Saquon Barkley is arguably the best player in this year’s draft. What does he bring to the table?
The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the eight weeks leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft, we will analyze the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we will examine the running back position. Today, we look at Saquon Barkley from Penn State University.
Originally committed to Rutgers coming out of high school, Saquon Barkley decommitted and decided on Penn State to continue his football career. The four-star recruit quickly made a name for himself, earning substantial playing time as a freshman, en route to 1,076 yards on 182 carries and seven rushing touchdowns. Barkley followed that up with an even more impressive sophomore season, tallying 272 carries for 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns. However, he saw a slight regression in his junior year, where he finished with 1,271 yards and 18 touchdowns on 217 carries.
Saquon Barkley is simply insane. Here’s the video of his 24 total touchdowns in 2017 (18 rushing, 3 receiving, 2 kickoff returns, and 1 passing). pic.twitter.com/rIatTYgJKp— James Simpson (@JS_Football) February 27, 2018
Nonetheless, his dominating level of play earned him the Paul Hornung Award, given to the most versatile college player in the country, in 2017 and placed him at or near the top of every draft board.
Barkley was adept at getting into the open field and changing the course of the game with electrifying plays week in and week out. He does a phenomenal job of locating gaps and running lanes at the line of scrimmage, while displaying a natural ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Moreover, Barkley has a knack for finding the end zone, as illustrated by his 53 total touchdowns (43 rushing, eight receiving, and two returning) during his three-year collegiate career. His breakaway speed, combined with shiftiness and elusiveness, proved to be lethal for all opposing defenses.
Saquon Barkley is good at football. pic.twitter.com/psN9YfXAf9— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) December 30, 2017
Regardless of whether defenses brought blitzes or dropped back in a zone, Barkley constantly burned them for long touchdown runs.
Barkley shows a great feel for the game with his consistent production. He is also very dependable in pass protection, as he’s very assignment-aware and does an exceptional job of picking up opposing pass-rushers. Furthermore, he’s earned high praise from teammates and coaches for his tremendous offseason work ethic.
Although there’s not much to dislike about Barkley — the guy is a freak of nature — he did struggle with running between the tackles. The majority of Barkley’s long, dazzling runs came on designed plays to the outside, causing more talented and experienced teams to key in on this and limit Barkley’s production. We saw this in particular against Ohio State and Rutgers, where Barkley ran for just 44 yards on 21 carries (2.1 yards per carry) and 35 yards on 14 carries (2.5 yards per carry), respectively.
#PennState RB Saquon Barkley averaged 0.46 yards per carry when contacted at or behind the LOS last season, ranking No. 57 among draft-eligible RBs with 100-plus attempts. #SDSU‘s Rashaad Penny averaged a class-high 3.32 YPC on such runs. pic.twitter.com/H1iMxFcgAA— Austin Gayle (@AustinGayle_PFF) March 1, 2018
Barkley will have to improve his ability to gain positive yardage in the trenches if he wants to elevate his game to the next level. However, his 29 bench press reps should provide optimism for improvement in this area for scouts and coaches.
Barkley is one of the more explosive and athletic running back prospects that we have seen in recent years. While he’s not a prolific runner up the middle, Barkley makes up for it with unbelievable juke moves and superb hands in the open field. Consequently, he has the potential to be a true three-down running back in today’s NFL.
Barkley is a sure bet to be drafted in the top ten picks of the first round because of his successful college career and excellent combine performance (41-inch vertical jump, 4.41 40-yard dash). He can be an instant game-changer for teams in the top ten and in need of a halfback, including the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Edited by Jazmyn Brown.
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