2018 Rookie Class: An Early Look at Saquon Barkley

Kyle Pollock

If you’ve tuned into ESPN at all since August, you’ve likely seen at least some of Saquon Barkley this year. Through the first month of the season, Barkley was undoubtedly the frontrunner for the Heisman trophy. While his production fell off down the stretch of the season, he’s without a doubt one of the most exciting running backs to play college football in a long time, and he’s bound to be picked very highly in the upcoming draft.


From the instant he stepped on campus, Barkley was a productive player who was tough to keep off the field. He burst onto the scene against Buffalo with 112 yards and the first of many hurdles:

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Just for fun, here’s more of Barkley hurdling during his freshman year:

Barkley showed flashes of his dominance during his freshman year, as his balance and agility were on display behind a porous offensive line that didn’t give him much help. His speed and receiving ability hadn’t yet become the elite traits that he would eventually show down the line.

He picked up right where he left off in 2016, and his ascent coincided with that of Penn State’s program as a whole. His burst and agility allowed him to rush for over 1400 yards behind what was still a below average offensive line, and his receiving talent began to flash. Here’s some of his best runs from the year:

While 2016 may have produced Barkley’s highest rushing totals, 2017 produced his best game to date. His game against Iowa was the most dominant performance I’ve seen from a running back since I started watching football (that goes all the way back to 2005!)

In that game he rushed for 211 yards and a touchdown, caught 12 passes for 94 yards, and returned three kicks for 53 yards. He’s the only player since 2000 to have more than 200 rushing yards and catch ten passes in a single game. If you’re wondering why Barkley received a perfect grade from Pro Football Focus for this game, take a look here!

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I’ll save my in depth film analysis for a later date, but my only major concerns in his game are his vision which ultimately lead to some concern between the tackles. Because of his subpar line, Barkley sometimes bounces outside and uses his speed and agility to beat defenders to the edge before turning up field. This won’t fly at the NFL level. He’ll need to be able to stick to his assignment and become a little bit more of a north south runner, but that’s nitpicking. Barkley is as close as they come to a perfect back.


Barkley comes in at 5’11”, 230 pounds, which is essentially the ideal build for a running back. He’s 230 pounds of muscle, which allows him to be a physical back while also being one of the best athletes in the country. Bruce Feldman named him the number one freak athlete in the country, and it’s easy to see why. Here are some of Barkley’s personal bests:

  • 4.33 forty (hand timed)

  • 38 inch vertical
  • 30 reps of 225 pounds on bench press
  • 5 reps of 525 pounds on squat
  • 405 pound power clean (Penn State record)

Barkley should be the best athlete in this class.


I’ll be focusing on Barkley’s final season production, but he did have over 1,000 yards and 20 receptions in each of his first three seasons. This year Barkley posted the following market share numbers:

  • 78% of non quarterback carries
  • 82% of non quarterback yards
  • 89% of non quarterback touchdowns
  • 17% of receptions
  • 17% of receiving yards
  • 10% of receiving touchdowns
  • 14% Dominator Rating

Barkley was clearly the most dominant part of Penn State’s offense this season, but what really impresses me is his receiving numbers. It’s rare for a back to put up those kind of numbers, and even more impressive when you consider his size and rushing numbers. Oh and did I mention that he’s an elite kick returner who averaged over 28 yard per return and scored two touchdowns this year?

Putting this all together, here are the only players to match Barkley’s season of 1100 rushing yards, 400 receiving yards, 400 kick return yards, and 20 total touchdowns:

  • Chris Johnson
  • CJ Spiller
  • Dri Archer

Spiller and Johnson were two of the most explosive and dynamic backs to come into the NFL in recent memory. Barkley is as good as those two in terms of explosiveness and his dynamic receiving ability, but has 30 pounds on them. We’ve simply never seen a back like Barkley.


Barkley will be a top ten pick in the NFL draft. He should be the unquestioned top pick in your rookie drafts regardless of his landing spot, and I would assume he would end up being a late first to early second round pick in most startup drafts. I see Barkley as a cross between Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott, which should allow him to be a perennial top ten back in PPR leagues, and a potential MVP candidate in the NFL.