Penn State running back Saquon Barkley has decided to forego his senior season and declare for the 2018 NFL Draft, he announced Sunday, a day after Penn State’s win over Washington in the Fiesta Bowl.
Barkley captivated the college football world early this season with a string of monster performances and jaw-dropping highlights. He finished the regular season with 1,134 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns, but his skillset wasn’t limited to the ground. Barkley hauled in 47 catches for 549 yards and 3 touchdowns, returned 2 kickoffs for touchdowns and even threw for a score.
The junior seemingly cemented himself as a top Heisman Trophy candidate after Penn State’s 42-13 win over Michigan on Oct. 21., when he ran for 108 yards and 2 touchdowns and caught 3 passes for 53 yards and a touchdown.
But his hype dissipated some as the season wore on and Penn State fell in the national rankings. He was not named a Heisman finalist, and finished fourth in the voting with 15 first-place votes. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield won the award.
A Top-3 pick?
WalterFootball.com has Barkley going second overall to the San Francisco 49ers. Bleacher Report has him going to the same team, but at No. 3. The 49ers traded their upcoming second-round pick for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on Oct. 30., and drafting Barkley would help the team round out its offense of the future.
Regardless of where he ends up getting selected, many expect Barkley to be the first non-quarterback taken in a draft full of high-profile signal callers. USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Wyoming’s Josh Allen are all considered top-level talent.
There’s still some talk that Barkley’s name could be the first off the draft board. The last time a running back was taken No. 1 overall was in 1995, when Penn State’s Ki-Jana Carter was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Why he’s leaving early
Though Barkley’s season ended with less excitement than which it began, his draft stock is high enough where he can command great money as a high draft pick. Another season at Penn State — and potentially a Heisman Trophy — might have solidified his status as the best player in college football, but teams often draft based on need, anyway, so it’s no guarantee another season of college would increase his value much. Barkley has the name recognition and on-field ability to cash in on his talents, and the time is right for him to do so.