*Our RB grades can and will change as more information comes in from Pro Day workouts, leaked Wonderlic test results, etc. We will update ratings as new info becomes available.

*We use the term “Power RB” to separate physically bigger, more between-the-tackles–capable RBs from our “speed RBs” group. “Speed RBs” are physically smaller, but much faster/quicker, and less likely to flourish between the tackles.

Sometimes you have to admit when you’re wrong…and I was wrong in pre-scouting here. I saw not an ‘A+’ RB prospect but more of a B+/A- guy…a good prospect that I feared was getting pushed/hyped beyond his ability. By all NFL Combine indications, from an athletic sense…Barkley lived up to expectations and then some.

I thought Barkley might be closer to 220 pounds at the NFL Combine, but he came in at 233 pounds – and he wears it very well.

I thought Barkley would be closer to a 4.45 40-time, but he came in at 4.40.

I suspected 20+ bench reps, but 29 reps on the bench is pretty high-end.

I projected a 37–38″ vertical, but he had a more elite 41.0″.

In every area that I thought he’d come in good-to-great, he came in great-to-elite.

I was giving him more of a dismissive B+/A- grade overall, pre-Combine…and attacking the media for doing what they usually do – running off a cliff for one player, overselling it, and ignoring all the other RB prospect options.

In this case, I was a bit of the fool. Barkley has all the athletic markers of something never seen before – athletic numbers better than David Johnson, maybe. We’ll get to that.

A group of us scouts debated Barkley’s talent and how highly to take him in the NFL draft or dynasty drafts, and we had some saying ‘A+’…others thinking more ‘B-’. I was in the middle. The A+ crowd looks to be more right than wrong.

After the results were all better than I expected, my first instinct was to go into attack mode and find pieces to dispute and to pull at the fabric of the idea of Barkley as an A+ prospect…but that instinct is more trying to defend a weak hand. I need to be right, not justified. We’ll nitpick Barkley in a moment, but there is no denying now that the ‘A+’ argument is on the table and no one else from this RB prospect class can make such an argument (on paper).

I didn’t see it, so I undervalued it…and then shot my mouth off/went with what I felt to be true – and now, I’ll be potentially eating my shoe to a degree. There are some minor things to complain about, but there is no denying Barkley possesses athletic gifts that no other RB has ever possessed in combination. That sentence alone means you must respect the possibility of Barkley as a future elite, A+ NFL running back.

I could go on gushing and apologizing…or start talking about how the tape relates/backs up how great Barkley could be. That would be the easy path to go from here. However, I’m going to go on the attack and bring up where this Barkley bullet train could derail and then I’ll discuss where it is likely going to go…and then what our computer models see and think and compare him too. Much of what I’m going to say will create a little doubt on Barkley’s A+, and that’s what we are here for – to vet things like this out. To prove or disprove.

Who is like Saquon Barkley on the upside…the size/athleticism? You have to compare him to the top guys – David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley.

His size and speed rivals that of David Johnson. David Johnson ran a 4.50 and Barkley a 4.40 at the NFL Combine. Watch this video from my Twitter page (if the NFL hasn’t taken it down and arrested me by the time you read this).

https://twitter.com/FFMetrics/status/969719632339832832

Let’s just say they are both very big and equally fast and both strong, with Barkley bigger in pounds and stronger via bench (but I think DJ caught up to Barkley’s muscle since his Combine…he’s a workout warrior too). Let’s say they’re pretty close in physical gifts…and ‘pretty close to’ or ‘a little better than’ David Johnson is god-like for Barkley. But there’s a problem comparing these two…

Barkley wins size-speed-bench, but David Johnson has much better hands in the receiving game. Barkley is capable in the passing game, but Johnson could’ve been an NFL All-Pro WR. Johnson also runs with a stronger style between the tackles.

Barkley is awesome in so many ways that his between-the-tackles downgrade is not going to matter so much or cause him to bust, but it is an issue. The great ones take it between the tackles and take on contact…they don’t try to dance from it perpetually. Barkley has that minor flaw.

DJ, Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott, and Todd Gurley – they are all 225+ pounds today. They are all 4.4 runners except Fournette, but he was also 241 pounds running a 4.51. For his size, his time is equal to like a 4.45 range at 233 pounds. All these top backs have superior size and speed and are pretty rugged between the tackles…which is the NFL’s bread and butter, for right or wrong. However, Barkley does not show that to be his style – he’s not a rugged runner…not nearly as much as the other guys.

