Saquon Barkley – Running back
School: Penn State
Weight: 230 Pounds (listed)
Saquon Barkley NFL Draft Profile
Saquon Barkley, arguably the most talented player in the 2018 NFL draft, is a once in a generation type talent. His combination of speed and power make him an instant plug-and-play athlete who has done nothing but exceed expectations in his three years at Penn State.
Experts compare Barkley to runners like Reggie Bush and Barry Sanders because of his unique skill set. His combination of elusiveness and versatility make him a true multi-threat weapon in an ever-evolving NFL.
Penn States’ current spread offense was installed prior to the start of the 2016 season by then-offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. The fast-paced, shotgun style scheme allowed Barkley to display his athleticism on multiple levels; Similar to the way schools like Oregon showcase their running backs. Getting the best player the ball in space and letting him do the rest. This works in college but is hit-or-miss at the much faster pro level.
Braking down Saquon Barkley’s talents and faults can be tricky. It is easy to say that he’s a perfect fit for every team in the league. However, how much value does he have with the teams picking in the top five?
Barkley is a big back. At 230 pounds, he is a load at the second level with plenty of lateral movement to make smaller defenders miss. His balance and agility allow him to make the most out of a bad situation, and his speed is difficult to deal with.
Clocked at 4.33 in the 40-yard-dash, Barkley has breakaway speed. A powerful lower section allows for an uncanny ability to stop-and-go at will, change direction on a dime and turn broken plays into something positive. Acceleration only adds to his lethality; once he turns a corner, taking the wrong angle has proven to be costly for defenders at the college level, and could be the same in the pros.
Penn State utilized Barkley in a number of ways. He passes the eye test in every situation with even the most critical of experts, which is a testament to his talent on the field.
A true dual-threat running back is a commodity worth its weight in gold in the modern NFL. When combined, the skills required to excel in both the passing and running game are rare – Barkley has both.
His prowess in the running game is renowned and often casts a shadow on his productivity as a pass catcher. Whether he is lined up in the slot or swinging out of the backfield, Barkley is a mismatch, especially against linebackers.
Over the course of a three-year career at Penn State, Barkley caught 102 balls for 1,195 yards and eight touchdowns. A career average of 11.7 yards per reception highlights a skill that many believe is necessary for today’s pass-happy NFL.
The Need To Be More Physical
There are very few knocks on Barkley. Both his talent and physical attributes are undeniable, and his work ethic on and off the field is legendary. However, there are shallow holes in his game that will need attention if he is to realize his full potential at the next level.
Film studies on Barkley reveal two huge issues that stem from him not playing like the 230 pound back he is. One-on-one pass blocking and the unwillingness to lower his shoulder for extra yards.
Barkley does an adequate job picking up the pass rush but is far too inconsistent for Sundays. He will no doubt be a three-down back in the NFL and protecting his quarterback will become a much bigger priority for him than it was in college.
Addressing his lack of desire to lower his shoulder at the point of contact will be a top priority when he reports to training camp as a rookie. Barkley’s frame is set-up to handle punishment, but he shies away from smaller defenders when the situation calls for more physicality. This may be a side effect of his confidence in his ability to make people miss.
If he is to be a true three-down back in the NFL, teams will have to trust him to protect the quarterback and grind in short-yardage situations.
When it comes to on-field production, many variables contribute to numbers that make up a player’s stat line. The strength of opponent, offensive philosophy and weather can influence the game flow and affect the contributions of an individual player. Often times these factors are out of the player’s control thus skewing the data used to evaluate performance. Barkley may be a victim of such inaccuracies, but the numbers do raise some concerns.
Barkley has been inconsistent over his three years at Happy Valley averaging just five 100-yard rushing performances a season. Finishing fourth in the 2017 Heisman Trophy vote, Barkley wasn’t even the top running back according to voters. That honor went to Stanford’s Bryce Love.
Comparing Barkley to a similar back in both size and skill shows that he may be a victim of the variables mentioned earlier, but again, the data is surprising. San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny (fifth in Heisman voting) is a similar back to Barkley, and while the two are both exciting draft prospects, Barkley gets the higher grade from most draft experts; and it isn’t even close.
Why would the 2017 CFB leading rusher (Penny), who measures in at 5’11”, 220 pounds, take a back seat to Barkley?
Comparing Penny’s season totals to Barkley’s paints a picture of an obvious discrepancy somewhere in the evaluation process. In 2017 Penny carried the ball 289 times for 2,248 yards and 23 touchdowns. Barkley trailed in every category—running the ball 217 times for 1,271 yards and 18 touchdowns.
It all comes down to consistency with Barkley. The potential is there, and it’s a safe bet that all 32 teams have seen the numbers listed above. Will Barkley’s streaky production play a role in the decision to take him in the top five? Only time will tell.
Saquon Barkley is a generational talent, a potential All-Pro, and maybe the best player on the field in all 16 games of his rookie season. He is powerful, elusive and has breakaway speed. He is a dangerous dual-threat out of the backfield and will be a steal if he falls past the number five pick. His weaknesses are correctable, and with mentorship and good coaching, Barkley may be one of the best running backs to come out of college in the last decade.
NFL Player Comparison
Teams with Need At Running Back
Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers
Cleveland Browns with the number four pick