A day after Penn State’s 35-28 Fiesta Bowl win over Washington, running back Saquon Barkley announced he would enter the 2018 NFL Draft.
He projects to be a top ten pick, which would make him the highest-selected Nittany Lion since Jared Odrick in 2010 (28th overall, Miami). Barkley leaves Penn State as the school’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (41), while also winning back to back Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year awards in 2016 and 2017.
While myself and other Penn State fans would love to see Barkley return for his senior season, (or forever, if possible) we’re also ready to see him make the leap to being a star in the NFL. Many teams will need running backs come April, but only one will get to hold a jersey with his last name on it.
Here are the top five teams that need Saquon Barkley’s talents, and those that can realistically draft him.
5. New York Jets (6th Pick)
The Jets need playmakers on offense, and Barkley would be a good piece for them to build around. Matt Forte likely won’t return in 2018, leaving Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire as the team’s two leading rushers. The Jets’ bigger need is quarterback, however, so I expect players like Lamar Jackson or Baker Mayfield to be higher on New York’s war room board.
4. San Francisco 49ers (9th or 10th Pick)*
San Francisco looked really good with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback, going 5-0 to finish the year with wins over playoff teams Tennessee, Jacksonville, and the LA Rams. With Garoppolo anticipated to re-sign with the 49ers, Barkley would be a perfect addition to a team that could potentially lose running back Carlos Hyde in the offseason.
*San Francisco tied with Oakland in record and strength of schedule; a coin flip will decide the order of picks 9 & 10
3. Indianapolis Colts (3rd Pick)
Joke about Frank Gore’s age all you want, but the Colts are going to need to find someone to replace his 1,206 yards from scrimmage. They will need someone better than Marlon Mack as the lead back next year, regardless of whether Andrew Luck or Jacoby Brissett starts the season at QB. Indy’s 22nd-ranked rushing offense would vastly improve in 2018 with Barkley.
2. Cleveland Browns (1st/4th Picks)
Cleveland will take either Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold first overall. That’s all but a fact. However, the Browns would almost have to take Barkley if he is still on the board at #4. He would fit in nicely alongside Duke Johnson in the backfield as a replacement for Isaiah Crowell, who had frequent tensions with head coach Hue Jackson. We say it every year, but the Browns have a shot to snag the future cornerstones of their offense with their first two picks.
1. New York Giants (2nd Pick)
If Eli Manning decides to return as the Giants’ signal caller in 2018, they will be able to use their second overall pick to address the running back position and take Barkley. Out of all teams drafting in the top five, the Giants ranked the worst in rushing (26th) in 2017. With Odell Beckham Jr. and the rest of the receiving corps returning healthy, Barkley would add another piece to a team that could return to playoff contention in 2018.