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2018 Early Draft Scouting/Fantasy Valuation: RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State

Air Date:
February 6, 2018

The question I have received most often in the early 2018 NFL Draft process, as it pertains to Dynasty-Fantasy Rookie Drafts is “How good is Saquon Barkley?

Last summer, I did a preview scouting report on Barkley…watched a little tape, input what we performance numbers we had, estimated his measurables (I’ll post that 2017 report below this piece if you’d like to look at). I did a similar drive-by scouting on Barkley again (pre-NFL Combine) recently. What I saw in 2018 is the same as I saw in 2017…

I’m just going to share my notes/thoughts in a random bullet point format…

 -- I always see Doug Martin when I watch him run. Very fast feet, short steps. Can really hit the jets and isn’t great between the tackles as a physical runner but his quick feet allow him to get by. Not as tough as Martin up the middle, but is a fast, choppy, high-effort 217-222 pound runner who can dodge some bullets in congestion.

You might scoff at Martin as a comparison, but a couple years ago he made a run at the league rushing title…doing so on a terrible offense that couldn’t block. When Martin was clean, sober and at his best…he was really good in the NFL.

 -- Barkley’s speed and size measurement results at the NFL Combine are CRITICAL. If he comes in at a 4.45 40-time and 218-pounds, people will feel pretty good. If he comes in at 4.35 and 220+ pounds, people will, and should, lose their minds. If he comes in at 4.55…doubts will creep in, but the football establishment is already all-in, so they’ll excuse it away.

 -- When I watch the tape of Barkley, I’m never that impressed. I mean that from a – he’s being sold as an A+++, but I’m seeing a nice B+, maybe A- runner. I’m not radically different from the mainstream view of him but I have much more doubt. There is 0.0% doubt in the mainstream right now, so any slight hesitation from an analyst or fan will get you shouted down and declared a fool.

I have some doubts that he’s an A+.

 -- I also know what happens when the entire NFL media monster piles onto one side… NFL teams follow suit and they will draft Barkley highly and build an entire offense around him; like lemmings. See: Melvin Gordon.

Barkley is a much better prospect than Gordon was as a rookie for me at this point. Both NFL-worthy talents with debatable upsides and radically over-drafted (from a value standpoint)…I’m not burning a 1st-round pick on an RB in an era over great supply of RB talent right now. And in the era of the 2018 Super Bowl teams using RBBC approaches.

I was more B+ on Ezekiel Elliott scouting too, and you probably think that’s a damning cross-defense of my scouting. I still maintain Elliott is a B+ talent. B+ in a great NFL situation, which gives him a production/fantasy push. For the NFL, I like Ezekiel over Saquon. For fantasy/PPR, as pure talents, I like Barkley because of his breakaway ability and potential more usage in the passing game. But given I know Ezekiel is on Dallas and Barkley is an unknown landing spot at this stage…I’d take the sure thing in Elliott for fantasy this very day.

 -- Barkley is going to make his money as a ‘big guy with speed’ type of weapon. He can outrun defenders more than most guys who weigh around 220 +/- pounds. If Barkley has space to run, the defense will pay. If Barkley is expected to be a grind it out type of RB…not as likely to happen. Barkley is more finesse and speed than power.

I would not be totally surprised if Barkley came in at 217-219 pounds versus 222-225 at the NFL Combine. He has the look of a slightly smaller RB to my eye…which flows with his style of running. Closer to Alvin Kamara looks/style than Ezekiel Elliott.

 -- When I watched Barkley versus Big Ten powers Ohio State and Michigan…I see a guy who is noticeably faster than the defensive players in the open field. I suspect he’s closer to a 4.40 than a 4.50 40-time, and if he comes in running in the 4.3s, I would not be shocked.

When he gets loose, Barkley did well running the ball versus Big Ten powers -- but he was bottled up at the line of scrimmage a bunch too. Barkley tries to flee congestion up the middle more than plowing into it…and that may not serve him well in the pros. We’ll have to see his Combine numbers to theorize on that or not. I’m not sure Barkley will have great yards after contact in the NFL…I want to study more before I lock that in.

 -- Barkley had nice receiving numbers in college and I expected to see a way above-average, fluid receiver out of the backfield. My glimpses of watching his screen and flare pass catches were that he’s ‘fine/OK’ as a receiver, not a next-level receiver out of the backfield.

