I’ve been told that Saquon Barkley is the one “can’t miss” prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft. The reality is that no prospect is ever a can’t miss guy. So I decided to do some digging. Why are people so protective of Saquon Barkley? Why is Barkley not allowed to be critiqued in any form or fashion? The truth of the matter is when you really dive into the truth, Barkley is a hell of a lot closer to Reggie Bush, who largely became a bust, rather than the next Todd Gurley per say.
Remember when Draft analysts also claimed that Reggie Bush was a can’t miss guy? Bush was the most electrifying player in college football when he made defenders look silly during his USC days. Bush was the ultimate home run hitter and was supposed to change the NFL for years to come. Of course, that obviously didn’t happen and the Houston Texans made the right decision passing on Bush to select N.C. State defensive end, Mario Williams, instead. New Orleans wound up taking Bush second overall but history has proven that he hasn’t even been the best running back in the draft class. That would likely go to Maurice Jones-Drew who was taken in the second round.
The argument is as old as time itself. Is it wise to take a running back in the first round let alone inside the top 10? So with the 2018 NFL Draft coming up, let’s investigate one of the more polarizing conversations to date. Should any team invest a top 10 pick on Penn State running back Saquon Barkley? I’m here to tell you why Barkley could be the next Reggie Bush.
The reason why Reggie Bush never made it in the NFL is because he refused to take the four-yard run. Bush always look to cut outside and refused to take what was given to him. When the speed of the game in the NFL got faster, Bush’s game was no longer sustainable. While Bush and Barkley have different frames, their games are relatively similar. The Penn State product rushed for 3,843 yards in college which is beyond phenomenal in a three-year stretch. The problem is when you break those carries down individually, there’s a major red flag that arises. 47 percent of Barkley’s carries in college went for 4-yards or more. All of the running backs that have been drafted in the first round posted numbers well over 50 percent. In fact, Barkley’s numbers were so average in this category that the average FBS back in all of college football posted a better number at 47.1 percent of their runs going 4-yards or more.
Okay, yes I get it this is just one statistic. Okay… I’ll ignore it. Barkley is a home run hitter. Even his biggest supporters can admit that. So this time let’s look at the percentage of carries that went 10 plus yards. So this has to be in Barkley’s favor big time, right? Well, that’s not actually the case. Barkley ran for 10 yards or more 13.4 percent of the time. The average for all FBS running backs in college football was that exact same number. On runs where Barkley was contacted at the line of scrimmage, he averaged just 0.37 yards per carry which proves that he more often than not looked to bounced runs outside rather than falling forward for 2 yards or so. Barkley led college football in runs that resulted in negative yardage.
The advanced analytics like Saquon Barkley but they don’t love him which is my whole point. Pro Football Focus which does an extremely great job at grading these players. Those grades actually revealed that Ronald Jones of USC is the best running back in the class followed by Rashaad Penny and the 2015 version of Royce Freeman. Barkley’s highest PFF grade was an 87.3 which ranked 9th in the nation out of running backs. The fact of the matter is that Barkley isn’t far and away better than the rest of the field. This is a crazy deep running back class. Barkley’s famous trait of being a home run hitter actually tends to favor Ronald Jones and Rashaad Penny instead. Barkley had a breakaway percentage of 56.8 which falls short of both Jones and Penny.
When you actually break it down, Barkley’s most valuable trait is actually his receiving ability. His 230-pound frame doesn’t suggest that would be true but it is an absolute fact. He averaged 1.9 yards per route which ranks fourth in the entire draft class. NFL team’s pass on 58 percent of the time so there’s no question that his receiving ability has the ability to pop at the next level. His 4.4 speed coming out of the backfield will make him a chess piece in the receiving game. Other backs in the class are not proven receivers which really makes Barkley stand out in this one particular category. He caught 54 passes for 632 yards which is far and away the best of the class in terms of the top rated guys. When you really watch his footage, you would really like to see him hit the hole like Nick Chubb and with the ferocity of Ronald Jones. For a 230 pound running back, he really runs with a lot of finese similar to LeGarrette Blount. The reality is the when you watch the footage, you don’t really ever see Barkley pancake someone.
For those who know me, I’m a very superstitious person. Are we sure this draft class isn’t exactly like the 2006 NFL Draft? We have a “can’t miss running back prospect (Reggie Bush & Saquon Barkley). This draft also featured tight end freak Vernon Davis. Oh yeah, Davis and Barkley are the only two players in combine history to run 4.4’s at 230 pounds or more. We even have an all-world N.C. State pass rusher (Mario Williams & Bradley Chubb). Remember when Jay Cutler thought he was smarter than everyone (Josh Rosen). Add a USC quarterback to the mix (Matt Leinart & Sam Darnold). Remember when people thought Vince Young was going to be the next Mike Vick (Lamar Jackson). Who are we all comparing Vita Vea to? Oh yeah, Haloti Ngata, also part of that 2006 draft class. History repeats itself. When you look at the parallels to 2006, it’s pretty freaky.
However you want to slice it, running backs are rarely worth first round picks. Even with hindsight bias, how high would you draft Alvin Kamara in this years draft? Kamara and Kareem Hunt once again proved that you can find gems in the later rounds. Whether you point to the analytics and say those guys will be Ronald Jones and Rashaad Penny or just simply picking another name out of a hat like Derrius Guice, Royce Freeman, Sonny Michel, Nick Chubb, or Kalen Ballage. The odds are that you’re better off betting on the field to get at least 80 percent of Barkley’s NFL production. Break it down; would you rather have Saquon Barkley and Hayden Hurst or Bradley Chubb and Nick Chubb? I’ll take option B every day of the week. Even ask Dallas, would they rather have Ezekiel Elliot or Jalen Ramsey and Jordan Howard? Do I like Barkley? Yes, but he’s not a perfect prospect that everyone seems to be illustrating.