As a 6 foot, 230-pound athlete with equally ridiculous speed and power, Saquon Barkley is primed to be one of the league’s most exciting tailbacks from the first handoff he takes on September 9 against Jacksonville. We got a chance to sit down with the rookie sensation to cover his journey to stardom and how he is ready to seize the spotlight in the Big Apple.
From Starting In High School
Q: Let’s flash back to your time at Whitehall (PA) High School. You dominated there and seemed to make a major jump between your sophomore and junior year. How were you able to take your game to the next level?
A: The biggest reason I jumped from my sophomore to my junior year was my change in mindset. I made it up in my mind that I wanted to play college football, and once I did that, that’s when the work ethic improved. I started to push myself in the weight room and in conditioning. Even off the field, I started doing better in school. I just started challenging myself every day, and once I did that, everything on the field took care of itself.
Q: Despite dominating, ESPN had you ranked as 24 th best running back. Did you use that as motivation? How did that impact your season and what you were looking to do?
A: Actually, at one point I was ranked 60 th . Coming into Nike The Opening (in 2014), I was ranked the 60th best running back in the country. But that just made me want to prove a point. When I got to the Opening and competed against some of the top guys, I did really well. That helped me get to the top level and boost me to that 24 th spot. And I carried that motivation into college. I wanted to prove to those teams that didn’t offer me that they made a mistake.
To Growing In College
Q: So you make it to Penn State, but you weren’t the lead back right away. How were you able to stay ready for your chance and continue to grow as a player?
A: That was all about continuing to challenge myself. When I got to Penn State, I didn’t say ‘I want to be the starter right away.’ We had an established guy and I just wanted to learn from him. I just wanted to play as a freshman and I was going to do whatever I could to play. If that meant playing special teams or being on the scout team — I was going to do that. I carried that approach into the weight room. As my numbers in the weight room continued to grow, I got faster and better on the football field.
Q: Looking back on your time at Penn State, what made it the perfect spot for you?
A: I was actually originally committed to a different college. They offered me off of my JV highlight tape and based on my potential. I committed on spot, but the decision to flip to Penn State actually wasn’t just about football. Obviously, Penn State football is amazing and a great opportunity, but I also felt like Penn State gave me a better chance after football. I envisioned myself being here (in the pros), but you have to think ‘what if?’ A Penn State education takes you a long way.
To Being Ready For The Pros
Q: Now it’s time for the pro game – how have you stepped up your training to get ready for your rookie season?
A: Something I started changing about my work habits this offseason is that it’s not so much about how much you can lift, but now, it’s about longevity. You’ve got to keep your body healthy. I’ve been working on my speed and explosion, and making sure that what I’m doing in the weight room transitions onto the football field.
Q: Take us back to draft day, when you got that phone call from New York. What was that moment like?
A: A lot of people think you know where you’re going before you get that call, and you actually have no idea. When I got that call, it was special because of the people that were at the table with me – my mom and my dad on my left, my brothers and sisters, my agents, my high school coaches. These were all the people that really cared and mattered in my life. My mom and dad worked so hard to help me get to that point. Having them there made it 10 times more special.
Eastbay is going to be on the scene in Indy next week, taking in all the action from pro football’s biggest scouting event and interviewing many of the year’s biggest names. We know you’ll be tuned in to the action as well, so before the 40-yard dash whistle blows and press conference cameras start rolling, two of Eastbay’s writers, Chris Wolff and Jake Zipperer, had a discussion about the names you need to pay attention to this year.
Jake: Alright Chris, in about a week, we’ll be on the ground in Indy, interviewing some of the biggest names of the 2018 rookie class. But before everything gets underway, let’s take a second to talk about some of the players we’re most excited to see this weekend. So, I’ll let you start — who’s the first guy that you’ll be looking out for?
Chris: It has to be a quarterback, right? That’s the talk of the draft this year with a stacked class that includes Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, and Lamar Jackson. I’m most excited to see Josh Allen, the Wyoming prospect who seems to be one of the draft’s biggest wild cards.
