How Saquon Barkley Leaped into Star Status Before Taking an NFL Snap

On Sunday afternoon, Saquon Barkley inked his rookie contract with the New York Giants for a 4-year deal worth $31.2 million fully guaranteed.  Barkley will also earn a $20.76 million signing bonus, $15 million of which he will receive immediately.  That makes him the fifth highest paid running back in the league behind Le’Veon Bell, Jerick McKinnon, LeSean McCoy, and Todd Gurley.  He has not even taken an NFL snap yet!  Barkley continues to dominate the offseason as teams begin to start reporting to training camp, and looks to be the top back in the league from day 1.

As a student, I got to witness all Saquon’s career at Penn State.  Our first real glimpse of his freakish ability came in the fourth quarter of a meaningless game against the Buffalo Bulls where he hurdled right over one of their safeties.  This move became a trademark of his, the most notable hurdle coming against the Iowa Hawkeyes this past year that helped convert a crucial third and six in the fourth quarter.

He torched an Ohio State defense on multiple occasions which featured seven first round picks in the NFL draft over the last three seasons.  He scored five touchdowns against Pitt.  He scored the game-winning touchdown against Minnesota that changed the landscape of the 2016-2017 Penn State football season.  He caught the wheel route over TJ Watt to complete the 21-point comeback against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game.  All of this happened before everyone knew who he was.  His national coming out party was against the USC Trojans in the 2017 Rose Bowl where he had one of the most ridiculous runs I have ever seen in one of the best games I have ever watched start to finish.  This was just the beginning.

In 2017, Barkley became the premier player in college football.  He continued to hurdle dudes and break big runs like Penn State fans were accustomed to seeing, but Barkley significantly improved his skillset as a receiver out of the backfield, returned kickoffs (including two returned for touchdowns against Indiana and Ohio State), and he even completed a touchdown pass!  The man did it all, and after the first month of the 2017-2018 college football season, everyone thought he was a shoe-in for the Heisman trophy.  He was in the top three of the ESPN Heisman trophy predictions week after week despite posting some poor rushing performances against opponents all throughout the Nittany Lions schedule.

The rushing stats did not matter to people though.  You know what they saw on SportsCenter?  They saw all the outrageous things that makes Saquon Barkley the biggest homerun hitter to enter the NFL since Reggie Bush.  You get one of these guys about once every ten years.  I want to compare the combine results of two of the most electric athletes we have ever seen in college football.

  Reggie Bush (USC) Saquon Barkley (Penn State)
40 yard dash 4.37 4.40
225 Bench Press Reps 24 29
Vertical Jump 40 ½” 41”

 

Saquon showed similar speed to Bush, while outperforming him in the bench press by five reps.  The one fact that is not listed in the table above is the weight of each of the players… Barkley is 32 pounds heavier than Bush was coming out of college!  The people trying to question if Barkley could underperform the way Bush did as a pro must have not seen the video where Barkley broke the Penn State TEAM record for power clean when he put up 405 pounds AS A RUNNING BACK.  Barkley is Reggie Bush with defensive lineman strength.  I think it is safe to say you do not see that very often.

Barkley spent much of his career at Penn State playing behind a bad offensive line while having every defensive coordinator he went up against create a game plan trying to take him out of the game.  Although his production on a per carry basis lacked at times, Saquon’s raw talent has always been enough to take over games.  He capped off his career at Penn State with a 92-yard dash to the end zone, giving the Nittany Lions a 28-7 lead in a 35-28 Fiesta Bowl win against a stout Washington Huskies football team.  Barkley did not have to put himself in harms way to play in that bowl when he was a projected top five pick in the upcoming NFL draft, but he wanted to honor his commitment to the school, and help his teammates earn their first New Years Six bowl victory since 2009.

Since that game, Barkley signed a lucrative endorsement deal with Nike, he had a baby girl with his beautiful girlfriend, was drafted by the New York Giants where he gets to play in the biggest market in the United States next to another superstar in Odell Beckham Jr, and was able to buy his mom a house.  Barkley has pledged to himself that he will not touch his NFL salary during his career, relying on his endorsement money.  He continues to show the world that he is a high-character guy and will be a strong leader in any locker room around the NFL.  All these factors, along with his generational talent, makes him an effortlessly marketable athlete.

His latest “what the fuck” video he posted was of him carrying a heavily loaded trap bar up a steep incline while his trainer was behind him pulling against him with resistance bands.  I watched that late at night after a long night at the bar.  I showed it to some friends that really are not huge sports fans, and they could not believe what they were watching.  Barkley’s freakish athleticism and build can allow him to reach an audience that transcends the football circles.  This combined with his highlight reel potential is what made him a star, even before he had taken a handoff from Eli Manning.

There is one key factor that separates Barkley from many of the NFL superstars in the league today.  He’s humble.  Saquon brings all the attention to himself from his play on the football field, but because he is such a well-spoken, respected guy off the field, he is an easy to get behind.

Most superstar athletes in any professional are usually polarizing, especially the ones that have the ball in their hands a lot.  OBJ and Antonio Brown are two biggest superstars that play the wide receiver position in the NFL.  They are adored by their fans and hated by many that do not appreciate their antics on and off the field.  Regardless if they are liked or disliked, they get much more publicity than Julio Jones, who is arguably the most talented receiver in the game, due to the fact Jones is not an exciting person.  Some would argue that Barkley could potentially struggle with the same issue Jones does because he is not exhibit the same type of personally that generates a ton of talk.

I do not think this is going to be a problem at all.  My advice for Barkley would be to take the JJ Watt approach.  Watt is his own kind of freak of natural and is also one of the most respected guys in the NFL.  Watt earned the Walter Payton Man of the Year after he helped raise over $37 million dollars to help people affected by Hurricane Harvey.  He has been a role model to kids everywhere, and I really think Barkley could take on a role like this while he is in the league.

43 of ESPN’s NFL Insider were polled to generate their best starting roster of NFL players under the age of 25.  Barkley shared the running back position with Todd Gurley, who was a top candidate for NFL MVP this season.  He was voted in over elite running backs that include Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, Jordan Howard, and Leonard Fournette.  Again, Barkley still has not played one single down in the NFL.

Saquon Barkley is the best Penn State football player I have ever seen, and I am going to miss seeing him in the Blue and White.  If it has not been made clear yet, he is a star, and I cannot wait for him to terrorize defenses for the years to come.

Photo Credit: NBCSports.com

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