We have seen a pretty crazy run of running backs in the latest NFL drafts, and have actually had two top five backs in a row in Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette. In addition to those two big names, Jordan Howard, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, Kareem Hunt, Joe Mixon, Aaron Jones, D’Onta Foreman, Samaje Perine, Derrick Henry, and several other backs have found instant success in the league. With that slew of names making immediate impacts, it’s hard to imagine the best is yet to come, but it is.
Saquon Barkley has several things in common with Elliott and Fournette, off the charts touchdown protection, playing on a power 5 title contender, and the highest non QB Heisman odds on Bovada. All three players averaged 6 yards per carry, and were able to show up in the biggest way in the biggest games.
Where Barkley separates himself from Elliott and Fournette is in the passing game. As good as we know Elliott is in pass protection, and even as a pass catcher, his production doesn’t whatsoever compare to that of Barkley. Saquon already has 3x the number of receiving yards that Elliott did in his final year at Ohio State, and the tape hints to him not yet fully reaching his potential in that category.
Barkley starts by catching everything… rarely if ever does Barkley let the ball get into his body, and never drops passes. Once he has the ball, he’s patient on screen plays, but is impossible to bring down in the open field. Asked recently who I think he compares to, I had to create a player. He runs a lot like Elliott, but is even shiftier in the hole, runs routes and makes first defenders miss like Theo Riddick, but has the suddenness and burst of Chris Thompson.
Rarely do I gloat this much about an incoming running back. I knew Elliott was a future all pro and worthy of a first down pick, but isn’t nearly the game changer that Barkley is. Fournette is a better back between the tackles, he along with Bell, may be the best back between the tackles. However, he’s a constant injury concern. I think Barkley will produce at the Le’Veon Bell, but his big play ability means he won’t need nearly the volume of touches Bell needs to produce his annual 2,200+ yards.
Is Saquon the Best of the Group?
Obviously it’s tough to say that he will be the best of the group, I will say he is clearly the best prospect of the group. That being said, the situation he is drafted into will have a major influence on the amount of early success he has.
If he were to end up in Cleveland or San Francisco, and face 8 man boxes all season, I don’t think you will see the production. The big plays will be there, but a lack of help will ensure that there are too many negative plays in between them. That being said, plug him onto a roster like Detroit, Seattle, Baltimore, New York, or even Philly, and I think you could see him immediately produce at an MVP level.
There is no doubt that he is a top 5 pick next April, and I think there is an extremely high likelihood he goes number 2 overall behind whatever quarterback teams are trading up for this offseason. The situation he lands himself in will 100% dictate the type of season he has, but whoever drafts him will have a versatile, game-changing running back.