Barkley’s gift is quick feet avoiding a tackle, evasive maneuvers in traffic. He kicks runs from inside to outside and races past the defenders. All things he was great at in college, but the pro level doesn’t typically afford such luxuries that often. The NFL is the best of the best on the defensive side. Will Barkley transform into a savvy bruiser in the pros? Maybe. If he doesn’t and his offensive line play is poor…he might, I say might, be a little frustrating to coaches/fans. Maybe.

Barkley has more of a Le’Veon style of running…quick feet to evade more than plow people over. However, Bell is a master at patience and vision, while Barkley tends to run full steam into traffic and goes down pretty easily for such a well-built guy. It was the one thing people/scouts try to ding him on…his negative runs in college. I see it on tape…I don’t think he has elite vision in traffic, and he might have a penchant for trying to abandon 1–4 yard runs trying to get outside for 50+ yard runs but then winding up with too many -5 yard runs.

Now, we all know (now) Barkley is a supreme athlete. He might have a string of so-so runs in a game and then pop a 70+ yard TD – and then who cares about the other low-ROI runs? I think that’s where Barkley’s special gift is – he’s so big and so fast…bigger and faster than any elite, current NFL RB I mentioned (except maybe Leonard Fournette)…that Barkley is just going to outrun trouble where many ‘good’ RBs cannot. How can DBs tackle such a 230+ pound monster in the open field on screen passes?

I want to ‘ding’ Barkley for not being great between the tackles, and maybe I’m right…maybe I’m wrong, but if I’m right – he’s still an A to A+ in most everything else he does. He has special traits and special skills that, if deployed properly in the NFL, are going to make him a star. Just not an Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Leonard Fournette type star. More a Le’Veon Bell, Alvin Kamara type star, only not as smooth in the passing game as Bell…but much bigger, badder, faster than Kamara.

Barkley’s superpower is how his size-speed combo will allow him to bypass running over people and just effortlessly run by them instead. I get too caught up in arguments about him NOT running people over. I just want results (long TDs)…so, who cares whether he does it ruggedly or mercurially?

I’m not 100% sure Barkley can be an NFL superstar no matter the surroundings. Teams stacked the box on Fournette and he found a way…because he’s a bulldozer. If teams stack Barkley and he has no patience or desire to take a 0–3 yard beating over and over…will he disappoint on a team that has limited other weapons and/or a bad O-Line?  

Bell, Johnson, Gurley…they can play almost a quasi-WR to mix things up. Barkley, I don’t think, is on that level. He’s not a bad receiver…he’s just not an A+ receiver. Barkley is an A+ at so many things, but I wouldn’t say he has A+ hands…maybe ‘B’ hands/receiving skills. Good for swings and screens and occasional wheel routes…but not as next-level as Bell, Johnson, Gurley in the passing game.

I guess my point is – Saquon Barkley could very well be great…one of the greats of all time. That argument is on the table. But, his style may put him either equal to or behind slightly David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, and/or Leonard Fournette if he’s pushed into a conservative run game. So, maybe Barkley is just ‘great’ but needs a decent surrounding circumstance (like they all do)…but ends up on Cleveland with bad QB play, poor coaching, etc. Or what if he ends up on NYG or Indy with a terrible O-Line…and ‘what if’ on Indy with a bad O-Line and no Andrew Luck? I’m not saying Barkley would bust in a bad spot, but would he be more normal-good/great/human than a unicorn? Todd Gurley looked like a fool in 2016 with Jeff Fisher, then was an MVP in 2017 with Sean McVay. What if Barkley lands bad…the wrong place to start his career? Will people be disappointed if he isn’t the league MVP year one? It’s very possible his landing spot options are not going to be to his output advantage.

Saquon Barkley is an ‘A’ prospect. Is he an A+, A-, or just plain ‘A’? We’ll see, but I feel he could be more A to A- because of his style…and how it might clash with the wrong system/team, so he might not live up to his potential/hype right away. However, in the right place…he might be an ‘A+’ Rookie of the Year and league MVP with a string of 50+ yard TD runs. And because we can think that’s possible – you have to treat Barkley different than most RBs and you have to give him a top 5–10 in the draft grade.

