Toss the name Saquon Barkley in any search engine this week and you’ll start reading that the Penn State product is a “generational talent,” “a can’t miss prospect,” and “by far the most talented player in the 2018 NFL Draft.” But – heads up Browns, Jets, Giants and Broncos fans -could it be that Barkley is a tad, or even flat-out overrated?
Why, of course.
Despite all of today’s advanced scouting and analytics, there still remains a great deal of risk when it comes to drafting any football player. Barkley could just as well be the next Trent Richardson (sorry Browns fans but he is the standard for any RB bust article) as he could wind up being the next Ezekiel Elliott.
This time of year, there is always “the next big thing” but it doesn’t always turn out that way. Richardson, picked third overall, was a certifiable bust. These other first round draft picks had their moments in the NFL, but they never came close to the expectations they had in April of the respective years in which they were drafted: Ronnie Brown (2nd overall pick), Cadillac Williams (5th overall pick), Beanie Wells (31st overall pick) and Reggie Bush (2nd overall pick).
We took a look at the college stats from all of these players and compared them to the numbers Barkley put up with the Nittany Lions. Here are the numbers from each player’s top collegiate season.
Trent Richardson, Alabama: 283 carries, 1679 yards, 21 TDs, 29 receptions, 338 receiving yards, 3 receiving TDs
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Ronnie Brown, Auburn: 175 carries, 1008 yards, 13 TDs, 9 receptions, 166 receiving yards, 1 receiving TDs
Cadillac Williams, Auburn: 239 carries, 1165 yards, 12 TDs, 21 receptions, 152 receiving yards, 1 receiving TDs
Beanie Wells, Ohio State: 274 carries, 1609 yards, 15 TDs, 5 receptions, 21 receiving yards, 0 receiving TDs
Reggie Bush, USC: 200 carries, 1740 yards, 37 receptions, 16 TDs, 478 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs
And here are the numbers from Barkley last season, his top overall season.
Saquon Barkley, Penn State: 217 carries, 1271 yards, 18 TDs, 632 receiving yards, 3 receiving TDs
Barkley’s receiving yards numbers eclipse even those of Bush, who was thought of at the time as the greatest dual threat in college football history. That said, Bush had nearly 500 more rushing yards in his top season at USC. Richardson and Wells both also had substantially more success in the running game in college.
RBs in general are overrated
Adding to the doubt on Barkley is his longterm projection as a potentially elite NFL player. The website, SoCalledFantasyExperts.com ran a piece last year regarding the aging curve for NFL running backs. Here is what they had to say: “Running backs that come into the NFL at 22 are closer to their peak than any other position, and like tight ends make large leaps in improvement until they reach their peak – 24 and 25 (while 24 is the peak age for running backs, their age 25 season is nearly the same as far as performance).
“For a total of four seasons, the peak range of performance for running backs proves to be from a player’s age 24 season to their age 27 season. Once they turn 28, running backs see their performance start to suffer.”
For teams like the Browns this is very problematic considering that by the time the team is ready for playoff contention, Barkley’s peak years may be behind him. For teams like the Giants, Jets and Broncos – teams that likely believe they could pull a Philadelphia Eagles this coming season – the recent history when it comes to having an elite back and winning a title is not very long. Here is the list of the past five Super Bowl champions with their top back from each season.
Philadelphia Eagles: LeGarrette Blount
New England Patriots: LeGarrette Blount
Denver Broncos: Ronnie Hillman
New England Patriots: Jonas Gray
Seattle Seahawks: Marshawn Lynch
In other words, investing big money or a top draft pick in a running back is not even close to being a top priority when it comes to winning it all.
Boom or bust
In addition, Barkley was something of a boom or bust back for Penn State last season. He had three monster games (172 yards rushing vs. Akron, 211 yards vs. Iowa, 158 yards vs. Nebraska), but he also had a three game stretch at a key time during the Nittany Lions’ season where he was a no-show. On Oct. 28 at Ohio State he had just 44 yards on 21 carries in a Penn State loss. On Nov. 14 at Michigan State he had 14 carries for 63 yards in a loss. Against Rutgers on Nov. 11, he had 14 carries for just 35 yards in a win.