Running Back Saquon Barkley: Preseason Prospect Preview

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Saquon Barkley Is Among The Most Electric Players In College Football And Is Looking To Secure His Place Among The Top Running Backs In This Upcoming Draft Class.

Saquon Barkley, Penn State, Running Back, 5’10”, 225 lbs

Along with Derrius Guice of LSU, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley sits atop a very talented 2018 running back class going into this upcoming season. The debate between Barkley and Guice will likely rage on throughout the season and into the predraft process, with LJ Scott, Akrum Wadley, Mike Weber, Bo Scarbrough, Jalen Balage, Nick Chubb, and others looking to add their names to the list of contenders for first round running backs. Barkley, Guice, and Weber have sweetened the competition with a friendly bet that will make an already intriguing race that much more fun.

Barkley has been a dominant force in the run game in each of his first two years, totaling 1237 yards as a freshman and 1898 yards as a sophomore with 30 combined touchdowns between his two seasons. He excels as both a runner and a receiver, making him one of the most well-rounded backs in college football, and the favorite to be the first running back off the board in the 2018 draft class and is already considered one of the most NFL-ready prospects in college football and figures to be the focal point of Penn State’s offense going forward.

As a contender for the Heisman Trophy, the pressure is on for Saquon Barkley to not only sustain his production level but also improve his game and prove that he has what it takes to be deserving of a top ten selection in the NFL Draft.

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Saquon Barkley has excellent vision. When there is space to be found, Saquon Barkley will find it. He has the ability to see the whole field as he is carrying the ball and cut back across the field at any time. When the line is able to create a seam for him to run through, he is quick to recognize it and get upfield. In the open field, his vision is among the best in the nation. He plays much more comfortably in the open field and has the ability to recognize multiple defenders, react quickly, and string multiple moves together in succession, using his blockers effectively.


Saquon Barkley can be patient to a fault. This is, in part, due to the lack of blocking that he has dealt with over the last two years. Penn State’s offensive line has not done Barkley many favors, and Barkley very seldom has clean holes to run through. As a result, Barkley often takes too long behind the line of scrimmage, dances too much, or opts to bounce runs outside that could have gained positive yards up the middle. Barkley could benefit from breaking this habit and avoiding the urge to take every run outside.

Granted, Saquon Barkley is at his best when he is improvising. His ability to reverse field and make things happen in broken plays is among his greatest strengths. Still, Barkley could improve his game by finding a better balance between his creativity as a runner and his commitment to getting upfield. With a better offensive line, he may feel more comfortable and be more inclined to play more aggressively at the line of scrimmage.

Barkley has good size and could utilize this better with a more aggressive running style, but his offensive line has to allow his to do this. His game against Indiana last year was an exercise in futility as he was swarmed behind the line of scrimmage time and time again. It is easy to get skittish when this is what you are constantly facing.

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Backfield Creation

This is the staple of Saquon Barkley’s game. Nobody does it better than Barkley. His ability to turn nothing into something is simply astounding. He has had a lot of practice anticipating and avoiding defenders behind the line of scrimmage and has built his game around broken plays and capitalizing on defensive pursuit. Barkley’s ability to make moves as soon as he takes a handoff is unmatched in college football and he frequently is able to make multiple tacklers miss before even reaching the line of scrimmage.

This is something that will do wonders for him in the NFL. With better blocking, he won’t have to lean on his ability to create for himself nearly as much as he has up to this point, but it will be an excellent tool to carry with him to the NFL.There are plays where defenders have him squared up before he even has the ball in his hands, and Saquon Barkley still manages to make them look silly. This is a testament to not only his anticipation but also his rare combination of lateral explosiveness and his balance.

Second Gear

This is a very interesting part of Saquon Barkley’s game. Not too long ago, Barkley was clocked at a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash. On tape, he doesn’t seem to show the blazing, burner speed that the 40 time would seem to indicate. It will be interesting to see if he has improved his straight line speed that drastically, or if he just doesn’t run as fast in pads as he does in workouts.

That said, Barkley does not have any speed concerns, regardless of how his functional speed compares to his clocked speed. Barkley consistently shows that he has the speed to get to the corner and turn it. He isn’t often caught from behind and can outrun most defenders. This second gear is certainly an asset that complements his running style well. He is good at getting himself into space, and his speed helps him make the most of a play when he gets there, as well as contributing to the fact that he is a threat to take a run to the house every time he touches the ball.

