The 2018 NFL Scouting Combine has commenced, and with it, the fervor over those top talents. Perhaps no player has been as intriguing or polarizing this offseason as Saquon Barkley.
Scouts start to glow when they talk about Barkley. He has been labeled as a can’t-miss guy, a generational talent, the best running back in 20 years, and practically been attributed superhuman abilities in the minds of many. He has drawn comparisons to arguably the best running back of all time, Barry Sanders.
Let me start by saying that I am not here to refute any of those claims. I am not an experienced NFL scout and I don’t have the ability to see the future, so I can’t say whether Barkley is or isn’t those things. I certainly won’t try to convince you he isn’t an incredible player. That would be nonsense.
While I haven’t done in-depth breakdowns of him, I’ve still watched a lot of running back film over the past two months, and Barkley is a truly impressive prospect. Watching Barkley run the football is just plain fun, and he would undoubtedly be a huge asset to the Colts if they were to draft him.
It is no secret that owner Jim Irsay covets a return to the glory days of the Peyton Manning-led Colts, and has talked before about wanting to have a big-time running back to pair with Andrew Luck. Barkley would certainly fit that bill. But they shouldn’t draft him. Here’s why:
A Deep RB Class
Last season, there were nine running backs who rushed for 1,000-plus yards. To make the math easier, we will throw Ezekiel Elliott in, because he had 983 yards, and missed time with a suspension, so it is a pretty safe bet that he would have hit the 1,000-yard mark otherwise. Of those 10 players, five were first round picks. Two were picked in the second round, one in the third, one in the fifth, and one was an UDFA. If you rank those players by yards from scrimmage, only two of the first-round picks make the top five:
1. Todd Gurley - 2,093
2. Le’Veon Bell - 1,946
3. Kareem Hunt - 1,782
4. LeSean McCoy - 1,586
5. Melvin Gordon - 1,581
What this shows is that there is reason to believe that teams can get good value at the running back position in Rounds 2 and 3, or even later if you know where to look. This draft class is littered with talent through those rounds, with a handful of talented players who have the potential to be great additions to the Colts’ roster.
Players like Sony Michel, Ronald Jones, Nick Chubb, Kerryon Johnson and Rashaad Penny would all be players worth looking at with the Colts second-round pick. There is even the slim possibility that Derrius Guice could make it to the Colts’ second-round pick.
Greater Need at Pass Rush
As I said, my argument against taking Barkley at third overall is not really against him as a player at all. I think he is likely to be an excellent running back in the NFL. However, the Colts have a more pressing need than the running back position.
They are desperately in need of a pass rusher. To get an idea about the availability of a top-tier pass rushers in later rounds, I took a look at the guys who notched 10 sacks or better last season. There were 18 guys who hit that mark. Of those 18, 12 were picked in the first round. So for the 2017 season, first-round-drafted pass rushers made up 66% of the top tier of sack production.
There will always be outliers, and if the Colts lucked into one of those later in the draft that would be excellent as well, but when considering a position that is possibly second only to quarterback in terms of importance to the team, I would prefer the Colts take the best edge rusher available in the draft. In this case, that is Bradley Chubb, assuming he is still on the board at pick three.
Now I’m not going to try to convince you that Marlon Mack is as good as Barkley. Mack had a rough first season. However, he wasn’t helped by the fact that his coaching staff basically sent out a notification to the opposing defense each time they lined up to run the ball. It also didn’t help that the offensive line was only slightly more of a pieced-together mess than Frankenstein’s monster. That only served to highlight Mack’s major issues as a pass blocker. Despite his struggles, he finished the year with a 3.8 yard-per-carry average, as well as averaging 10.7 yards per reception.
While he hasn’t shown that he is capable of carrying the load as a featured back, Mack is too dangerous a weapon to be relegated to a minor role in the offense. That means that reaching for a “bell cow” back that you will want to be on the field every down is wasting a valuable asset in the form of Mack. Especially when it is totally possible to get a back with three-down production potential in the second or third rounds.
Barkley is an electric player. If the Colts select him at three, he will certainly be an exciting guy to watch, and the impact he could have on the offense will be tangible and significant. However, his talent is not so much better than some of the other options at running back that he is worth ignoring the glaring need to address the Colts lack of a pass rush.
By pairing a second or third-round back in this draft with Mack, the Colts could have a very formidable running attack while also adding Chubb’s pass rush ability to their defense. There isn’t near that same kind of confidence that a second or third-round pass rusher will be available to provide the same. While it is tempting when we watch Barkley turning in impressive NFL Combine numbers to get even more caught up in the idea of the Colts taking him, the reality is that they simply have tougher needs to address, and with Luck’s return will not likely find themselves this high on the draft board next year to do so.