ORLANDO — If you believe the Browns won't consider drafting Saquon Barkley because he's a running back, think again.
Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson and general manager John Dorsey said as much last week at the NFL's annual meeting, training their eyes toward the league's draft next month where Barkley, the former Penn State star, is considered one of the best players in this year's class.
"We need players. You guys have seen our team. Let's be very honest," Jackson said Tuesday in Orlando. "We need guys that come in and make a difference, and Barkley is definitely one of them. He'll be in the discussions."
While the number of running backs taken early in the first round has decreased over the past decade, Barkley is expected to buck that trend with a rare combination of speed, power and size on the field and strong marks off of it. Because of that, the Browns, owners of the first and fourth overall picks, will continue to evaluate him among other standout as teams begin to host prospects on pre-draft visits this month. The draft is set for April 26 in Dallas.
Dorsey, who drafted Kansas City's Kareem Hunt (the league's leading rusher as rookie in 2018) before coming to Cleveland, dismissed the devaluation of the position in today's pass-driven league. "If you can make plays from any position on the field and it happens to be a running back position," he said, "why wouldn't you go acquire somebody like that."
Barkley, of course, has as good a case as anyone. Named the 2017 Paul Hornung Award winner (given to the nation's most versatile player), he 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.
Barkley, who helped restore Penn State's football program to national prominence, has embraced the thought of coming to Cleveland following the franchise's first winless season. "It's something bigger than yourself if you go to a team like that," Barkley said at the league's scouting combine last month. "Obviously they've had some rough years but I think they're a couple of pieces away."
The Browns, who return the dynamic Duke Johnson and signed former 49ers standout Carlos Hyde in free agency, have three more weeks to determine whether Barkley could be another piece.
"I think he's definitely in the conversation," Jackson said. "Tremendous character, tremendous football player and I think he's going to help an organization."