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Leg Drive

Saquon Barkley does a good job of keeping his legs moving, but it doesn’t translate to consistently picking up a couple of extra yards as it does for most high effort, strong runners. Rather than Barkley driving forward through contact, he has a much less conventional running style when defenders attempt to wrap up. Barkley often drives laterally and even backward to escape tackles rather than just pushing forward. It isn’t always effective, but it makes him among the best escape artists at the running back position. In many of his big runs, you will see him come to a complete stop in terms of forward momentum but still manage to escape tackles and get moving in the right direction again.

He certainly has the physical strength to drive through tackles, and this is something that I expect we will see more of in the future. When Barkley aims to pick up extra yards with power, you will often see him lunge and explode into contact rather than running through it. He has certainly shown the ability to drive forward and I think this is something that could help improve his game if done with more consistency.

Power and Balance

Barkley’s balance is elite. His weight, ridiculous physical strength, low center of gravity and natural ability all combine to make him very hard to bring down. Saquon Barkley utilizes his size and strength in more of an elusive manner rather than what you would expect from a back of his size and strength. Saquon bounces off tacklers and maintains his balance through contact that would bring down even the strongest between the tackles runners. He certainly has the size and strength to run players over, and this may be a bigger part of his game moving forward, but for now it is something that he utilizes minimally as he tends to lean more toward an explosive scat back style of running. Regardless, his power shows in his ability to fight through contact laterally.

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Saquon Barkley is simply electric. There isn’t a much better word to describe his game. His ability to explode out of his cuts, string together multiple moves, stop on a dime and escape tight spaces is simply astounding. His ability to completely leap over incoming defenders with ease and regularity is amazing. Combined with his size, power, and balance, his elusiveness makes him among the most dangerous, if not the most dangerous, running back in the open field. This is a skill that will undoubtedly translate well to the NFL, and one that is his game’s defining characteristic.

Pass Blocking

Saquon Barkley is an above average to good pass blocker for a college running back. He engages with defenders well. He is constantly scanning the defense in pass protection and looking for someone to block or somewhere to help out. Barkley is adequate at picking up blitzes and does a good job of analyzing pass rushes for a young college running back. Once engaged, Barkley, while inconsistent, has shown the ability to maintain a block well beyond the time that is expected for a running back. This is an important asset for Saquon Barkley’s value as an NFL running back.

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Receiving Ability

Saquon Barkley is a serious threat in the passing game. He destroys linebackers and defensive ends on wheel routes. He is crisp and explosive in and out of his breaks and easily creates separation from defenders. Barkley has more subtly in his routes, with head fakes and deception, than many receivers have. Beyond this, he has excellent hands. He catches the ball away from his body more often than not. He has shown the ability to catch misplaced passes and snag balls with one hand.

Once the ball is in his hands, Barkley is obviously dangerous. In the receiving game, he gets to start with the ball in space rather than having to deal with a congested line of scrimmage. His 14.4 yards per reception were evidence of his ability in this department last year. Barkley’s receiving ability helps complete his well-rounded game that will make him very appealing to NFL teams.


Saquon Barkley is among my favorite running backs that I have ever watched in college. He is a player that will keep you on the edge of your seat every time he steps on the field. The most exciting part about Barkley’s game for me right now is that he still has room to grow. Many are talking about Barkley as a top ten pick in this upcoming draft, and there are still areas that his physical tools and size allow for substantial improvement. He has the size and strength to have a much more power-oriented style than he currently runs with. Barkley has the burst and explosiveness to hit holes harder than he does now. If his 4.33 40 yard dash time starts showing up in his game tape, he could have an unprecedented combination of size and speed.

If he can build upon his already elite skill set, he can be even more than he already is. His ability to pass protect and catch the football make him an already capable three-down running back at the NFL level and his well-rounded game keeps him from having any usage limitations. Saquon Barkley is going to be an exciting player to watch this season and should be among the most exciting prospects throughout the draft process.

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Thanks for checking out the article everyone. Go Lions! You can follow me on Twitter @Lanny1925 and be sure to join the community on the Detroit Lions subreddit.



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About the Author

Sean Lanigan
I love fantasy football, fantasy baseball, music, books, video games, and all things nerd. I'm a big football fan and a bigger Detroit Lions fan. I was born in Michigan but have spent the vast majority of my life living in Viking and Packer country. If you are a Lions fan in Minnesota, hit me up, and let's watch some football.