Saquon Barkley won’t be fielding the big question for another year.
The rising junior racked up a ridiculous 3,209 all-purpose yards and 30 total touchdowns during his first two seasons at Penn State, but he won’t be eligible for the NFL Draft until 2018.
There’s certainly a chance the Coplay, Pa., native could stay for his senior year, but his career trajectory is starting to look a little something like that of Le’Veon Bell, who declared early after three standout seasons at Michigan State. And no, it’s not because they wear the same No. 26.
Barkley draws inspiration from a host of the game’s greats, including the Columbus, Ohio, product who is rapidly on his way to said status. “I used to watch Barry Sanders YouTube videos,” Barkley said in a sit-down interview last August. “I’m a Jets fan, so I loved Curtis Martin. Now, I would say AP (Adrian Peterson), Le’Veon Bell; I love Matt Forte’s style.”
In his fourth season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bell has already climbed to fifth place on the franchise’s all-time rushing yardage list (4,045). The NFL doesn’t count postseason stats toward a player’s career total, but Bell just set the team’s single-game playoff rushing record with 167 yards in a 30-12 win over Miami.
Both Bell and Barkley held only four reported offers out of high school, with the former’s lone Power Five scholarship tender coming from the Spartans. Of course, Mark Dantonio hit a towering home run with Bell, as he earned a unanimous All-Big Ten nod his last season in East Lansing (2012).
Bell is more than just a running back with impeccable vision — his steely patience before he hits the hole is second to none in the league right now (skip to the 1:00 mark for proof).
“I think I’m changing the game. In that sense, I’m what Steph Curry is to basketball,” Bell told Bleacher Report in an article posted Tuesday. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily think Steph Curry is the best basketball player, but he changed the game so he’s going to always go down as being remembered. Now, everyone wants to shoot the three and shoot it from deep.”
Barkley, too, has that unteachable trait of lulling defenders to sleep off the edge before unleashing a wicked jump-cut. For someone still a month away from his 20th birthday, Barkley’s frame couldn’t be more NFL-ready. At 5-foot-11, he’s two inches shorter than Bell, but the two both check in around 225 pounds with speed to burn and hands for days. He’s also a seasoned veteran in the media room. Soft-spoken and humble as can be, Barkley routinely deflects credit for all the explosive plays to his offensive line.
Last winter, Barkley posted the fastest 40-yard dash on the team with a ridiculous 4.38 average during testing. For comparison’s sake, Bell clocked a 4.60 at the 2013 NFL Combine before being selected 48th overall that April.
Since his arrival in Pittsburgh, Bell has done 33 percent of his damage through the air, hauling in 2,005 receiving yards to go along with five touchdown grabs. Penn State and Baltimore Colts legend Lenny Moore is fourth all-time among NFL running backs with 6,039 receiving yards.
Barkley’s value to the Nittany Lions’ passing attack can’t go unnoticed, either. His perfect 18-yard wheel-route touchdown gave Penn State its first lead of the night, 35-31, in the Big Ten Championship. Barkley saved the best all-around performance of his career (to date, that is) for the Rose Bowl, where he piled on 306 total yards and three touchdowns against USC in a 52-49 instant classic.
Now that Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette, and Christian McCaffrey have all declared for the 2017 NFL Draft, it’s Barkley’s turn to carry the torch as college football’s most exciting running back. It’s only a matter of time ’til he joins them and Bell on the next level.