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The 5 reasons new Giants RB Saquon Barkley is such a unique prospect

He’s a prototypical top-five pick.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Penn State v Washington Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Saquon Barkley is worth a top-five NFL Draft pick. The Giants clearly agree, because they just took him with the second overall pick in 2018.

There’s risk inherent in every pick, and there’s some extra risk inherent in using such a high pick on a running back. They get hit hundreds of times per season and depend heavily on lineman and quarterback play. But Barkley is the sort of complete talent whose upside makes absorbing all of that risk worthwhile, especially when the other top prospects include a bunch of quarterbacks who might be great and might not.

1. Power

Barkley is a weight-room warrior for all time.

Here he is throwing up 30 reps on a 225-pound bench press at Penn State:

Just four running backs have topped 30 at the combine since 2006, and nobody’s repped the 225 more than 32 times. Barkley’s 30 reps in July 2017 were equal to the top back at the 2017 combine, Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine.

Here’s Barkley power-cleaning 405 pounds, breaking a lineman’s school record:

At the NFL Combine in March, Barkley bench-pressed 225 pounds 29 times, tied for best among running backs (with Georgia’s Nick Chubb) and tied for ninth out of 142 players overall.

2. Speed

Sports Illustrated reported that in the summer of 2017, Barkley ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds. He didn’t do that at the combine, but his 4.40 time was No. 2 among RBs. And Barkley is a big running back.

Barkley’s straight-ahead speed developed over his years in State College, and now it’s game-breaking. He has some of the best old-fashioned run-away-from-people speed of any player in recent times:

3. Agility

That’s both horizontal ...

... and vertical:

Barkley’s quickness in short areas is absurd. He can flip a joystick and send defenders flying past him (or under him) with an ease that will make you feel bad about your own athletic ability. Those are cherry-picked highlights, but they show how difficult a runner Barkley is to wrap up in anything resembling open space.

At the combine, his 4.24-second shuttle time was sixth-best among RBs, but that doesn’t fully do him justice.

4. Explosiveness

Barkley’s numbers across three college seasons were great, not amazing. His 5.9 yards per carry in 2017 were 14th among 41 players who had 200 carries or more. In six of the Nittany Lions’ 13 games, Barkley had 88 rushing yards or fewer, as defenses keyed on him.

The shortcomings in Barkley’s college numbers are in some part attributable to a Penn State offensive line that was sometimes terrible and never particularly good. About the first five yards of the average college carry are more dependent on linemen than the ball-carrier, and Barkley only got to 5 yards on 39 percent of his runs in 2017, which isn’t a lot in college.

But when Barkley’s line did its job, he was lightning. On his 5-plus yard runs, Barkley averaged 13.3 yards in total, the 14th-best mark in the country among runners with 75 carries or more. That’s an elite rate of 8.3 Highlight Yards per opportunity.

His 41-inch vertical leap was No. 3 at the event and tops among RBs.

5. Versatility

“Running back” isn’t the only line on Barkley’s business card. He’s also going to provide his new team significant value in the receiving game.

At Penn State, Barkley didn’t often flex out of the backfield and line up as a receiver. But James Franklin’s team gradually used him more as a target over his three years. He went from 20 catches to 28 to 54, racking up about 1,200 receiving yards for his career, at a clip of 11.7 per catch. As a junior, he caught 79 percent of his 68 targets and averaged 9 yards on them — the third-best rate on the team behind two playmaking receivers.

Barkley’s elusiveness in space makes him a problem on little check-downs. He has receiver-like ball skills, and he can make himself a runner again immediately:

And Barkley can play out of the slot when asked. Another piece of his massive Penn State highlights collection is him beating a Michigan cornerback with a vicious out-then-in move and eventually corralling a 42-yard touchdown catch on a vertical route:

Barkley is also strong on kick returns. He put away two of those for touchdowns in his junior year, and his 28.4-yard return average was 12th-best in the country. New York likely won’t be thrilled at the idea of using such an early draft pick on kickoff duty, but that’s another part of the Barkley package.