NFL hopefuls will start to report to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis on Tuesday, with on-field workouts starting Thursday.
Naturally, that means a lot of eyes will be on potential franchise cornerstone Saquon Barkley, the Penn State running back whom some analysts believe is the NFL draft’s best prospect. That obviously begs the question: How important is the NFL Combine to Barkley?
Could a bad performance push him past the middle of the first round? Could an elite performance lift him to No. 1 overall? We asked our two resident experts the impact of the Combine on Barkley.
Here’s what they said:
Josh Moyer: Minimal impact
There is no mystery about Barkley. He’s good — very, very good — and everybody already knows it.
This isn’t a case of Ryan Leaf vs. Peyton Manning or Josh Rosen vs. Sam Darnold, where scouts are trying to unearth whether Barkley will boom or bust. He’s widely regarded as the safest skill-position player in the draft, and his freakish athleticism is already well-known.
So what I’m getting at is this: Barkley has nothing to prove. If he runs a 4.5 instead of a 4.4, or benches 225 pounds 20 times instead of 30, he’s still not falling past No. 10 overall. Barkley’s worst-case scenario at the Combine, outside of suffering an injury, still isn’t all that bad. Likewise, his best-case scenario isn’t all that great.
Barkley has already been generating hype as the potential No. 1 overall pick or, more likely, a top-5 pick. It’s pretty hard to improve upon that, especially considering he’s already garnered comparisons to the likes of Adrian Peterson. There’s just not a lot of room to climb when you’re already at the top.
It’s not Combine numbers that are keeping him out of that No. 1 spot; it’s the scarcity of quality quarterbacks. Barkley could be the second-coming of Barry Sanders, but teams are still going to take chances on less-talented signal-callers in the pass-happy NFL. Barkley could run a 4.30 and still not go No. 1 overall.
So what kind of impact will the Combine have on Barkley? Not much, whether he falters or impresses. But I’d wager we’ll be talking more about the latter after the Combine.
John McGonigal: Nothing to lose
For the past three years, Saquon Barkley has proved why he deserves to be a top-5 pick in the NFL draft — and three days in a T-shirt and shorts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis isn’t going to change that.
The NFL Combine is a make-or-break opportunity for a lot of fringe prospects (i.e. Penn State safety Troy Apke), and it can springboard athletic freaks into the first round. (Remember speedster Darrius Heyward-Bey?).
Barkley doesn’t fit in either of those categories. The No. 1 player on Mel Kiper Jr.’s Big Board, Barkley is already entrenched as an early first-round selection. He likely won’t go No. 1 because he’s not a quarterback, but I’d be surprised if Barkley slips past the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 7 overall. Nothing in Indianapolis other than a serious injury will change that.
This isn’t a compare-contrast scenario, either. Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold were mentioned above. Those two, along with Wyoming’s Josh Allen, are competing to become the No. 1 overall pick and the future of the Cleveland Browns. There’s no competition for Barkley at the running back position. There’s no one he needs to show up. It’s him and the rest of the pack — headlined by LSU’s Derrius Guice and Southern California’s Ronald Jones II, a couple of guys who might sneak into the back-end of the first round.
Barkley’s body of work to this point is almost beyond reproach. As an anonymous NFL general manager told NFL.com, “Any concerns you file on him just feels like nitpicking.”
So, if Barkley runs a 4.4 instead of a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash, does it really matter?
If you’re the Browns, Jets or Bucs, do you care more about his on-field Combine workouts, or the 79-yard run in the Rose Bowl? Or his knack for making something out of nothing? Or his 54 touchdowns in three years?
His one-on-one interviews with coaches and execs could be worth something, but Barkley could jog his 40-yard dash and still be an early first-round pick. That’s a foregone conclusion at this point.