Penn State swept the top three SPARQ scores of the 2018 NFL Combine, as Mike Gesicki, Saquon Barkley, and Troy Apke wowed scouts with their athletic ability last week at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Nike SPARQ Rating has been used to assess the skills and athleticism demanded by sports like football and basketball since 2004. It’s a favorite tool of recruiting events like The Opening, which is held each summer at Nike’s world headquarters in Beaverton, OR.
According to 3 Sigma Athlete, an advanced analytics blog that tracks combine showings, the three Nittany Lions performed astonishingly well. Zach Whitman, the site’s founder, has only ever identified five players who tested three standard deviations above the NFL’s average SPARQ at a given position: J.J. Watt, Calvin Johnson, Lane Johnson, Evan Mathis, and Byron Jones.
While Gesicki, Barkley, and Apke didn’t make the cut as members of that rare echelon of athletes, they did significantly improve their respective draft stocks.
The last running back to be selected first overall was none other than Penn State great Ki-Jana Carter, who in 1995 was picked by the Cincinnati Bengals. The Browns took star defensive end Courtney Brown No. 1 in the 2000 draft.
Barkley could soon become the third Penn State player to hear his name called first overall when this year’s draft gets underway Thursday, April 26 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.
Barkley’s SPARQ rating of 148.4 was far and away the top score of all the running backs in attendance at the combine. With numbers like a 4.40 40-yard dash, 41-inch vertical leap, and 29 reps on the bench press, Barkley came in just shy of the 99th percentile in terms of positional average among current NFL players.
Mike Mitchell, an Ohio State signee from the 2013 recruiting class, holds the all-time SPARQ record with a score of 154.47. A different Mike Mitchell than the Buckeye-turned-Pittsburgh Steeler safety, Mitchell transferred to Texas Tech and eventually Southeastern.
After claiming MVP honors at the NFLPA Bowl in January, Apke continued his campaign for increased respect from scouts and pundits alike at the combine, where he no doubt blew them away with a 4.34 40-yard dash and 4.03 20-yard shuttle. Both times were unmatched by any other safety in attendance. He posted a SPARQ score of 145.1.
Gesicki, however, outdid all of this year’s combine participants with a 150 flat. A few of his highlights were a 4.54 40-yard dash and a 41.5-inch vertical. Gesicki didn’t finish lower than second among tight ends in any event.
Penn State’s all-time leader in receptions at the position (129) will likely be selected in the top 50 picks come April. His natural ability to high-point the football and make plays in crucial situations is what sets him apart from his peers in this year’s draft class.
Those who doubt Gesicki will improve as a blocker at the next level clearly haven’t seen the extra work he puts in on the sleds after seemingly every practice. If you’re looking for the NFL’s next big star at tight end, Gesicki fits the mold and then some.