Now that he’s made his NFL future official, Penn State has a Saquon Barkley-sized hole to fill in its offense next season.
It’s unfair to expect one player to replicate Barkley’s production and impact on the Nittany Lions, but the team does have a few names capable of stepping into the starting role. Guys like Miles Sanders and 2018 signee Ricky Slade could both see reps as the lead tailback next season.
Miles Sanders appears poised to step up as the starting running back next season and saw plenty of action in the Fiesta Bowl victory over Washington. While his numbers from that Fiesta Bowl don’t necessarily stand out (15 yards and a score on six carries), he’s a high-potential player who was very highly rated as a prospect.
“The running back room is real competitive and we all try to feed off each other,” Sanders said.
As a recruit, Sanders was ranked No. 1 overall in the state of Pennsylvania in the 2016 cycle and the No. 1 tailback in the country. Adding Sanders was a major score for the Nittany Lions and gave them a tailback of the future. But Barkley established himself as Penn State’s starting back the season before Sanders’ arrival in Happy Valley and his stellar 2016 season mostly kept Sanders on the sidelines.
Now that Sanders has had two seasons to pick Barkley’s brain, he’ll take what he’s learned from the Coplay, PA, native on top of his raw talent and try to translate it into a starting role on the Nittany Lions’ offense. As the season goes on, he may transition into more of a mentoring role with Penn State’s next five-star running back in Slade.
“I try to watch everything Saquon does,” Sanders said. “He’s probably the best running back in the country.”
Slade was the No. 1 prospect in the state of Virginia for the 2018 recruiting cycle and the No. 2 overall all-purpose back in the country. He’ll join the Nittany Lions ahead of next season and seems poised to become a top-class tailback for James Franklin’s team. Barring injury, he likely won’t see too much action next season.