Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is used to playing in front of large crowds, so when he arrived at Podium No. 1 to face a sizeable crowd of media members that was easily six or seven people deep, he tackled his roughly 15-minute Q&A session like an old pro.
“I’m a versatile player,” he said when asked about his strengths. “I think I’ve shown on film that I can run the ball. I can run it between the tackles or outside. I can catch the ball out of the backfield. I can pass-block. And I can play special teams. I want to continue to grow my game and continue to be a complete player.”
He already is. Capping a three-year career for the Nittany Lions, Barkley rushed for over 1,000 yards in each season, racking up 3,843 yards on 671 carries, a stunning 5.7 yards per carry average, and 43 rushing touchdowns.
As a receiver, he logged 102 receptions for 1,195 yards and 8 touchdowns, giving him 5,038 yards from scrimmage over a three-year career.
It’s that kind of production that has Barkley, who admitted he grew up as a Jets fan, in the discussion for potentially being the first non-quarterback chosen in this spring’s draft.
But don’t look for Barkley to wring his hands over where he’s drafted, because whichever team does take him, his approach will be the same.
“I don’t care if I’m drafted 1, 5 or 72 or the last pick. I’m gonna come in with my head low ready to work. That’s not going to change me,” he said.
“No matter where I’m drafted or who I’m drafted by, they’re going to get the same person. They’re going to get the guy who’s going to be a competitor, who’s passionate about the game. Even though I’ll be a rookie, I’m going to try to be a leader to the best of my ability and continue to work.”
Barkley is an interesting prospect. His uncle Iran was a three-time champ in three different weight classes. His father also was a boxer, qualifying for the Golden Gloves before a shoulder injury put an end to his career.
Barkley said he did a little boxing growing up as a kid in the Bronx, but that football was always his first love. A fan of Lions great Barry Sanders, Barkley hopes to have the same kind of impact on a team.
“I can’t see the future and sit here and say I’m going to rush for this amount of yards and have this amount of touchdowns–that’s all in God’s plan,” he said.
“But I do know that whatever team I go to, I’m going to work (hard). That’s something I’ve been doing since I was a sophomore in high school. Working and pushing myself and pushing my teammates. I’m going to continue to try to be a leader and a competitor. At the end of the day, If I’m able to do all those things, everything else will take care of itself.”
He’s also going to be his own man.
“People in the game today, I’ve never wanted to be like anybody. That’s something my dad taught me growing up. Never want to be like someone. Be the next you. But I am a fan of the game. I am a fan of the position. I watch everyone. I try to take pieces of people’s games and add them to mine and be the most complete back I can possibly be.”
He could get that chance with the Giants if they view him as worthy of the No. 2 overall pick.
Giants general manager Dave Gettleman noted Wednesday that running backs still have enough significant value to be worthy of a high pick if the talent is there.
“The bottom line is, is the guy a football player?” Gettleman said. “This whole myth of devaluing running backs, I find it kind of comical. At the end of the day, if he’s a great player he’s a great player. It doesn’t matter what position it is.”
“That’s why when you are looking at the second pick in the draft like we are, the first thing we have to determine is: Is this guy worthy of being the second pick of any draft? Not just this year’s draft, but any draft? And then you make that determination and you move forward.”
Barkley entertained several questions about potentially being drafted by other teams, but when asked about a potential union with the Giants, he said, “If I was fortunate to go to a team like that, that would be a good fit.
“They were in a lot of games last year too–had a lot of injuries. They’ve got a lot of great players. A quarterback that’s established and has proven himself. If I was fortunate to go to a team like that, I feel like that would be another good fit.”
He certainly would be considering the Giants have ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in rushing in four out of the last five seasons.
When Gettleman was hired in December to succeed Jerry Reese, one of the things he spoke about as being an important factor in any winning football program is the ability to run the ball.
Certainly after seeing the impact recently drafted running backs such as Todd Gurley of the Rams, Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys, Leonard Fournette of the Jaguars and Christian McCaffrey of the Panthers had on their respective teams—all of whom have been to the playoffs at least once since those players were added—Gettleman has likely not ruled out making Barkley the team’s pick (if he’s still on the board) when it goes on the clock.
Meanwhile Barkley will continue doing what he can to woo the NFL teams that have requested a formal meeting with him at this year’s combine and let the chips fall where they may.
“Something I learned at Penn State was that you can only control what you can control,” he said.
“At the end of the day, if you get focused on that stuff (draft position), you take away from yourself. I’m just focused on coming out here and trying to dominate this combine and getting to know the guys and pushing the guys I’m working out with and try to get better.”