By: Jake Hinson @JakeHinson11
What to Expect from the 1.01: Saquon Barkley
In one of my first articles for FFD260, I wrote about the electrifying running back out of Toledo, Kareem Hunt. Drafted in the 3rd round by the Kansas City Chiefs, Hunt was a solid prospect and was hyped up by many during the summer of 2017. The hype was justified when Spencer Ware was injured, and Hunt took over the backfield. As a result, Kareem Hunt was the leading rusher in the NFL and took the league by storm, putting up 1,327 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns on 272 carries. Hunt wasn’t the only rookie running back to dominate this season. Alvin Kamara, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, and Dalvin Cook all excelled in their first year of playing professional football. The rookie running backs of 2017 can be compared to the rookie wide receivers of 2014; absolute dominance with room to grow. As a result, a precedent has been set. The rookie running back is a commodity that should be taken seriously.
So, what does that mean for the rookie running backs in 2018?
The class of 2018 is loaded with talent, some arguing that it is better than or equal to the class of 2017. Over the last few months of scouting and watching college football, I’ve seen probably 10 or so running backs that can be immediate contributors to NFL squads next season. Among those are Derrius Guice, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Ronald Jones, Royce Freeman, Damian Harris, Kerryon Johnson, and much more. Teams will benefit waiting until the 3rd or 4th rounds to pick up one of these running backs. But there is one prospect that will assuredly be worth a top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Saquon Barkley is without a doubt the best running back prospect in this year’s draft class. The combination of elite speed, pass-catching abilities, and an array of moves in the open field make him the perfect three-down back in this generation of football. Scouts have tried to find a comparison for Barkley and I believe his game mirrors that of David Johnson. DJ has elite speed and is a dangerous player in the open field. While Barkley is two inches shorter than Johnson, Barkley weighs similarly and might be more suited to run in between the tackles than DJ. His lower body is extremely thick and will not be taken down by simple arm tackles. While trying to find similarities between the two, here are Saquon Barkley and David Johnson’s best statistical years in college.
Both Johnson and Barkley have eerily similar stats in their best years. While Barkley took a slight dip in production in 2017, I don’t believe that will affect his stock coming out this season. That being said, I do not believe Barkley will have a colossal year like David Johnson had in 2016. The potential is there in the future, but do not expect Barkley to put up 2,000 total yards and 20 touchdowns net season.
There are some concerns with Barkley’s game, however. Marcus Mosher had some observations about Saquon Barkley after his most disappointing performance. After running for 44 yards on 21 carries, Mosher noted that Barkley wasn’t as disappointing, but saw some glaring weaknesses. One was that he wasn’t sure that Barkley loves contact. Barkley would go out of his way to avoid contact, and in the NFL, that is not a good sign. The best running backs in the game, such as Ezekiel Elliott, Le’Veon Bell, and Leonard Fournette, all crave contact and go out of their way to create contact. While this may add longevity to Barkley’s game, I don’t think it’s a great sign for a running back not to want to get hit. Another weakness is Mosher doesn’t believe Barkley can make a bad offensive line look good. He tries to hit the big play instead of the right play. Here is a gif that can illustrate that.
You can't dance inside the 10-yard line. Have to hit a hole and get as many yards as you can. Does Barkley trust his power? pic.twitter.com/wwUbXjvP0s
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) January 5, 2018
These are nit-pickings and they aren’t meant to discredit Barkley. Whenever we compare the best running back in a draft class, he will be compared to the likes of Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, and more. This is just to say he isn’t the perfect running back and has flaws in his game. He is still electric with the ball and can break tackles at the second and third level of the defense.
Let’s say you have the 1.01 and you plan on taking Saquon Barkley. Where do you want him to go? I believe there are several landing spots for the elite running back and I have ranked them from worst to first. While it would be easy to say a RB needy team like the Seahawks would be #1, Saquon is going inside the top 10, barring a disaster, and I have looked at those teams specifically.
5. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are a team that would love to have Barkley on their team, but I don’t think it would be in their best interests to take a running back at #3 overall. They have a porous offensive line, a bad defense, and a budding running back in Marlon Mack as well. The combination of Andrew Luck and Saquon Barkley for the next 10 years sounds great, but this team needs so much. I’d be disappointed if this is the landing spot for Barkley.
4. Denver Broncos
Saquon to Mile High would be good for Broncos fans but this move isn’t likely happening. A QB needy team like Denver is going to take the likes of Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, or even Baker Mayfield. The plethora of running backs already in Denver also suggest the Broncos aren’t going with Barkley with their pick, as two younger guys in Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson are on roster and they still like C.J. Anderson. If Denver signs Kirk Cousins in free agency, they could pick Barkley if he falls to them, but I wouldn’t be crazy about the situation.
3. New York Jets
While I don’t think Barkley makes it to the Jets at #6, I would be 100% okay with the spot. The young defense showed promise last year and I expect them to be right in the middle of the defensive rankings for 2018. If Barkley was selected by New York, he would become the man for them. Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire hardly gave consistent production and Matt Forte doesn’t have much left in the tank. They have also shown they will spend money in the free agency period and could patch up some areas on the offense. I think Barkley would be a nice addition to the Jets offense.
2. New York Giants
This is more likely of a landing spot, as the Giants pick 2nd, but this is another QB needy team and they will likely go QB. However, the new Giants general manager, Dave Gettleman, wants Eli Manning back for another season. If New York wants Eli for another season, the pick is Barkley. A backfield of Orleans Darkwa, Wayne Gallman, and Shane Vereen just didn’t get the job done last season. Even better, Bob McAdoo is out, and the Giants will surely wish to run the ball more next season. They ran a lot of their formations with three wide receivers and I wouldn’t expect that to continue. Pat Shurmur will know how to use Saquon Barkley if he goes to the Big Apple.
1. Cleveland Browns
It may sound disgusting, but the Browns are the best (and most likely) spot for Saquon Barkley. The youth movement in Cleveland gets younger, as they have the draft capital to take their future quarterback and running back in the first 5 picks. While they do need a quarterback, they will have a great opportunity to take Saquon and pair him with either Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, or Josh Allen. Barkley would make Isaiah Crowell irrelevant and Duke Johnson would be relegated to third down/slot wide receiver opportunities. He is the running back that Hue Jackson has wanted the entire time in Cleveland. Another tidbit of good news is that Barkley has the pass catching ability that he won’t be game-scripted out of the game if Cleveland trails big. It’s a win-win for both.
While there isn’t a perfect pairing like Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys two years ago, Saquon Barkley makes the team better. He will be a valuable commodity in both redraft and dynasty leagues this offseason. Wherever he lands, don’t overthink it; take Saquon Barkley with the 1.01.
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