Leading up to the 2017 college football season, the CFB Film Room Scouting Dept. is putting together a summer scouting series. We’re focusing on the top draft-eligible prospects entering the 2017 season and will be reviewing their strengths and weaknesses from an NFL scouting perspective.
Arguably the best running back in the 2018 draft class, Saquon Barkley returns for his junior season after leading Penn State to an 11-3 record and a Big Ten Championship in 2016. Barkley, who rushed for over 1,000 yards as a true freshman in 2015, ran for nearly 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground last season while adding an additional 400 yards receiving.
His unique skill set makes him a duel threat for the Nittany Lions offense, but also makes him a top prospect for next years NFL Draft. In this segment of the Summer Scouting Series, we will dissect the traits that separate him from his peers as well as touch on a few areas of concern entering the upcoming season.
Barkley is a sure bet to light up the NFL Combine next February based on the speed and agility he has shown on film to date, but he also displays rare strength for a running back during his off-season workouts.
Barkley recently power cleaned 405 pounds, a remarkable display of explosiveness for the 5’11” 223-pound back. This level of explosiveness translates to the field in speed as well as his ability to quickly accelerate and burst through a hole. Barkley has very good lateral quickness and elite agility to make defenders miss at the line of scrimmage while maintaining very good balance through contact to pick up additional yards.
Vision and Ability To Create
Call it instincts, vision, or ability to create something out of nothing, but also call it Saquon Barkley’s best attribute as a ball carrier.
Penn State’s zone running scheme allows Barkley to receive a delayed handoff or read option in a position where he can quickly read the blocks and react accordingly. The intriguing by-product of the delayed handoffs occur when he is able to side step the contain defender crashing into the backfield, opening up the outside for a long gain.
However, Barkley does have a habit of dancing near the line of scrimmage, leaving potential yards on the field, instead of taking what is given. If he can run more decisively downhill, an 1,800 yard season is not out of reach.
Penn State head coach James Franklin and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead have found creative ways to get the ball in the hands of Saquon Barkley in space. In fact, all but one of Barkley’s 20 receptions occurred over the final five games in 2015, while increasing that total to 28 receptions in the 2016 season.
Primarily, Barkley is utilized on screens and flat routes where he can quickly get the ball outside the hashes, but has also proved to be dangerous on angle routes where he can work the middle of the field versus more favorable matchups against opposing linebackers.
Barkley, the 2016 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, displays good hands and provides a large catch radius for his quarterback, often utilizing his hands instead of his body to pull in a reception. With last years leading wide receiver Chris Godwin now in the NFL, the Nittany Lions may look to utilize Barkley even more prominently in the passing game during the 2017 season.
Pass Protection and Blocking
A key component to the long-term success of a Running Back at the NFL level is the ability and willingness to get involved in pass protection.
Whether it is a mental processing issue or a situational lack of competitiveness, Barkley fails to show the same aggression in pass protection as he does when he is carrying the ball. Saquon will need to improve his pad level and helmet placement when engaging a defender and utilize his compact frame and elite lower body strength in order to be a more effective blocker at the point of attack.
Overall, Saquon Barkley is a very durable running back capable of breaking a big play every time he touches the ball. His speed, power and agility prove he is arguably the best prospect at his position heading into the 2017 season. Ultimately his pass blocking struggles may be the limiting factor in how high he is selected in the draft. After all, the NFL is a passing league and Barkley needs to improve his blocking to maximize his potential as a budding NFL playmaker.