NFL Draft Prospect Breakdown – Saquon Barkley

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THE TAPE (9/23/2017 @ Iowa)

Time for the second prospect breakdown/draft profile of the year, and for this one, we are doing perhaps the most electric player in the draft: Saquon Barkley. A runningback has not gone #1 overall since 1995, but if any player in the modern era could break the twenty-plus year streak, its Barkley. I selected the Iowa game for this prospect breakdown because it contains the famous hurdle play, and also to see Barkley go one on one with All-American linebacker Josey Jewell. Iowa is ranked #16 in the country in defensive S&P+, so this should be a good matchup for Barkley.

You can see on this play, Barkley looks like he’s going to cut upfield at the hash mark, but when he notices the defender slip off of his block, Barkley instead goes to the outside and uses his electric speed to pick up the first down.

Here we see Barkley’s hands on display, catching the pass out of the backfield, but also notice the hesitation move that Barkley uses that gets him an extra five yards. He should be brought down at about the 25, but the quick step gives him enough space to get to the first down marker

Here we see Barkley’s agility on display, and how he turns what would’ve been a one or two-yard play into a near touchdown with that brilliant cut.

Next up we see a different side of Barkley’s game. You don’t normally think of Barkley as a power back, but here he is picking up a block for his quarterback Trace McSorley. Not only can Barkley run, but he isn’t a bad blocker or receiver either.

This is something that would be easier to see if the video was slowed down a bit, but watch how Barkley pauses for an extra quarter second behind the line of scrimmage before accelerating into that hole. This is something you see elite runningbacks like LeVeon Bell do, that split-second pause just to wait for the blocks to develop. It’s a hard thing to do, because you need incredible acceleration to stop and start on a dime like that, but Barkley does it with ease.

Barkley demonstrates his power here. It looks like he is going to be brought down at the line, but he sheds two defenders, makes it to the sideline, and then is able to make it past another defender before being forced out of bounds inside the ten. He lowers his shoulder and is able to get past #41 Bo Bower, a lesser celebrated part of his game.

#43 Josey Jewell (the All-American I mentioned in the intro) is circled on this play. Jewell is one of the best college linebackers in the country, and he will make his way onto an NFL roster come April, but Saquon completely fakes him out with the juke move, then cuts to the far right and makes his way down the sideline for a touchdown. I mentioned at the beginning how Iowa has a top 20 defense, and Barkley outruns the entire right side of it on this play.

This right here might be the play of the game. Barkley does everything here, breaks a couple tackles, fakes out more than one defender with his signature hesitation move, and displays incredible acceleration. He hits Jewell with a hesitation move around the 38 yard line, comes to almost a complete stop, and then is right back at his top speed. An absolutely brilliant play.

It might be weird that I’m showing a six or seven yard run here, but this play should have been negative three or five. Twice Barkley is almost brought down in the backfield, but he keeps going and is able to throw the second one off before he is brought down by three defenders.

This is the play that made me want to show this game. Not only does Barkley jump right over Josh Jackson, a Jim Thorpe Award finalist for best defensive back in the country, but almost more impressive is that he takes a big hit in midair and somehow stays on his feet. In fact, when he is pushed out of bounds, he never actually falls down. The incredible balance to land as if nothing had happened is almost unbelievable.

This is just an awesome play by Barkley, and it really puts his football IQ on display. In terms of reading holes, Barkley is a 10/10. On a designed run to the right, Barkley changes direction midplay and turns what would’ve been a loss on the play into a seven-yard gain.

Again, a nice catch out of the backfield for Barkley, but there is one negative on this play. This is pretty much the only problem I have with Barkley’s game. His go-to move (the hesitation step) puts all of his weight on one leg, and that means he has a tendency to overplant and fall over. It happened once earlier on in the game as well, and is the reason his balance grade isn’t a 10.

The final highlight of the game here, and Barkley fakes out All-American linebacker Josey Jewell again. It’s crazy how Barkley can make one of the best players in the country look like a fool multiple times in one game. Barkley’s potential as a receiver out of the backfield is tremendous.

THE GRADES

Speed – 9
Agility – 10
Acceleration – 10
Balance – 9
Vision – 10
Hands – 9
Power – 8
Patience – 10
Blocking – 9
Elusiveness – 10 

A running back might never go number one again, but if it were to happen, it would be Saquon Barkley. Now note, while you look at the grades, that I’m projecting talent level not where they’ll be picked, I have Lamar Jackson as a mid-to-late 1st round player, but he might go top five because quarterbacks are that valuable. I have Saquon Barkley as the top player in the class, the problem is, running backs just aren’t as valuable as they used to be. Barkley’s ability to stop and start on a dime would already be one of the best in the NFL. His elusiveness and agility are top notch, and for someone his size, he can block really well. Barkley didn’t put up crazy numbers overall at Penn State, the Nittany Lions’ offensive line was suspect at best throughout his tenure, but this game shows that Barkley has the potential to be the best running back in the NFL.

OVERALL GRADE: 94/100 (Superstar Level)

*Rating Explanation* Where I think he should go, not where he will go
90+ Superstar
80+ Top Ten Talent
75+ First Round Talent
70+ Second Round Talent
65+ Third Round Talent
50+ Third Day Talent (Round 4-7)

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