Saquon Barkley is at the center of a heated debate in the football community: Is it worth drafting a running back early in the first round?
Yes, passing in the NFL is king; Pro Football Focus determined that the four running back measurements that best predict team wins in the next year are their pass-blocking grade, pass blocking efficiency, yards per route run and receiving grade — i.e. nothing to do with their rushing ability. Then again, look at how guys like Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott and Christian McCaffrey have recently transformed their respective offenses.
So it’s a tough question with a cloudy answer.
One thing that’s undeniable, though, is the track record of running backs drafted in the top 10. Should Barkley land in that elite tier, he will be among some of the greatest running backs in recent memory.
Looking back at the last 20 drafts, there are certainly busts. Remember Trent Richardson and Cadillac Williams? But all in all, there are more franchise-altering stars and consistent starters than flubs.
Let’s take a look at what kind of company Barkley would keep if drafted in the top 10.
College: Penn State
Drafted: No. 5, Chicago Bears
Rookie stats: 9 games, 497 yards, 0 TDs
Bottom line: A degenerative knee condition forced Enis into retirement, cutting his NFL career to just three seasons.
Drafted: No. 9, Jacksonville Jaguars
Rookie stats: 12 starts, 1,223 yards, 14 TDs
Bottom line: Taylor is Jacksonville’s all-time leading rusher with 11,271 yards in 11 seasons. The 2007 Pro-Bowl back tallied 66 touchdowns and 4.6 yards per carry over his 13-year career.
College: Miami (Fla.)
Drafted: No. 4, Indianapolis Colts
Rookie stats: 16 starts, 369 carries (led league), 1,553 yards (led league), 13 touchdowns, NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year
Bottom line: James — a four-time Pro Bowler and member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team — is the Colts’ all-time leading rusher with 9,226 yards in seven seasons.
Drafted: No. 5, New Orleans Saints
Rookie stats: 12 starts, 884 yards, 2 TDs
Bottom line: Williams — the NFL’s rushing leader in 2002 — had a wild ride, retiring in 2004, coming back, violating the league’s substance abuse policy in 2006 and posting more than 1,000 yards in 2009.
Drafted: No. 5, Baltimore Ravens
Rookie stats: 13 starts, 1,364 yards, 6 TDs
Bottom line: Lewis is known for his ridiculous 2003 campaign in which he posted 2,066 rushing yards — the third-most ever in a season. But Lewis was also consistent; in nine years, the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team member had 1,000 yards or more seven times.
Drafted: No. 7, Arizona Cardinals
Rookie stats: 4 starts, 373 yards, 2 TDs
Bottom line: Jones’ career didn’t really get going until his fifth season, when he started 14 games for Chicago. The 2008 Pro Bowler had five straight seasons of 1,119 rushing yards or more from 2005-09.
Drafted: No. 5, San Diego Chargers
Rookie stats: 16 starts, 1,236 yards, 10 TDs
Bottom line: Tomlinson — five-time Pro Bowler, two-time rushing leader and 2006 league MVP — is considered one of the greatest running backs of all-time. His 13,684 yards rank sixth all-time.
Drafted: No. 2, Miami Dolphins
Rookie stats: 14 starts, 907 yards, 4 TDs
Bottom line: Brown’s infamous for spearheading the “Wildcat,” and his numbers don’t scream No. 2 overall pick. He still tallied 7,357 yards over 11 seasons.
Drafted: No. 4, Chicago Bears
Rookie stats: 1 start, 272 yards, 0 TDs
Bottom line: Benson was hampered by injuries. He put up 1,000-yard seasons three times in Cincinnati, but didn’t live up to the No. 4 overall selection.
Drafted: No. 5, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Rookie stats: 14 starts, 1,178 yards, 6 TDs
Bottom line: After a solid rookie season, Williams didn’t come close to 1,000 yards for the rest of his career. He was a miss at No. 5, rounding a weak crop of running backs considering where they were all drafted.
College: Southern California
Drafted: No. 2, New Orleans Saints
Rookie stats: 8 starts, 1,307 scrimmage yards, 8 total TDs
Bottom line: Bush had a lengthy career — five teams in 11 years — but he was a disappointment given the hype surrounding him. The pass-catching threat went over 1,000 scrimmage yards four times, which isn’t that great. Bush’s rookie year was arguably his best.
Drafted: No. 7, Minnesota Vikings
Rookie stats: 9 starts, 1,341 yards, 12 TDs, 95.8 yards per game (led league)
Bottom line: The seven-time Pro Bowler, three-time rushing leader and 2012 league MVP posted 2,097 yards that year — the second-best single-season mark in NFL history. Peterson — who Barkley has been compared to — sits 12th on the all-time rushing yards list and should keep climbing assuming he plays in 2018.
Drafted: No. 4, Oakland Raiders
Rookie stats: 5 starts, 499 yards, 4 TDs
Bottom line: McFadden retired in November, completing a career that never lived up to expectations due to constant injury issues. He started 75 times over a 10-year career and crossed the 1,000-yard plateau only twice.
Drafted: No. 9, Buffalo Bills
Rookie stats: 1 start, 440 scrimmage yards, 1 receiving TD
Bottom line: The unanimous 2009 All-American never really translated in the league. He’s always been around and put together a Pro-Bowl season in 2012 (1,703 scrimmage yards), but not enough to warrant a top 10 pick.
Drafted: No. 3, Cleveland Browns
Rookie stats: 15 starts, 950 yards, 11 TDs, 3.6 yards per carry
Bottom line: Richardson is one of the biggest busts in the history of the NFL draft. After a lackluster start to his sophomore season, Cleveland traded him to Indianapolis and got a first-round pick for him. He was promptly cut following the 2014 campaign. Woof.
Drafted: No. 10, St. Louis Rams
Rookie stats: 12 starts, 1,106 yards, 10 touchdowns
Bottom line: Gurley is a stud — and a really apt comparison to Barkley. In three seasons, the two-time Pro Bowler has racked up 4,599 yards and 35 touchdowns from scrimmage. Under new head coach Sean McVay, Gurley led the Rams to a division title in 2017. Barkley can do the same for another team.
College: Ohio State
Drafted: No. 4, Dallas Cowboys
Rookie stats: 322 carries (led league), 1,631 (led league), 15 TDs
Bottom line: Zeke’s 2017 season was plagued by off-field issues, but he’s one of the best backs in the league. Guided by a stellar offensive line, Elliott changed Dallas’ offense in 2016 — and it didn’t look the same when he was out last year. Availability, not talent, is going to determine if Elliott was worth the No. 4 selection.
Drafted: No. 4, Jacksonville Jaguars
Rookie stats: 13 starts, 1,040 yards, 9 TDs
Bottom line: With a feared defense holding up its end of the bargain, Fournette balanced Jacksonville’s offense and led the Jaguars to an AFC title game. Jacksonville picked TJ Yeldon in the second round in 2015, and while the Alabama back is a nice piece to have, he isn’t a starter. So, they pulled the trigger on Fournette, and it’s worked out so far.
Drafted: No. 8, Carolina Panthers
Rookie stats: 10 starts, 1,086 scrimmage yards, 7 total TDs
Bottom line: McCaffrey was a piece of the Panthers’ offense (12.3 touches per game), but the focal point. It will be interesting to see if he becomes “the guy” in Carolina moving forward. It’ll determine whether or not he was worth the No. 8 pick.