He has the prototypical QB frame at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, and a cannon of an arm. His numbers didn’t jump off the page last season with just 1,812 yards, 16 touchdowns and a 56.3% completion percentage, but he has all the physical tools that scouts look for. This weekend will be an opportunity for him to showcase his skill set and stand out against some of his fellow projected first round QBs.
Is there another QB that stands out to you or are you looking elsewhere?
Jake: Yep, Allen is the definition of a boom-or-bust pick, but tons of teams will fall in love with his potential. I could talk about the QBs in this class all day, but figured I’d throw in a curveball and highlight a RB: Rashaad Penny.
He’s the type of player who’s hard to get a read on at this point in the process. It may be impossible to be any more productive than he was last season (2,248 rushing yards, 23 touchdowns), but his team at San Diego State wasn’t exactly facing the Alabama’s and the Georgia’s of the world week after week. It’s the classic ‘is the small school guy going to be able to adjust to the speed and talent of the pro game’ dilemma. If I had to guess, I’d say Penny can make the jump — he’s a quick, shifty back who can gain yardage in a variety of ways. Oh, and he can return! This weekend will go a long way toward deciding his draft stock.
Who’s the next guy on your list? Got a prediction on who will post that ridiculous 40 time?
Chris: If we’re talking about running backs, we have to mention Saquon Barkley.
I don’t know how fast his 40 time will be, but the Penn State star captured the attention of the entire college football world this season with more than his fair share of jaw-dropping plays. He’s a do-it-all back that can pound the rock (three straight 1,000 yard rushing seasons), catch the ball out of the backfield (54 catches for 632 yards this year), and hit homeruns (23 total touchdowns this year, including two return touchdowns). We saw a resurgence of first-round running backs last season with Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey, and Saquan Barkley is poised to join that list. He’s full of talent, built for today’s pass-heavy offenses, and will make an instant impact next year. The only question is how high will he go in a draft class full of stars?
Let’s switch to the other side of the ball — what defensive prospects will you have your eyes on?
Jake: To me, the name to watch on defense is Tremaine Edmunds from Virginia Tech.
He’s just such a unique player. Edmunds is so tall for a linebacker (6’5″), and he’s freakishly fast and strong. Athletes like him don’t come around very often, and when they do, they usually post some ridiculous testing scores in Indy. But more importantly than test scores, he’s the ideal type of linebacker for modern defenses. Fast enough to cover RBs and TEs, powerful enough to generate a consistent pass rush, and aggressive enough to never give up on a play — he can do it all. Defensive coordinators have to be salivating at the idea of having Edmunds as the centerpiece of their defense.
But that’s a name I’m sure many people will be watching closely — Chris, do you have any dark horses that you think will take scouts and GMs by surprise?
Chris: Everybody’s always looking for steals, and this is the perfect time for teams to start identifying guys that they might be able to get in the later rounds. Josey Jewell is a guy who’s projected to go on day three of the draft, but I think he’s going to end up being a valuable piece for some team.
He doesn’t have the same elite athleticism and explosiveness as some of this year’s deep linebacker group, but he can flat out play football. He lead the Big Ten in tackles, racked up 13.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and 2 interceptions at Iowa this year. He’s proven his productivity on the field at the college level, so this weekend will be important for him to show scouts that he has the physical abilities to continue that at the next level. He might slip due to his deep position class and lack of flash, but someone’s going to get a steal and a guy who can be a starting linebacker in the league for a long time.
Alright, let’s get to your final one. Does anyone in the secondary stand out to you?
Jake: Well, versatile defensive backs are all the rage in pro football nowadays and Florida State safety Derwin James fits that to a T.
In fact, it’s probably unfair of me to call him a safety. He has the insane athleticism, solid tackling prowess, and alpha-dog mindset needed to be a true chess piece for creative defenses. You want him to line up near the line of scrimmage as a hybrid backer? No problem. He can do that, he can play deep safety, he can play cover corner. I can’t wait to see what his 40 time is and I can’t wait to see how he’s used in a smart defensive scheme in the pros.
There will be a lot of great prospects in Indy this year, but make sure to keep your eyes on these six players. Do you agree? Disagree? Hit us up in the comments with your own opinion and make sure to stay locked in to Eastbay’s IG account and our Live Content Hub for a backstage pass to all of the action in Indy.