Penn State held its pro day on Tuesday for departing Nittany Lions with NFL prospects to show off their stuff to scouts.
All-America running back and NFL combine killer Saquon Barkley was scheduled to participate, but backed out at the last minute after finding out that there were no running back coaches attending.
At least that’s what he told NFL Network.
“I wish I was out here competing,” Barkley told NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones. “Actually, the goal was to come out here and do stuff, but there are not really any running back coaches or anyone out here to really put me through those drills.”
While there’s a convenient truth to Barkley citing the lack of running back coaches as his reason for sitting, the real reason likely lies in the his answers to Jones’ follow-up questions.
Jones: “Do you think you’re the best player in this draft?”
Barkley: “Yes, ma’am.”
Jones: “No doubt?”
Barkley : “Yes, ma’am.”
Barkley confidently believes that he’s the NFL draft’s top talent, and he’d be hard-pressed to find many analysts who disagree.
He followed up a junior year at Penn State with 1,903 yards and 21 touchdowns from scrimmage including 5.9 yards per carry with an historic performance at the NFL combine.
His output of 29 reps on the bench press, a 41-inch vertical and a blazing 4.41 40-yard dash puts him in elite company. Since 2000, only Vernon Davis has put up better numbers across all three categories.
The last running back with this much draft buzz, Ezekiel Elliott posted a 4.47 40-yard dash and a 31-inch vertical while declining to participate in the bench press.
Barkley has the speed of an elite receiver, did more reps than any linebacker at the combine and is bigger and more athletic than Elliott was coming out of Ohio State.
He has the stats, the film and the measurables, so what upside is there for Barkley to put himself on further display?
Penn State coach James Franklin told ESPN that Barkley’s combine numbers were average compared to what he’s seen him do. Whether that’s accurate or just a coach propping up his guy in the media is mostly irrelevant. The numbers already speak for themselves.
So it must be frustrating for Barkley to watch his draft stock continue to drop.
Well, it’s not so much his stock that’s dropping, but a fierce arms race for the multiple first-round prospects at quarterback that has other players rising above him.
Quarterback-needy AFC East rivals have traded up in the first round to position themselves for a signal caller, and they may not be done. The Buffalo Bills recently traded up from the No. 21 pick to No. 12 and are expected to use their pair of first-round picks to jockey for even higher position.
The Jets, surely sensing their rival’s aggressive maneuvering, traded up from the No. 6 pick to the No. 3 pick on Tuesday and gave up a haul to the Colts to make the move.
With moves like those and the Cleveland Browns holding the top pick, Yahoo’s latest mock draft that has three quarterbacks taken at the top of the draft instead of one of the best prospects in the history of the game is not uncommon.
But there’s nothing Barkley can do. Barring any late blemishes, his draft stock is out of his control. Which is exactly why he was right to stay on the sideline on Tuesday.
Unless something changes dramatically between now and draft day, one lucky team is looking at getting tremendous value when Barkley falls its way.
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