Overall, I think Barkley is a legit NFL/FF prospect and I know he’s the dynasty rookie draft #1.01 today with a bullet. I know NFL teams are going to rollout the red carpet. Barkley makes sense as the #1.01 right now, but my question and probably a lot of your questions would be – “Is Barkley worth the #1.01? Should I trade up for him or should I trade my #1.01 and sell the hype?

Let me examine an answer to that question by looking over the NFL/FF right now. There is a glut of #1 RBs starting to pile up in fantasy, especially PPR. We just got Fournette-Kamara-Hunt-McCaffrey thrown into the system, with guys like Joe Mixon and Dalvin Cook lurking…and Samaje Perine and D’Onta Foreman possibly.

I’m going to go through the NFL team-by-team using a dynasty mindset, and list RBs I think are clearly better than Barkley/I’d rather have for FF today and also list the RBs who are about the same value for me right now. I think when you see the visual on this it will grab your attention/help you value Barkley (for PPR)…

*Going through teams alphabetically and typing the RB names, so a random order list.

 

Better than Barkley, clearly:

David Johnson

Joe Mixon

Ezekiel Elliott

Leonard Fournette

Todd Gurley

Alvin Kamara (because he’s used perfectly for FF/PPR)

Le’Veon Bell

 

About as good as Barkley:

Carlos Hyde (if healthy) *moved down here from above a few days after publishing…I think hyde is more talented but age/injury. He should be more here on second thought.

LeSean McCoy

Jordan Howard

D’Onta Foreman (but injury question)

Kareem Hunt

Melvin Gordon

Mark Ingram

Doug Martin (if he were clean)

Derrick Henry/DeMarco Murray

Samaje Perine

 

Is the 8-12th best RB in the NFL/FF worth the #1.01 pick in a dynasty rookie draft? Probably not. I’d especially say it’s not when mainstream football people are valuing Barkley ahead of everyone but maybe Gurley and Bell-Johnson. I suspect if you had the 1.01 today, you could trade it for David Johnson straight up…if that gives you a valuation idea. People are whacko for rookies as it is…and the media has Barkley hyped so hard he’s going to be a crown jewel they’d all die for. I don’t think Barkley and Johnson exist on the same planet for talent and fantasy production.

If you push Barkley as ‘in the upper group’ (in my lists above) then he’s worth the 1.01, at this stage. If you see Barkley as anywhere in the ‘about as good as Barkley’ group…you’re not using your 1.01 pick for all that it is worth most likely by taking Barkley.

As of today, starting February 2018, with no Combine or NFL Draft landing data to work with -- I say Barkley is a B+ talent with A+ media hype and going into an unknown situation/NFL team/offense. He’s likely going to be an ‘A’ fantasy asset one way or the other (talent and/or volume)…but not as likely an A+, and I see opportunities to sell the A+ sizzle for a pretty big haul this offseason.

We’ll lock all this in after the NFL Combine.

 

====================

From the summer of 2017…

 

NFL Draft 2017 Scouting Report: RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State

*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.

*This is a 2018 prospect preview report. We do not have all the data we'd like to have for a more definitive calculation.

 

However it is you feel about Doug Martin as an NFL running back is how you should feel about Saquon Barkley. They are very similar running backs. The difference being that a Doug Martin talent playing at no-media coverage Boise State enters the NFL with some positive vibes from his NFL Combine work but doesn't have anyone hailing him as the next great NFL running back. Saquon Barkley has the Doug Martin-like talent AND all the media momentum...a momentum that could carry him to a Heisman Trophy in 2017. A momentum that will probably carry him into the top 10 of the NFL Draft in 2018.

Same guy/talents…just different emotions generated by the media coverage.

If you believe I am tearing down Barkley by comparing him to Doug Martin – you've already been suckered by the bias, ignorant football media coverage. Your emotions have been played upon. Doug Martin, in his right mind, in his best shape, is one of the 5–10 best running backs in the NFL. People don't really care about him because he went to 'who cares' Boise State followed by joining 'who cares' Tampa Bay. His best years have been wasted by a bad offense/team to work with. 2015 Doug Martin on the 2016 Dallas Cowboys leads the league in rushing and probably pushes 2,000 yards for the season. Doug Martin 2015 on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015 – he just had a really, really good season...looking at stat totals only. If you really watched Martin's 2015 tape, you saw one of the best running back performances in the last several years…fighting through working with a horrible O-Line and terrible QB play. Le'Veon Bell-like work but without the Steelers' offensive line or QB play.

