Few players generated more positive buzz for themselves at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine than Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. Already considered a top prospect at his position—and a potential top-five pick—that status was further solidified by a weekend of impressive performances in workouts and drills.
Beyond his 29 bench press reps on Thursday, Barkley posted a 4.40-second 40-yard dash time and boasted a 41-inch vertical leap. And now the talk has significantly shifted when it comes to Barkley’s potential landing spots. Where the Cleveland Browns were once well-positioned to draft him at the No. 4-overall pick, they may now have to do so with the No. 1-overall should they believe he’s too good to pass up.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said that Barkley is “firmly in the mix” to go to Cleveland at No. 1:
After days of evaluation at the #Combine, one thing is clear: Penn St RB Saquon Barkley is firmly in the mix at No. 1 for the #Browns, sources say. Would be the first RB at that spot since Ki-Jana Carter to the #Bengals in 1995.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 4, 2018
And his colleague, Mike Garofolo agrees, adding that quarterback—i.e. Baker Mayfield—can wait until No. 4:
Yep. Firmly. As in I truly believe he’s their pick at 1 as of right now. As for the QB and what they might do at 4, there is very strong buzz Cleveland likes Baker Mayfield a lot. https://t.co/WUzzqb9swA— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 4, 2018
CBS Sports’ Will Brinson has the Browns selecting Barkley at No. 1 in his latest mock draft, but Cleveland.com’s Terry Pluto is strongly against the idea, as is Geoff Schwartz, who concedes that Barkley is a major talent but that the Browns’ need to get a quarterback at the No. 1 spot is far too compelling for the team to make any other decision.
However, the two top-four selections do allow the Browns more creativity and flexibility. Passing on a quarterback for Barkley at No. 1 may feel highly unorthodox given their ongoing need at the position, but it also does not mean the quarterback they prize the most in the draft class won’t be on the board at No. 4.
Further, Browns head coach Hue Jackson said leading up to the Combine last week that, were the Browns to select a quarterback at No. 2 overall, he’d prefer the rookie to sit out the 2018 season; whether that is a wise move or not, it does indicate that the No. 1-overall pick isn’t guaranteed to be spent on quarterback and that the position’s value isn’t immediately as high given he would not be a starter right away. Barkley, meanwhile, would doubtlessly be atop the Browns’ running back depth chart come Week 1.
While it’s a risk to use a top-five pick on a running back, let alone the No. 1-overall, Barkley’s case is different. He’s a generational talent, of whom one NFL general manager said, “You don’t screw up the special ones when you are a talent evaluator. This guy is special. Any concerns you file on him just feels like nitpicking to fill out the report,” as part of Barkley’s NFL.com scouting report. That report also compares Barkley to Barry Sanders, perhaps the greatest running back in league history; meanwhile, Mayfield’s NFL.com comp is Doug Flutie. There’s also Josh Allen to consider; he, too, had one of the Combine’s breakout performances and could also influence the Browns’ hands at either No. 1 or No. 4.
It’s easy to look at the discussion of Barkley going No. 1 overall to Cleveland and have flashbacks to 2012, when the Browns ultimately went with running back Trent Richardson at No. 3 overall and waited until later in the round to draft quarterback Brandon Weeden. Those are scary memories, especially knowing now what we didn’t then. But Barkley isn’t Richardson and the Browns aren’t going to wait until No. 22 to draft a nearly 30-year old passer. If anything, the weekend’s events have added a level of intrigue to the Browns’ 2018 draft plans but they did not completely erase quarterback off of their board in Round 1 by any stretch of the imagination.