's what the Giants love to see from the 22-year-old, who was drafted No. 2 overall last season. And though defenses will try to scheme their way around controlling Barkley's output, his natural ability to make defenders miss, and run away when he sees open field should see more touchdown celebrations and big runs this season.
It's why people like Sanders can confidently say that Barkley should have an outstanding career in the NFL. And that's just off one season of work.
"But just seeing how he dealt with defenders, a lot of the same stuff that he got away with in college, it worked in the pros: jab steps, fakes, the speed," Sanders explained. "To see him being able to run away from guys. He's trained really well, and he's an impressive physical specimen when you look at him. He looks a lot bigger than I am. The way he carries his weight. There's nothing he can't do with the football."