Kenjon Barner has always been a exciting prospect to me. He's one of those talents that can work in so many different ways. He is capable of serving as a featured back, a special teams champion and/or a legitimate pass-catching threat out of the backfield. Oregon's system under Chip Kelly thrived due to their impressive speed and diversity in the backfield, and Barner is a testament to that.
As a junior, Barner was featured in a trio of De'Anthony Thomas and 49er LaMichael James. Barner was a back-up, but he still managed to put up 993 yards and 11 touchdowns. After James left, one would think that Barner would slow down with more of the load to carry, right? Wrong. As the feature back in 2012, Barner racked up 1,767 yards and 23 touchdowns (6.4 yards per carry).
Now you can understand why a guy like Barner excites me.
For years, I've envisioned a back that could come to Indianapolis and play with the same diversity that made Darren Sproles, well, Darren Sproles. I can live with the Colts backfield of Vick Ballard, Donald Brown and Delone Carter in 2013, but if a guy like Barner is available in the fourth round, or dare I say it, the sixth round, how do you not legitimately think about taking him?
The Colts may have greater concerns, but Ryan Grigson is a big fan of taking the best player available. Why reach to fill a need?
Barner underwhelmed at the Combine with a 4.52 40, but rebounded during his Pro Day with a 4.38. You don't need a 40 time to see how explosive and quick Barner can be, though. His size is a concern, and it could ultimately be what causes him to slide in April, but I think his oozing talent will cause teams to overlook any physical doubts.
Barner is by no means an inside runner. His lower body does not possess the strength to power through the middle of defenses at the next level, and he can sometimes cost himself yards by cutting outside too quickly, instead of following open lanes. Another concern is pass protection, which he knows he has to improve. Small backs need to make up for their size with polished technique, and Barner must become more efficient in protection.
There's also a notion that Barner was purely a product of Chip Kelly's offensive system. I don't buy into that, though. Talent is talent. There's no reason to think that he can find the right system in the NFL. Who knows? Maybe that system will be in Indianapolis.
Pep Hamilton will put more emphasis on the run in 2013, so whether it's Barner that intrigues him, or someone like Stepfan Taylor, it wouldn't be a shock if the Colts select a back in the later rounds.
Scouting Profile via CBSSports:
STRENGTHS: Shifty runner with the stop-start-go ability to shake defenders in tight quarters and break free for long gains. Possesses excellent straight-line speed and is a threat to score every time he has the ball in his hands. Quick to the hole and shows very good vision to set up his blocks at the first level and downfield. Natural runner who can lull defenders to sleep by changing his gait and then exploding past them to ruin pursuit angles.
Reliable hands as a receiver out of the backfield and as a returner. Experience returning punts and kicks (has returned one of each for a touchdown) and has the vision and running skills to remain in this role at the NFL level.
WEAKNESSES: A finesse runner who only occasionally is able to break free from tackles and generate extra yardage after contact. Relies on cut-blocks rather than taking on pass rushers directly. Has struggled with fumbles over his career, especially when fielding punts and kickoffs.
COMPARES TO: Joe McKnight, RB, New York Jets -- Like McKnight, Barner possesses undeniable athleticism that has resulted in impressive statistics and plenty of highlight reel plays over his career. Each may lack the toughness and physicality, however, to ever serve as more than part of a rotation and special teamer in the NFL.
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