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FAB 1. If He’s There, Bucs Must Draft Barkley At No. 7
You’ve heard the draft day scenarios where four quarterbacks are selected ahead of Tampa Bay, which has the seventh overall pick, and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson slides right to the Buccaneers. There have been some mock draft scenarios that has North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb, the top pass-rushing defensive end in this year’s draft falling to Tampa Bay at No. 7.
But here’s a scenario no one is talking about.
What if Penn State running back Saquon Barkley slides past the first six teams in the draft and is suddenly available at No. 7? You know Barkley – the guy who stole the show at the NFL Scouting Combine by running a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash at 6-foot, 233 pounds, had a 41-inch vertical and pumped out 29 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press?
Before I reveal what I think Tampa Bay would do, let’s see how this scenario could plausibly play out. Cleveland owns the first pick and is selecting a quarterback – likely USC’s Sam Darnold.
The New York Giants pick next and could also use an heir apparent to Eli Manning, who just turned 37. The guess here is that it is a quarterback or Nelson, as new general manager David Gettleman puts a premium on offensive linemen and missed out on Pro Bowl guard Andrew Norwell in free agency.
The New York Jets traded up to No. 3 with Indianapolis for a quarterback and will get the second or third signal caller, depending on what the Giants do at No. 2.
Cleveland is up again at No. 4 and here is where it gets interesting. Early mock drafts had Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick going to the Browns to team with Jabril Peppers, but Fitzpatrick is a Top-15 player – not a Top-5 player. More recent mock drafts have Cleveland taking Barkley to pair with free agent addition Carlos Hyde.
But what is Cleveland’s biggest need right now? It’s left tackle due to the sudden retirement of Joe Thomas, and this is not a great draft for left tackles.
Do you think the Browns want to invest the first overall pick in a guy like Darnold or UCLA’s Josh Rosen and then leave it up to Shon Coleman to protect him? Heck no.
There is only one left tackle that truly carries a first-round grade and that’s Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey. Sure the Browns could trade down a few spots to try to get him and add another pick or two, but quality left tackles are at a premium and if Cleveland moved down too far – say around 12 – they could risk landing him. While McGlinchey is probably closer to the 12th overall pick than he is the fourth, if you’re Cleveland and you have a first-round grade on him you take him at No. 4.
I’ve covered two decades worth of NFL Drafts, and there are always a couple of surprise moves in the top 10 every year. Last year it was Chicago trading up one spot to draft quarterback Mitchell Trubisky at No. 2, Carolina taking running back Christian McCaffrey at No. 8 and Kansas City trading up to No. 10 to draft quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
In 2016, Tennessee trading up to select offensive tackle Jack Conklin early at No. 8 reminds me of the way Cleveland could be approaching McGlinchey this year, and linebacker Leonard Floyd going to Chicago at No. 9 was also a surprise. In 2015, San Diego shocked the league by drafting defensive end Joey Bosa third overall, and in 2014, Jacksonville stunned the NFL – and its fan base – by selecting quarterback Blake Bortles with the third overall pick.
So if McGlinchey goes fourth overall to Cleveland, which doesn’t need a guard, Denver takes Nelson at No. 5 and Indianapolis chooses Chubb at No. 6 that would leave Barkley there for Tampa Bay at No. 7.
So what does general manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter do?
No, he’s not necessarily my favorite running back in this year’s draft, and I don’t care that this is a deep draft at the position. There’s no denying Barkley’s talent and production. He’s a special athlete and a special player, and running back is a huge position of need.
If Barkley is there, the Bucs must take him. He’s a sensational football player, a die-hard worker, and a man of impeccable character.
To help further Jameis Winston’s development he needs to have some of the weight taken off his shoulders like only a great running game can do. The Bucs need to be racking up 400 yards of offense with 250 yards passing and 150 yards rushing – not with 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing like they have the past two years. Winston throwing the ball fewer times for fewer yards should lead to fewer forced passes, and ultimately the opportunity for fewer interceptions.
If Licht waits until the second round to address running back, which I believe the Bucs will do if Tampa Bay picks anyone but Barkley, who may or may not be there at No. 7, they may have to settle for what’s left because I anticipate there will be a run on running backs in the late part of the first round and/or the top of the second round.
This might be the last year for running back Le’Veon Bell in Pittsburgh, so the Steelers could be in play for a running back like LSU’s Derrius Guice or Georgia’s Sony Michel at No. 28 overall. New England, which has 31st overall pick, lost Dion Lewis in free agency and could be interested in drafting either one of those rushers.
