NFL Draft Blind Comparisons: Saquon Barkley (Fantasy Football)
The most interesting player in the 2018 NFL Draft is Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. Over the last two seasons, the NFL and fantasy football community saw rookie running backs take the league by storm. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards and fellow rookie Jordan Howard finished second with 1,313 yards in 2016.
Then 2017 happened, where rookie running backs Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, and Dalvin Cook burst on to the scene. Hunt led the NFL this past season with 1,327 rushing yards and didn’t win the Pepsi Rookie of the Year award, which went to Kamara who racked up 1,554 scrimmage yards and 14 touchdowns.
So considering how dominant rookie running backs have been the last two seasons, it’s easier to understand why Barkley is the most interesting player in the draft for real life and fantasy football. The hype around Barkley is real, and I often get asked: “what’s a good NFL comparison for Saquon Barkley?” After watching numerous hours of film two names came to mind, but many times people give you the internet eye roll when you drop big-named running backs.
This is why I created a blind comparison for Barkley in order to showcase his freak athletic ability. I’m an advocate of blind comparisons because it’s an effective method to ensure impartiality and avoid bias.
Below is a tweet from my personal account @MitchellRenz365 of three running backs. One is Barkley, one is a current NFL running back, and one is a Hall of Fame running back.
— Mitchell Renz (@MitchellRenz365) February 3, 2018
Player A is Barkley and as you can see, he is an athletic freak whose numbers jump off the screen. Now, Barkley hasn’t participated in the NFL Combine yet, so these numbers will change. These numbers are from his showcases at Penn State, which can be inflated at times. It’s important to remember that he put up these numbers before his junior year of college football, so they might even be better during the NFL Combine.
In his junior season at Penn State, he carried the ball 217 times for 1,217 yards, 18 touchdowns and 54 receptions for 632 yards and three touchdowns. He’s a running back that checks every box in terms of athletic ability and matches it with outstanding play on the field which is why scout are drooling over him.
The thought that a running back the size of Barkley can run a 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds is mind-blowing. Now combine that with his power, and he may be the best running back prospect to ever enter the draft from an athletic standpoint. How many players who can run like Barkley also power clean 405 pounds, bench press 225 pounds 30 times, and squat 525 pounds five times? The answer is probably none, at least it hasn’t been documented. Barkley at the NFL Combine is must-watch television.
Back to the question, “what’s a good NFL comparison for Saquon Barkley?” I think he is a hybrid of Player B and C. Player B is also an athletic freak who scored in the 96th percentile according to SPARQ. ‘SPARQ’ is an acronym that stands for: Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction, and Quickness. Think of it as the “SATs” for scouting players in terms of athletic ability. But just because a player is athletic doesn’t mean he will be effective as an NFL running back, which is why it’s important to note his play on the field reminds me of Player C.
Player B, is Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson. The only player who reminds me of Barkley from an athletic standpoint is Johnson, a strong running back with an incredible burst. Johnson missed the 2017 season after he dislocated his left wrist on Sept. 10 against the Lions in the Cardinals’ season opener. 2016 was his breakout campaign where he ran for 1,239 yards, 16 touchdowns and added 80 receptions for 879 yards and four touchdowns. Barkley isn’t as good of a receiver as Johnson, but he’s a better pure running back.
Player C, is Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson. Dropping a name like Tomlinson is why I wanted to do the blind test because when you compare any player to one of the greatest all-time you are going to get the eye roll emoji. Tomlinson, in his legendary 11-year career, rushed for 13,684 yards, 145 touchdowns, and had 624 receptions, 4,772 yards, and 17 touchdowns. Tomlinson and Barkley are similar players coming out of college in terms of their strengths and weaknesses. Far too often Barkley and Tomlinson looked for the “home-run” play. Instead of gaining four yards, they look for 20 yards and end up gaining zero. Once Barkley learns to run north and south more consistently and relies less on the fancy juke move but instead uses his power, he will break out.
Barkley has all the physical tools an NFL team looks for, and it’s a major reason why he will likely be a top-five pick in the upcoming draft. For fantasy football owners he is a no doubt first-overall pick in all rookie drafts, and in dynasty – depending what team he lands on – he may be a top 10 overall pick in startup drafts.
Saquon Barkley’s NFL Draft comparison is a hybrid version of David Johnson and LaDainian Tomlinson, only this hybrid is built like a muscle car.