Winter Is Leaving: Is Saquon Barkley the Best Player in the NFL Draft?
By Ha Kung Wong
I know, from the title, that you all were expecting a Game of Thrones reference. And because I don’t like to disappoint, here’s a video snippet from the 2016 NFL Draft where they pretended to draft Game of Thrones characters. Seriously.
Well, that was ridiculous. It’s amazing what you can find if you go to Youtube and search for “Game of Thrones” and “NFL” together. But I digress.
What I really want to talk about is Springtime. Although many of us are still getting hammered by winter storms and temperatures south of 30 degrees, we’re actually just around the corner from Spring. Believe it or not, Spring OFFICIALLY starts on March 20th!
And you know what the ever wise Susan J. Bissonette said about springtime, right?
“An optimist is the human personification of Spring.”
Or, in other words, “Hey, even my terrible [INSERT CRAPPY NFL TEAM HERE SUCH AS THE BEARS] have a chance at the Super Bowl this year!”
That’s right, hope springs eternal, and the first steps to greatness are free agency and the NFL Draft. And if you’re wondering who Susan J. Bissonette is, well, I have no idea. I totally randomly looked up that saying on the Country Living website, and, for the life of me, I can’t figure out who Ms. Bissonette is. Seriously, I Googled her, I looked for her on Wikipedia and…well, I guess that’s pretty much all I did. As far as I’m concerned, if I can’t find you on Google or Wikipedia, you’re not famous. But I digress. Again.
In the draft, each year we’ve seen examples of team-changing additions. Whether it be more recently with Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette, or the classic example in Tom Brady, we all know that one pick can change everything for an NFL franchise. So who is that guy this year? Ladies and gentleman, let me introduce you to Mr. Saquon Barkley.
Penn State (Junior)
Weight: 233 lbs.
Arm Length: 31 3/8″
Hands: 9 1/2″
Saquon Barkley has been getting a ton of buzz before he even set foot at this year’s Combine. According to his NFL.com Draft Profile, other than comping him to Barry Sanders, one general manager actually said this:
“You don’t screw up the special ones when you are a talent evaluator. This guy is special. Any concerns you file on him just feels like nitpicking to fill out the report.”
Yeah, he’s that good. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at what he did at Penn State, where he was a threat between the tackles and through the air as he compiled ridiculous video game numbers.
Barkley had the most rushing TDs in the Big Ten in 2016 (18) and 2017(18), and in fact also had the most total TDs those years as well (22 & 23). He also had the most Yards from Scrimmage in the Big Ten in 2016 (1898) and 2nd most in 2017 (1903), which was actually 5th most in all of the NCAA.
And on top of that, he was also a valuable special teams player with the most Kickoff Return yards per return (28.4) and the 5th most total Kickoff Return yards (426) in the Big Ten in 2017.
And all this hard work led to being named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in both 2016 and 2017 and a Consensus All-American in 2017.
I’ll think you’ll agree, from the tape, that all these accolades were well earned.
Check out the run at the 24 second mark of the video. That’s great vision and patience finding lanes in the defense and great breakaway speed. And also check out the run at the 1 minute and 19 second mark of the video against USC. Barkley shows great awareness in a busted play, and manages to get to the outside where he makes at least 5 defenders miss as he works his way back across the field and down for the TD. That’s some game-breaking play-making ability, folks.
At the Combine
And on top of all that, he basically won the NFL Combine. I don’t know if that’s possible to do, but if it is, he did it.
Among RBs at the Combine, he had the second fastest 40 Yard Dash (4.40), tied for the most reps on Bench Press (29) and had the highest vertical jump (41.0).
According to SBNation, his 40 yard dash was the second best ever by a RB 230 pounds or heavier, his vertical is highest for any RB 230 pounds or heavier and his 29 bench reps is ranked 5th among all RBs 235 pounds or smaller. So he’s stronger AND faster than he looks.
And that’s not all he’s stronger and faster than. Just check out this tidbit from NFL Research:
Penn State RB Saquon Barkley at 2018 Combine:
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) March 2, 2018
And that’s not even considering how he looked in passing and running drills. Check it out below (Spoiler Alert: He was REALLY good).
What’s interesting is that, although we’re all blown away by it, Barkley isn’t satisfied with his “knock-it-out-of-the-park” Combine performance. He reportedly wants to try to improve on his numbers at the Penn State Pro Day (something some coaches total him NOT to do at the Combine).
“I’m not satisfied with some of my numbers. I wanted to be in the top three (rankings) in all the things I did. I was able to accomplish that.”
This “I’ll-never-be-happy-with-my-performance” attitude has got to be a winner with GMs and coaches, but hopefully he gives it a pass, as I don’t see any benefit to trying to improve his numbers. You can only get to no. 1 in the draft, there’s no way to get higher than that.
