Scouting Spotlight: RB Saquon Barkley
Would the 49ers consider Saquon Barkley if he falls to 9 or 10?
Every year when the draft comes around there are those players that we all have pegged to go in the top 10. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is one of those players. Early in the 2017 college football season, Barkley was a Heisman front runner and looked to be the best player in college football. During the second half of the season those talks died down as Penn State’s championship hopes died, but Barkley remained one of the best players in the country.
When I watch prospects on film, I specifically watch them with the 49ers in mind, and in Barkley’s case, with head coach Kyle Shanahan and his offense in mind. Shanahan runs a specific type of offense, and it revolves around the outside zone running play. You can spot this play by looking at the offensive line, they will be moving in a horizontal motion in unison towards the sideline.The back has three things he can do with this play: bounce, bang or bend. He can either bounce to the outside of the tackle, bend between the guard and tackle, or bang between the center and guard. This read needs to be decisive, and the back cannot hesitate when he has made his decision.
The importance of this play, and the offense’s success with it, is what it creates in the passing game. If the offense is having success with the outside zone, it creates issues for the defense when it comes to play action bootlegs. When the offensive line is moving one way it forces the defense to go that way to stop the run. When the QB uses play action to boot off of the outside zone it creates a lot of open space on the opposite side of the field.
Hard to bring down:
One of the things that jumped off the tape was his elusiveness. Barkley is very good at breaking away from initial contact. On most of his runs he gets a lot of his yards after initial contact. Defenders have to get him fully wrapped up to get him to the ground or he will use his power and speed to blow by them. This is a great trait for an NFL running back, since defensive lineman today are so big and long that it is rare for a running back to getthrough a hole without a defensive lineman getting a hand on him.
Good mix of power and speed:
Barkley has shown throughout his college career that he can be an every down back. He has proven that he has the power to run between the tackles and the speed to break one to the outside. This is very important in running the outside zone as the back can either keep running outside, or bounce, or make a cut to the inside, bang or bend. If a defense knows that the runner has the quickness to bounce it outside or the power to bang it inside, this forces them to cover both areas of the run play.
Finding a back in the draft that has that kind of quickness isn’t an issue for NFL teams. In every draft you can find guys with the ability to bounce it outside. The tricky part is finding a guy who can do both. Barkley is one of those guys.
In the NFL the quickest thing that will get a young running back benched is getting your quarterback hit. Pass protection is one of the most important things a running back can do; if a young back excels in this while in college that usually means he will have success with it in the NFL. Barkley has demonstrated thathe is very good at blocking for his quarterback.
Barkley squares up to the incoming rusher and forces him to the top of the pocket giving his quarterback plenty of room to step up into the pocket and make an uncontested throw. Now imaginethis is 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who is one of the best at throwing from a clean pocket. This is a skill that NFL evaluators put a ton of stock into, and Barkley has it.
In the NFL running backs are catching more and more passes out of the backfield. Offensive coordinators have made pass catching running backs into stars in this league. Rams head coach Sean McVay used running back Todd Gurley as one of his featured pass catchers, and teams couldn’t stop it. Barkley not only has the power and quickness to run the outside zone, but he is also a threat to catch passes out of the backfield. 49ers running back Carlos Hyde lead the team in catches in 2017, and he is just an average pass catcher in the NFL. Barkley has the makings of an elite running back catching passes, either out of the backfield, or lined up out wide.
When studying Barkley I had a tough time finding a lot of things I didn’t like. Vision seems to be a bit of an issue for him at times. Sometimes when he doesn’t see a play opening up he dances in the backfield and hesitates. He is used to being the most talented athlete on the field. This won’t be the case in the NFL. He will need to learn that being stopped for no gain is better than taking a five-yard loss.
Inside your own 10 yard line all you are looking for is a positive play to get out of the shadow of your own goal post. Barkley tries to win the game with every run, but you can’t do that in the NFL. Live to fight another day.
Barkley is a game changing kickoff returner. This is something the scouting department will ponder but it won’t be a huge consideration given where he will be drafted. This is obviously a great thing to have on your team, but the downside is deciding if you want to risk your franchise running back getting killed on kickoffs. Sure, in his rookie year this will be useful, but as he gets into his second and third years the team will not want to get him banged up by running him out for every kickoff.
When deciding if a team wants to take a running back in the top ten there is one thing that needs to be considered, and that ispositional value. Obviously running back is an important position, especially in Shanahan’s offense, but what is the gap between a top ten running back prospect and someone that can be found in the third round or later? When you compare this to a premier position like pass rusher or cornerback, it’s much more difficult to find someone who can contribute in a big way to your team in the later rounds. This is something to keep in mind when talking about top ten players in the NFL draft.