No, that’s not a clickbait, leading headline. Saquon Barkley is hands down the nation’s top big-play threat. Sure, there are plenty of talented players who’ll turn some heads during the 2017 season, but please find me someone who can do what Barkley does on a consistent basis.
These seemingly hot takes are in response to Bleacher Report’s latest preseason ranking that slotted Barkley as the No. 8 big-play threat in the nation for 2017. Now, No. 8 isn’t a shabby ranking at all, but did the nice folks at B/R even watch Barkley last year? Here’s what featured columnist David Kenyon had to say about Penn State’s Swiss Army knife:
As Penn State’s offensive line improves, so will Saquon Barkley. Well, that’s a scary thought.
Over the past two seasons, the versatile runner has amassed 3,135 yards from scrimmage and 30 touchdowns. Last year, he averaged an excellent 14.4 yards on 28 receptions.
Among returning players, Barkley’s 25 plays of 20-plus yards rank second. Plus, his 12 gains of 30-plus leads all running backs.
It’s no wonder Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports reported from the NFL Scouting Combine that Barkley is expected to be a top-five pick in 2018.
For comparison’s sake, here’s what Kenyon said about LSU’s Derrius Guice — the player he slotted five spots ahead of Barkley:
Leonard Fournette’s physicality is nearly impossible to match, and Derrius Guice certainly won’t be asked to do that. But last season, he eliminated any concerns about replacing Fournette, who battled an ankle injury throughout the campaign.
Guice, despite taking just 12 carries over a scattered four-game sample while Fournette was healthy, finished 20th in the country with 1,387 yards and ninth at 7.6 per carry. He led the SEC in average yards both as a freshman and sophomore.
Normally, it wouldn’t be worth picking apart an outlet’s preseason prediction list. Preseason lists are essentially meaningless — they merely fill the football-less void that’s been carved into our football-less souls to survive a long, cold offseason. But here’s where I take issue with what’s essentially disrespectful shade thrown Barkley’s way.
For starters, Kenyon basically says Barkley is the better player — note that Barkley’s the only guy ahead of Guice’s number of 20-plus-yard gains on a list where making big plays scores you more points. Not only that, but Barkley’s body of work is based on his production over the last two years; Guice is a fantastic player, and will admirably fill the shoes left by Leonard Fournette, but he has to prove he can shoulder the load with Fournette completely out of the picture. For comparison’s sake, wouldn’t these notions warrant a higher ranking for Barkley?
Oklahoma State star wide receiver James Washington topped Kenyon’s list, and some might argue rightfully so. I mean, the guy gouged Pitt, Kansas State, and Texas Tech for receptions of 80-plus-yards. Lots of what’s discussed about Barkley is his running ability. Here’s why:
But Barkley’s just as effective as a receiver as he is in the backfield. Don’t forget Barkley recorded five receptions of 30-plus-yards in 2016 — on top of the superhuman feats he accomplished as a runner. Neither Washington nor Memphis wide receiver Anthony Miller — Kenyon’s No. 2 big play threat — have such a blend of talent that’s been consistently flashed.
Miller did have one carry for 41 yards against Kansas in 2016, but he didn’t notch another greater than 15 the rest of the year — he actually lost yards rushing in two games. Washington only carried the ball four times in 2016 with a long of 16 yards. I’m sure defenses wouldn’t want anything to do with the pair — there’s no denying that. But in terms of an overall big-play threat, there simply isn’t a greater weapon than Penn State’s own Saquon Barkley.
It’s easy to claim bias, but simply look at the statistics — and consider the numbers Barkley could post if offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead actually puts him in the slot and uses him as a receiver. Something tells me he could make a few highlight-reel grabs on deep routes.
Oh, and Barkley will be playing behind an offensive line that’s ready to dominate in 2017; just think about how dangerous that combination could be for a few minutes. I think the proof is in the pudding — after all, it’s not every day a running back is talked about as a top-five pick in the NFL Draft.