Where Will He Land?
No off-field issues, strong work ethic and solid “get it done” attitude completes the package. Any NFL franchise couldn’t ask for anything more in a draft pick. But not every franchise needs backfield help.
He’s on the radar for the Browns with the 1st and 4th picks, and as long as they’re not tied to a particular QB in the draft, they could select Barkley number 1 overall. The Browns could use a difference maker and have already indicated they’re moving on from Isaiah Crowell. Plus, since Hue Jackson clearly wants to sign AJ McCarron, who’s now free to go where he wants after winning his grievance against the Bengals, there may be some room to develop a QB instead of throwing yet another first round draft pick into the fire. Many might disagree (including my Podcast co-host, Ryan Whitfield), but I think the Browns need something to cheer for, so why not buck the trend and take a plug and play RB at number 1?
UPDATE: With the Browns picking up Tyrod Taylor in free agency, and trading for Jarvis Landry, I’m even more convinced that the Browns will take Barkley at no. 1 overall. In addition, with the Giants adding Alec Ogletree in free agency, it signals that the Giants are in “win now” mode, which could mean they go with defense at no. 2. Since the Colts won’t be drafting a QB at no. 3, that leaves the Browns to get their choice of QB at no. 4.
UPDATE 2: With the Browns signing Carlos Hyde, the entire RB in the first round thing gets muddy. I’d say that at this point, they’re more likely to draft a QB first overall and then take another RB late. Perhaps Nick Chubb.
The Giants are also considering Barkley at the 2nd overall pick instead of going with a QB. New head coach Pat Shurmur has reaffirmed his confidence in Eli Manning, so there’s no longer apparently a rush to get the heir apparent. Perhaps they can grab a QB later in the draft, but with essentially no one of consequence in the backfield, Barkley can add instant impact as well as take pressure off Eli by offsetting the potential pass rush. Eli can do good things with time, and although the offensive line could also use some upgrades, a legitimate backfield threat could do wonders.
Moving right down the line, the Colts have the 3rd pick in the draft, and also need backfield help. The Colts have already let former starter Frank Gore walk in free agency, so all they have left is Marlon Mack, who doesn’t appear to be a fit as an every down back. Barkley fills that need and also gives Andrew Luck (or Jacoby Brissett) a terrific backfield target. But with serious O-line and LB needs, I doubt the Colts will spend up for Barkley here.
The Broncos have a serious need for a QB at the 5th overall pick, but there have been rumblings that if they miss on the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes (and currently, it looks like Cousins is leaning towards Minnesota), they might take a chance on Vikings breakout cast-off Case Keenum. If they get Keenum, they can look to draft an RB instead. At least for now, John Elway is at best non-committal on CJ Anderson, and most pundits believe he’ll be cut. We all kinda liked Devontae Booker when he was drafted, but he’s fallen flat with opportunities over the last two years. Barkley can be a game changer in Denver and could be a steal at 5 overall.
The Jets are also in an interesting position, as they have serious need for a QB, and have been going all-in on Cousins, but Cousins wants to win now and may turn down more money to have a chance at the Lombardi Trophy with the Vikings. If that’s the case, maybe the Jets pick up someone in free agency, like the Vikings other QB cast-off Teddy Bridgewater, to sit behind a serviceable Josh McCown in the short term. But with question marks surrounding Bridgewater’s return to form after the catastrophic injury he suffered over a year ago, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind selecting their future franchise QB from the draft at 6th overall. But if they don’t, Matt Forte has already decided to retire, leaving just Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire in the backfield. The Jets think of Powell as a complementary back, and they think of McGuire perhaps more of a change of pace. So Barkley could be that early down guy their looking for.
The Buccaneers have the 7th overall pick and also need a RB. The Bucs released Doug Martin earlier this offseason and are left with Peyton Barber. But they also need help on defensive at DE and CB. I’d expect them to focus on defense first, as Barber was serviceable, but Barkley at 7th overall would be a terrific value.
The Ravens have Alex Collins, but could still benefit from an RB upgrade (not to mention an entire offense upgrade), but would have to trade up from the 16th pick, which, in light of all the other needs they have, is unlikely.
Bottom line is that I think he’s a good fit anywhere and can have instant impact. I know there are lot of great defensive players in the draft and o-line is a significant need for many teams this offseason, but I can’t think of another player that can have such a universally significant impact on the offense, and on fan base excitement, than Barkley.
And because of that, I think he IS the Best Player in the 2018 Draft. Don’t agree? Here’s what I think about that.
And if that isn’t good enough for you, even Vegas agrees with me.
— Mark Wogenrich (@MarkWogenrich) March 6, 2018
And when has Vegas ever been wrong?