All that to say, Barkley reminds me of a lot of Doug Martin.

The scouting description of Barkley/Martin – perfect NFL size at running back (220-225+ pounds), high-end NFL speed for their size, powerful/physical runners as needed, really good hands in the passing game, and excellent/shifty feet.

The superpower that Barkley has, among all his very good 'checks all the boxes' attributes, is how terrific his agility or shiftiness is. Barkley approaches the line of scrimmage and has an elite ability to quick-stop and shift his feet/momentum to escape certain trouble…and not only to escape trouble, but make plays out of thin air by taking a carry up the middle but suddenly kick it outside and make a big play where there was none with the original play call between the tackles. That's a very big deal. Most running backs either run straight ahead and try to go as far as the hole/their power will take them. Other running backs are fleet of foot but hesitate when seeing trouble and then try to go outside for fear of the traffic – but the hesitation allows defenders to close in. Barkley has a gift where he's constantly moving his feet and almost pulls off Houdini-like shifts with his feet to get by for extra yards/space or sail right past oncoming defenders.

I liked everything about Barkley's game when I scouted his tougher games from 2016 – Ohio State, USC, Michigan. He's not an off-the-charts greatest RB prospect I've ever seen, but he's definitely one of the better running back prospects of the last few years. Barkley's strength as an RB prospect is that he's at minimum good at everything. He has no real flaws in his game and that's the beauty with him.

Off-the-field checks out fine at this stage. A noted hard worker with no issues on record. He has no major injuries sustained after two years at Penn State either.

 

Saquon Barkley, through the lens of our "Power RB" Scouting Algorithm

Barkley's first two years at Penn State have been record setting in many instances. The only thing I would point out is the odd stat lines in some of his 2016 games. It almost seems like Barkley pops for a huge game (150-200+ yards) or has a quiet under 85–90 yards game…or worse.

In 2016, versus Michigan State, Barkley ran 12 times for just 14 yards. In two career games against Michigan, Barkley's posted 63.5 yards rushing per game and just 4.2 yards per carry. He has pockets of games where he struggles, statistically.

I'm going to say, from watching the Michigan and Michigan State games…Barkley is becoming a marked man in the offense. He's not so good he can destroy anything in his path. I saw the same guy in his best games as I did in his worst games – a high-effort runner, elusive, and physical. But he needs space to operate, but he's starting to face stacked boxes upfront. As QB Trace McSorley continues to get better…and opens up the offense…Barkley's performances have risen – four 150+ yard rushing games in his final 8 games of 2016.

 

Barkley caught 4 TD passes in 2016. He is an excellent swing/screen pass option out of the backfield. He's not David Johnson or Le'Veon Bell, but he's well above average in the traditional RB passing game. He'll do fine there – very reliable hands.

 

Projected measurables…

5′10″/222

4.50 40-time, 6.85 three-cone

20+ bench reps, 36.0″ vertical

 

 

The NFL "Power RB" that Saquon Barkley most compares with statistically in college, within our system:

I see Doug Martin, but our computer models see Tyler Gaffney and Rashard Mendenhall. I can see the Mendenhall angle – he was a great NFL RB for a stretch.

 

COMPARISON TABLE LISTED ON THE ACTUAL CFM SCOUTING REPORT

 

*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 in 2017. 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 in 2017. 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.

  

2017 NFL Draft outlook...

Had Barkley been in the 2017 NFL Draft, I suspect he would have gone in the first round…he has that kind of positive media vibe going for him. People could argue whether he'd be worth a first-round pick or not, but in the end – he would have gone first round in 2017 and he is primed to do so in 2018. I wouldn't spend that kind of money on him but in the context of the last few drafts…I could see the NFL valuing him as a first-rounder.

NFL Outlook: Barkley's going to hit the NFL with a lot of love. He'll be expected to be a savior RB for whatever team he lands with. He's a solid B+ or better RB prospect. Like most NFL RBs, he's going to have to land in the right spot or he could be forgotten as good-not-great as quickly as he rose to prominence…like Doug Martin.

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About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is an NFL Draft analyst for College Football Metrics, and a football projections analyst and writer for Fantasy Football Metrics. 

Learn more about RC and the College Football Metrics system >>