One day after leading No. 9 Penn State to a 35-28 victory over No. 12 Washington in the 2017 Fiesta Bowl, running back Saquon Barkley decided to forego his senior year in order to enter the 2018 NFL draft.
The school’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (43) and second in rushing yards (3843), Barkley is a projected top-five pick. He will bring an immediate impact to any team that drafts him due to his ability to make his presence known both running and catching the ball as well as in pass protection.
Ranked the No. 1 overall prospect on Mel Kiper’s big board and No. 2 for Todd McShay, Barkley isn’t likely to be waiting around long in the first round given his one in a generation talent. Plus, the need for running backs amongst the top teams drafting.
So what teams should you expect to think about taking the Penn State running back?
*Picks No. 9 and N0. 10 will be determined by coin flip.
Cleveland Browns (Picks No. 1 and No. 4)
After becoming the second team in NFL history to finish a season 0-16, the Cleveland Browns head into the 2018 draft with two top five picks due to a trade with the Houston Texans that ended up being the pick they drafted Deshaun Watson.
The Browns are a middle-of-the-road rushing team in yards led by the ineffective Isaiah Crowell and a player more like a wide receiver than a running back in Duke Johnson Jr. Barkley would provide an immediate spark to an offense who’s linemen paved the way to allow these lesser talented backs to average 4.5 yards per carry this season.
With no clear solution at the quarterback position on the roster, the Browns are expected to take one of the three top quarterback prospects. With the luxury of having two top five picks the pairing of one of those quarterbacks and Barkley at the No. 4 pick or the other way around, Cleveland has the chance to solve their offensive woes that have hampered them for more than a decade in one night.
New York Giants (Pick No. 2)
The New York Giants are coming off a disappointing season that saw them record a franchise high 13 losses and a plethora of injuries on both sides of the ball. Now, a team with potential Super Bowl aspirations coming into the 2017 season is in the position to build for the future.
Ranked in the bottom ten in the NFL in rush yards per game, yards per carry and rushing touchdowns, the Giants displayed the capability to have success in games when they get a semblance of a rushing attack, an ability Barkley can bring to the Big Apple.
New York can go two directions if they’re keeping this pick, take a quarterback to be the successor to the nearly 37-year-old Eli Manning or select Saquon Barkley to be their fixture in a backfield that hasn’t had a consistent running game since Tiki Barber. The potential combination of Barkley, Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram on the offensive side of the ball would give Big Blue one of the most promising set of skill players in the NFL going forward for years.
The decision to select Barkley over one of the promising quarterbacks in the draft will be due in part to the confidence the Giants have in its 2017 third round pick, QB Davis Webb.
Indianapolis Colts (Pick No. 3)
Already having a franchise quarterback in place with Andrew Luck, the Indianapolis Colts don’t need to look at the quarterbacks like most of the other teams picking in the top 10. Their problem comes from the the fact that they’re relying on 34-year-old Frank Gore to carry the load in the run game behind a severely beat up offensive line.
The Colts ranked bottom five in yards per carry in the NFL but ranked top ten in rush attempts, an encouraging sign for an offense that played from behind more often than not and without Luck for the entire season.
Barkley has shown the ability to be productive behind below average offensive lines in college and with a top 10 QB in Andrew Luck, defenses should be hesitant to stack the box against him.
San Francisco 49ers (Pick No. 9 or No. 10)
A month ago San Francisco was looking like it would be in the running for the top overall pick, but a trade for QB Jimmy Garoppolo changed all of that, leading the 49ers to a 5-0 record since coming in almost two months ago. With current running back Carlos Hyde headed for free agency, the 49ers could secure its backfield for the coming years by taking Barkley. This could put San Francisco on par with their division rival’s dynamic duo of Jared Goff and Todd Gurley.
Led by offensive wizard Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers offer the biggest potential to bring out the best in Barkley’s ability. And, as all Penn State and USC fans know, Barkley has shined during his games in California.
Oakland Raiders (No. 9 or No. 10)
Another team that had aspirations for the playoffs and possibly a Super Bowl bid, the Oakland Raiders find themselves with a top 10 pick in the draft due in large part to the inability of its offense to put up points.
After spending big money in the offseason to lock down its offensive line and secure the signing of Marshawn Lynch, the Raiders struggled mightily in the run game, ranking 25th in the league for rush yards. Not only does Barkley most likely improve in that facet, he also brings a greater presence in the passing game for this offense that would typically need to bring in the change of pace backs DeAndre Washington or Jalen Richard for passing down situations.