Saquon Barkley was already the top running back prospect in the 2018 draft. He put some distance between himself and every other running back with his combine performance.
Barkley’s 29 bench press reps were tied with Georgia’s Nick Chubb as the best of all the running backs. He ran a 4.41 unofficial 40 at 6’ and 233 pounds. His 41” vertical was just two inches shy of the best vertical among all running backs since 2006.
Let’s put those numbers into perspective.
Penn State RB Saquon Barkley at 2018 Combine:— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) March 2, 2018
- Stronger than Joe Thomas
- Quicker than DeSean Jackson
- Faster than Devin Hester
- Jumps higher than Julio Jones@PennStateFball pic.twitter.com/usgR6vJvOn
Barkley was a star at Penn State. He finished his final season fourth in the Big Ten with 1,271 rushing yards, and he added 631 yards as a receiver. That versatility coupled with his nose for the end zone — 21 total touchdowns for the Nittany Lions in 2017 — made him this draft’s most appealing running back. All he’s done is cement that status.
What did we learn about Barkley from his combine performance?
Running a 4.41 (unofficial) 40 is impressive for a back Barkley’s size. That tells teams he has the size and speed to be a problem for defenses.
The vertical helps as a gage for how explosive a player is. Just look at Barkley leaping for 41”.
His bench press performance was just a bonus. It’s not the most important drill for running backs, but it does suggest Barkley has the strength to be an effective blocker, too. That’s typically one of the biggest adjustments for rookie running backs, so it gives Barkley an edge.
What does this performance mean for Barkley’s draft stock?
We’ve seen teams take running backs with the fourth overall pick in each of the past two seasons. The Cowboys took Ezekiel Elliott with the No. 4 pick in 2016, and the Jaguars snagged Leonard Fournette at No. 4 last year.
Elliott and Fournette both went on to have spectacular rookie seasons. Elliott led the league in rushing in 2016. Fournette finished his first season eighth in the league with 1,090 yards and nine touchdowns.
Barkley’s combine performance blew both of them out of the water. Elliott ran a 4.47 40-yard dash and had a 31” vertical. Fournette had a 4.51 40 and a 28.5” vertical.