I would have argued a week ago not to take an RB (or Barkley) with a top 10–20 pick because it’s bad value. However, Barkley has to be ruled an exception like Fournette, Gurley, and what David Johnson should’ve been. Too many ‘special’ attributes to be ignored for Barkley.

My thought as a GM all along has been – sure, Barkley is great, but the hype is so hysterical…is Barkley’s best value to trade the pick for player(s) + more picks? Do you think Arizona might trade David Johnson for Barkley + picks? The NFL might not make such wild deals, but those in dynasty-fantasy football leagues…the best value of Barkley may be to trade him for an equal young RB/WR superstar + another good-to-great player + another later pick in return.

I like Barkley, a lot. I just think he’s a Maserati valued at $700,000…and I totally love that expensive, supreme vehicle, but then I get offered $1,000,000 for it – hey, it’s still a great car, but I’ll take the million if you’ll give it to me. If you don’t, I still have a super-sweet vehicle I love. In my world, I love my Hyundai Tucson valued at $20,000…you can have it for $30,000, in a heartbeat.

Leonard Fournette was a freak of a player at 240 pounds. Maybe the best power runner in years/a decade. A year later, we all know he’s good…and we all kind yawn at the thought. However, people like Barkley 10x better than Fournette (or David Johnson)…why? There’s no reason for that type of imbalance of passion…but it’s real. Everyone loves the rookies.

Regardless, of RB valuation arguments and longevity and replacement values, and all those logical arguments – Barkley is going to be a very good, possibly great player…possible Hall of Famer, and I didn’t respect that fact fully before the Combine, but I think I do now. Only his offensive coordinator can stop him now with a 1970s style playbook/concept built for a running back from a future galaxy…and that happens in the NFL way too much, so you cannot rule it out. But on talent – Saquon is a potential weapon of mass destruction.



Saquon Barkley, Through the Lens of Our RB Scouting Algorithm:


At first glance, a month ago…and a year ago, when I looked at Barkley’s numbers it fed into my narrative that Barkley isn’t that super special. 2017 season, 13 games, just five 100+ yard games and seven games under 80 yards rushing…which is odd for college demigod runners. Usually, super studs are dropping 100+ yard games, regardless of touch count, because they are unstoppable, uncatchable on long runs, etc. Barkley had a very ‘good’, choppy output pattern (for a star) in college.

Especially concerning – the struggles that happened against the better defenses/talents he faced. Ohio State held him to 44 yards rushing on 21 carries in 2017. In the past two seasons, Indiana (of all teams) has held Barkley to 53 carries for 114 yards rushing (2.2 ypc). Michigan State last two seasons, 26 carries for 77 yards rushing (3.0 ypc). Yes, I’m cherry-picking…but I’m just showing that Barkley is somewhat human if a team decided to put 15 in the box to stop him.

The unusual pattern of Barkley the past two seasons is a lot of short yardage runs and then POPS the homerun ball. Kinda reminds me of Tyreek Hill…a homerun waiting to happen. As fans, we tend to get mad when every play isn’t that 50+ yard zinger. Barkley is in that realm…a finesse runner, and you’ll have to live with a few -2 and +2-yard runs while you’re waiting for the POP. Barkley has POP ability maybe like no other to ever grace the NFL at his size.

But like Tyreek Hill…will the NFL know how to use it effectively and often? Will they start to complain when there are a few too many 17 carries for 48 yard games with no POP play?

Barkley is such a weapon of mass destruction. You have to focus on the good-great-elite, not the one thing he is not an A+ at. You want him set up for POP plays and not worrying about his between-the-tackle deficiencies.

Barkley only had five games with 100+ yard rushing in 2017, but combining that with receiving yards…he had 8 games with 100+ rush+rec. yards…six games with 150+ rush+rec. yards.

Saquon Barkley is the ultimate homerun hitter.

 

Combine measurables…

6′0″/233, 9.5″ hands, 31 3/8″ arms

4.40 official 40-time, 4.24 short shuttle, skipped three-cone

29 bench reps, 41.0″ vertical, skipped broad jump


The Historical RB Prospects to Whom Saquon Barkley Most Compares Within Our System:


In reality, Saquon Barkley has no equal/comparison. His size-speed is more like Jonathan Stewart, but he’s so much more athletic than Stewart (and Stewart was beyond a freak back in 2008/10 years ago). Barkley’s athletic like David Johnson but even bigger (coming out of college).


RB Score

RB-Re

RB-ru

Last

First

College

Yr

H

H

W

Speed Metric

Agility Metric

Power Metric

10.523

8.30

9.48

Barkley

Saquon

Penn State

2018

6

0.0

233

13.95

10.06

11.69

9.008

11.05

8.93

Johnson

David

No Iowa

2015

6

0.5

224

9.13

8.98

9.15

11.216

7.40

11.01

Stewart 

Jonathan

Oregon

2008

5

10.2

235

11.23

7.73

11.54

10.213

10.09

10.03

Murray

Latavius

C. Florida

2013

6

2.5

223

12.07

8.55

8.53

8.466

6.09

8.32

Hardesty 

Montario

Tennessee

2010

5

11.6

225

7.44

9.15

7.98

7.250

7.38

7.06

Henry

Chris

Arizona

2007

5

11.2

230

9.22

5.18

9.51

7.260

8.67

7.45

Mixon

Joe

Oklahoma

2017

6

0.6

228

8.67

5.29

8.17


*A score of 8.50+ is where we see a stronger correlation of RBs going on to become NFL good/great/elite. A score of 10.00+ is more rarefied air in our system and indicates a greater probability of becoming an elite NFL RB.

All of the RB ratings are based on a 0-10 scale, but a player can score negative, or above a 10.0 in certain instances.

Overall rating/score = A combination of several on-field performance measures, including refinement for the strength of opponents faced, mixed with all the physical measurement metrics—then compared/rated historically within our database and formulas. More of a traditional three-down search—runner, blocker, and receiver.

*RB-Re score = New/testing starting in 2015. Our new formula/rating that attempts to identify and quantify a prospect’s receiving skills even deeper than in our original formulas. RB prospects can now make it/thrive in the NFL strictly based on their receiving skills—it is an individual attribute sought out for the NFL and no longer dismissed or overlooked. Our rating combines a study of their receiving numbers in college in relation to their offense and opponents, as well as profiling size-speed-agility along with hand-size measurables, etc.

*RB-Ru score = New/testing starting in 2015. Our new formula/rating that attempts to classify and quantify an RB prospect’s ability strictly as a runner of the ball. Our rating combines a study of their rushing numbers in college in relation to their offense and strength of opponents, as well as profiling size-speed-agility along with various size measurables, etc.

Raw Speed Metric = A combination of several speed and size measurements from the NFL Combine, judged along with physical size profile, and then compared/rated historically within our database and scouting formulas. This is a rating strictly for RBs of a similar/bigger size profile.

Agility Metric = A combination of several speed and agility measurements from the NFL Combine, judged along with physical size profile, and then compared/rated historically within our database and scouting formulas. This is a rating strictly for RBs of a similar/bigger size profile.

2018 NFL Draft Outlook:

I’ve been in debates about whether or not to use a top 5 pick on a running back. On paper, it makes little sense – from the injury risk on RBs/shorter careers to available free agent and later draft pick options, to how lowly paid RBs are because of the supply and demand…it just doesn’t make sense.

However, Barkley kinda breaks a lot of rules here – his size, athleticism…if used properly, is going to be wonderful. He’ll sell jerseys. He will give some kind of ROI; he’s not a bust. There might be a few other players to argue for at the top, and if you see a franchise QB, you have to take him…but this is a rare case where you might take a running back as a #1 pick in the draft. For sure, top 5–10.

In the end, I think Barkley goes #2 in the NFL Draft, but #1 would not shock me.

If I were an NFL GM, I would trade the pick/Barkley if I could get a stud player in return + a good player/prospect + a 2nd- or 3rd-round pick. That’s not a slap at Barkley…just the most value of all this may come from what you can trade the rookie hysteria for – sell the sizzle. In a couple years, Barkley won’t be so tantalizing, per se…someone else will delight the fans and media. I like to trade off/sell high into overheated markets. However, if I were ‘stuck’ with Barkley…that would be fine too.


NFL Outlook:   

He’s going to be good at a minimum…the downside is low. The question I have is – will he struggle a bit transitioning if stuck in a conservative offense and his gifts get bottled up. You think it’s crazy…did you see what the Bears did to Tarik Cohen last year after his stunning start to the season? It’s almost like the Bears were trying to lose. I don’t think teams will do that with Barkley. He’s such a glamorous figure that if he doesn’t have a great season people will be fired…so I expect he hits the ground running and is one of the top stars/producers in the NFL right away.





3/3/2018