Saquon Barkley poised to shine at combine, join exclusive group of draft RBs

Posted Feb 22, 2018

'He’s a solar-system player, meaning everything revolves around him'

Expect the chorus of voices touting Saquon Barkley as the best player in this year’s NFL draft to grow louder.

With the league’s annual scouting combine set for next week, Barkley is almost certain to impress on and off the field as the former Penn State star running back makes his case to be a top-five pick.

For some, it’s a no brainer.

“He’s a solar-system player, meaning everything revolves around him, he makes your offense better,” NFL Network analyst and former scout Bucky Brooks said recently. “He is the sun and everything orbits around him.”

“Barley is a game-changer,” added former Texans quarterback and fellow NFL Network analyst David Carr.  “I don't care who’s blocking for you, he finds a way … he can change the culture you have going on.”

Indeed, Barkley did it all in State College. The 2017 Paul Hornung Award winner (given to the nation’s most versatile player) finished his final season at Penn State with 1,271 rushing yards, 632 receiving yards and 21 total touchdowns. In his list of the draft’s top 50 prospects, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah wrote Barkley is one of the “most dynamic running backs to enter the NFL in the last decade” and is “capable of becoming the best player at his position” early in his career.

Because of that, the Browns — owners of the first and fourth overall picks — and virtually every team across the league will continue to size up Barkley to determine whether he’ll be the third back in as many years taken within the first five picks — the Cowboys selected former Ohio State star Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in 2016 and the Jaguars tabbed LSU’s Leonard Fournette at No. 4 this past year.

Elliott led the NFL in rushing (1,631 yards, 15 TDs) as a rookie while Fournette ran for 1,040 in his first season, helping Jacksonville advance all the way to the AFC Championship game. The thought in some circles is that Barkley, who helped turn around the Nittany Lions, could have a similar, immediate impact at the next level.

History, however, suggests it’s unlikely Barkley will hear his name first. The last time a running back was drafted first overall was in 1995, when the Bengals selected Penn State’s Ki-Jana Carter. Before that, the Buccaneers selected former Auburn star Bo Jackson in 1986. Since 2010, seven backs — Fournette, Elliott, Todd Gurley (No. 10 in 2015), Melvin Gordon (No. 15 in 2015), Trent Richardson (No. 3 in 2012), CJ Spiller (No. 9 in 2010) and Ryan Mathews (No. 12 in 2010) — have been taken in the top 15 picks.

In any case, Barkley — who has earned high marks both on and off the field — will have the opportunity to demonstrate why he should join that club in Indianapolis next week.

“He is everything that you want as your No. 1 back,” Brooks said. “He is a special player, he's going to do special things in this league.”

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