Early 2018 NFL mock draft: Penn State’s Saquon Barkley goes to Cleveland Browns with No. 2 pick
When one NFL draft season ends, the next one begins.
The dust is still settling on the 2017 draft, but Eric Galko of The Sporting News already has early projections for the Class of 2018. Rose Bowl foes Sam Darnold of USC and Saquon Barkley of Penn State sit at the top of a mock draft that is heavy on quarterbacks in the top 10. Galko has Darnold going No. 1 overall to the New York Jets and Barkley going No. 2 to the Cleveland Browns.
There has been talk of Barkley and the 2018 NFL draft since early in his sophomore season. The 5-11, 223-pounder has churned out a huge number of highlight-reel plays in two seasons at Penn State, where he has rushed for 2,572 yards and scored 30 total touchdowns in just two seasons. Barkley ranks No. 12 on the school’s career rushing list and has a realistic shot at breaking Evan Royster’s career record of 3,904 yards.
Barkley has the size, speed, power, elusiveness, substance and flash to garner first-round attention, and he has a shot at making a huge splash a year from now. The NFL draft hype train was officially set into motion when Penn State announced last month Barkley had run a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash. The offseason before, Barkley made waves by power-cleaning 390 pounds.
#BeastMode the best RB in the country @saquonb21 show me anyone who can do this! 390 LB Clean no strap!#FreakShow pic.twitter.com/vvA0G8NIPg
— Josh Gattis (@Coach_Gattis) March 1, 2016
Two other components of Barkley’s game figure to add to the appeal for NFL executives. He is also an exceptional receiver out of the backfield — he caught 28 passes for 402 yards and four touchdowns last season — and is a terrific blocker. Barkley takes pride in the dirty work and, by all accounts, is a high-character guy off the field who can be an asset in the locker room.
All that might be left for Barkley to do is continue his upward trend and stay healthy as a junior. If he does, he could be an even better, cleaner draft prospect than LSU’s Leonard Fournette, who just went No. 4 overall to Jacksonville, and maybe even Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott, the reigning NFL offensive rookie of the year and the No. 4 pick in the 2016 draft, according to Galko.
“I think Barkley can [be a centerpiece],” Galko said. “His ability out of the backfield as a pass-catcher really adds to that. I think he’s a really versatile runner. He can run between the tackles. He can finish on the perimeter. He evades arm tackles. He finishes through contact at the second level. All those things are really impressive.
“Of all the running backs in the last three years who are going to go in the top-10 picks, I think he’s most comparable to Ezekiel Elliott, more so than Todd Gurley or Leonard Fournette. As long as those three guys show they’re worth top-10 picks, I think Barkley is going to earn a top-10 grade.”
From the projected draft order to perceived value of prospects, the 2018 draft could look 100 percent different this time next year. There’s also the issue of Barkley still having eligibility at Penn State beyond the 2017 season. As long as he stays upright and does exit Penn State early, the top 10 is well within Barkley’s reach.