If the Browns pass on Barkley, a junior, with both of their first-round picks, they’ll start the second round by drafting a running back at No. 33 overall. The Giants could draft Nelson at No. 2 overall and then a running back in the second round. Cleveland picks again at No. 35 and will draft another positional player, but Indianapolis will surely draft a running back with either the 36th or 37th overall pick.
Tampa Bay has the sixth pick in the second round, which is the 38th overall selection, but five running backs could be off the board by the team the Bucs are on the clock again. That could mean that Barkley, Guice, Michel, Georgia’s Nick Chubb and USC’s Ronald Jones II are gone and Licht will be forced to take whoever is left.
The Bucs do like San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, and believe he’s worth a second-rounder, and they also like North Carolina State’s Nyheim Hines, but he’s more of a third-round pick. The problem is that Tampa Bay traded away its third-rounder to the Giants for defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, and several more running backs will go in the second and third round, such as Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson and possibly North Carolina State’s Jaylen Samuels, Tennessee’s John Kelly and Oregon’s Royce Freeman.
Both Penny and Hines have pre-draft visits scheduled with the Bucs, and Hines had a private workout with running backs coach Tim Spencer. But the last thing that Licht wants to do is reach for a player and draft for need – but with a roster that has just Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers, running back is a huge need that can’t be ignored like it was last year.
“I don’t think it’s any big secret – we can’t go into the season with two running backs,” Koetter said. “We’re going to be adding a running back here somehow, someway between now and when fall camp starts.
“Our confidence level is high in Peyton. I’ve said many times that if a guy is on our team I have confidence in him. If he is on our 53, especially, I have confidence in him. As we sit here today, Peyton is our starter at running back. Now that might change based on the draft. Shoot, we’ve already seen one trade that came out of nowhere. You just never know what’s going to happen. He started games for us last year and if Peyton is our starter then that’s fine. We have a lot of confidence in Jacquizz as well.”
Licht doesn’t think Barkley will be there when Tampa Bay is on the clock, but he and his team of scouts and personnel directors will mock every possible scenario, including this one where the Penn State stud falls to No. 7. And the Bucs will realize that having the chance of selecting the top running back in the first round or potentially the sixth running back by the time the Bucs pick in the second round is very real. Tampa Bay waited too long to draft a running back last year and got burned by Jeremy McNichols in the fifth round last year. McNichols was cut at the end of training camp and didn’t make the roster, opting to sign with San Francisco’s practice squad instead.
For the Bucs there is too much risk to pass on Barkley, even for a safety like Florida State’s Derwin James or a defensive tackle like Washington’s Vita Vea. Koetter’s offense incorporates the running back into the passing game. Barkley had 102 catches for 1,195 yards and eight touchdowns in his three-year career at Penn State, including 54 catches for 632 yards (11.7 avg.) and three touchdowns during his junior season in 2017.
According to Pro Football Focus, Barkley had 586 yards after the catch, which was the most of any running back in the 2018 NFL Draft class. Against Michigan, he lined up in the slot as a receiver for seven snaps, as an outside receiver for three snaps and in the Wildcat formation as a quarterback on five snaps, which shows how versatile of a back he is. He does need some technique work in pass protection, but is a willing blocker.
Barkley is special with the ball in his hands, and had three consecutive 1,000 yards seasons for the Nittany Lions. After rushing for 1,076 yards and seven touchdowns on 182 carries (5.9 avg.) as a freshman, Barkley had a breakout year in 2016 with 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns on 272 carries (5.5 avg.). During a junior campaign in which he was a Heisman Trophy candidate, Barkley rushed for 1,271 yards and 18 touchdowns on 217 carries (5.9 avg.).
Barkley had 15 games of 100 yards rushing or more, including five in which he rushed for 190 yards or more. He also ripped off 14 runs of 40 yards or more, including five from beyond 60 yards with a long of 92 yards in his last game at Penn State, a 35-28 win over Washington. Barkley had six catches of 40 yards or more in his career, including a long of 85 yards.
With an ultra-quick stutter step, instant acceleration, breakaway speed, tremendous balance, a make-you-miss quality, electric moves, glue-like hands and springy legs that make him hurdle over defenders, Barkley is truly a generational talent. He’s more elusive than powerful, and similar to Arizona’s David Johnson.
Don’t think Barkley will be there with the seventh round pick? Well, Adrian Peterson was there at No. 7 in 2007, proving that anything can happen in the first round of the draft.