The 2018 NFL Draft Prospect series breaks down draft-eligible players, highlighting their college production as well as their NFL potential. Daily fantasy players should know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. The draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, from April 26-28.
This piece is on Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, who has declared early for the draft. For the total list of all players leaving school early, see our underclassmen tracker.
For more on all the other backs in the class, see our 2018 NFL draft running back rankings.
Updated as of Mar. 3.
Junior | 6’0″ and 233 Pounds | Born February 7, 1997 (Age: 21) | Projection: Round 1
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.40 sec | bench reps: 29 | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: 4.24 sec | vertical: 41 in | broad: DNP
A four-star recruit from Pennsylvania, Barkley was seemingly destined to wear white and blue and truck defenders, which he did since his first day on campus. In 2015 he helped quarterback Christian Hackenberg almost look competent, giving Penn State its first workhorse in a half decade, rushing for 1,076 yards and seven touchdowns and adding 20 receptions for 161 yards and a touchdown. For the two years after that, he was probably the best back in college football.
- 2016 (14 games): 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing, 28 receptions for 402 yards and four touchdowns
- 2017 (13 games): 1,271 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing, 54 receptions for 632 yards and three touchdowns, 15 kick returns for 426 yards and two touchdowns
Each year Barkley progressed. As a sophomore, he showed that he could handle a full workload, earning 300 touches in a breakout campaign. As a junior he became a bona fide threat in the passing game: He finished just three receptions off the team lead, and he was first among all Football Bowl Subdivision running backs in receiving yardage. Barkley is a complete three-down player, and as his two return touchdowns highlight he has the agility and speed to break long plays whenever he touches the ball.
It’s unclear if any team picking near the top of the draft is willing to use a first-rounder on a running back — the Colts might have some interest in him at No. 3 overall — but Barkley as a prospect is no less impressive than the backs selected with top-10 picks in the past few years.
- Leonard Fournette (2017, 1.04)
- Christian McCaffrey (2017, 1.08)
- Ezekiel Elliott (2016, 1.04)
- Todd Gurley (2015, 1.10)
In fact, Barkley is more impressive than all of them: He’s a better receiver than Fournette and bigger than McCaffrey. Unlike Zeke, he produced as a freshman. Unlike Gurley, he’s not entering the NFL fresh off an ACL tear. And based on his combine performance, he’s the best athlete of the group. With his age, physical profile, and production, Barkley is the best running back prospect of the past decade. Barkley is almost a stone-cold lock to be a first-rounder, and in dynasty leagues he is without question the No. 1 pick in rookie drafts: To borrow from Mark Twain, the difference between Barkley and the No. 2 pick is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. Next to Barkley, all other 2018 prospects are fantasy insects.
Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs. He has a dog and sometimes a British accent. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he’s known only as The Labyrinthian.
Photo Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports