RB Saquon Barkley ready to be difference maker

Posted Mar 1, 2018

RB Saquon Barkley is a dynamic player in both the run and pass game.

Born into a Jets household in the Bronx, Saquon Barkley would sit on his father’s lap during games as a child and tell him he would be wearing that green jersey one day.

In reality, it may be a different color – blue perhaps -- but it will certainly have the NFL shield.

The running back out of Penn State is one of the favorite prospects here in Indianapolis this week for the NFL Scouting Combine. You didn’t need to look any further than the media scrum he drew Thursday afternoon to know that. But if that wasn’t a giveaway, his list of accomplishments includes finishing fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting this past year while leaving Penn State as the school’s all-time rushing touchdown (43) and total touchdown (53) record holder.

The top of the draft order this year goes Browns, Giants, Colts, Browns again, and then Broncos at fifth.

“With the Giants picking at No. 2, if I was fortunate enough to go to a team like that and if I had the success that I had in college football and God blessed me with the success in the NFL, I think that would be a good fit, also,” Barkley said. “Any team in my mind would be a good fit. Any team that wants to pick me, in my mind, would be a good fit.”

Barkley added: “You’ve got guys like Odell [Beckham Jr.], that tight end [Evan Engram], Sterling Shepard, a quarterback [Eli Manning] that’s established and proven himself and got two Super Bowl rings. If I was fortunate enough to go to a team like that and have the success that I had in college football, I think that also would be a good fit.”

What he and the 335 other prospects in Indianapolis are trying to do this week is show teams that their skills translate to the next level. They don’t get to take their college trophies with them.

“I’m a versatile player,” Barkley said. “I think I’ve shown on film that I can run the ball. I can run it between tackles, outside tackles. I can catch the ball out of the backfield. I can pass block, even can play some special teams. That’s something that I try to continue to grow in my game and continue to be a complete player.”

Where have we heard that before?

“I have a high opinion of what a running back brings to your offense,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said Wednesday. “But I also have a very high opinion that that guy has to be able to run the ball, he has to be able to pass protect, and he has to be able to catch. That’s one of the things that we’ve got to get better at is catching the football. I think that the running back is a huge weapon in the passing game. Whether you just look down the field and you check it down or you dedicate throws to the runner.”

The position is turning that way in the NFL because of what players like Barkley are doing at the collegiate level. Barkley went from 20 to 28 to 54 receptions in his three seasons in State College, becoming the only player in Penn State history and just the fourth Big Ten athlete to gain 3,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in a career.

“That’s a challenge that was taken on,” said Barkley, who comes from a line of boxers in the family. “My coaches and [Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin] challenged me to take that on, and I think that’s where the game is going. If you want to be elite, if you break down the running backs and break down the top five backs, all those guys can catch the ball out of the backfield. All those guys are special with the ball in their hand. That’s something I strive to be.”

Barkley is riding a wave of resurgence for his position, and the tide is only growing stronger. After no running backs were taken anywhere in the first rounds in 2013 and 2014, Todd Gurley broke through in 2015 as the 10th overall pick by the Rams. And now, in back-to-back drafts, Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette cracked the top five.

Seeing what they are doing in the NFL gives the confident Barkley even more confidence. Especially how Elliott, a former rival from Ohio State, has excelled.

“He’s arguably one of the best running backs in the NFL, maybe the best,” Barkley said of the Buckeye-turned-Cowboy. “He came from the same division, same conference as I came from. He was able to have a lot of success in the Big Ten and I was able to have a lot of success in the Big Ten. His game was able to translate to the next level, and I hope the same goes for me.”

Whether or not that rivalry is renewed in the NFC East remains to be seen.

“I see a lot of mock this and mock that, but you can’t get caught up in it,” Barkley said. “If you get caught up in it, you take away from yourself and you’re taking away from your craft. You can only control what you can control. I can’t control what the Browns do. I can’t control what the Jets, the Giants, the Colts and so on and so on do. I can control what I do.”

And that is run, catch and block better than most.