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The Man... The Myth... The Legend: What Makes Saquon Barkley So Great

Saquon Barkley is no "flash in the pan" phenomena, as he has been performing at a high level since last season. What traits make Barkley the player he is though?

Sports Illustrated

Heading into this weekend's game against the Penn State Nittany Lions, the Ohio State Buckeyes probably have one thing on their minds more than any other, and that’s stopping Saquon Barkley. Although the Buckeyes are quite fond of dominant ball carriers, Ezekiel Elliott and Carlos Hyde just to name a few, this go-around they’ll be tasked with slowing one down as opposed to helping one eat up turf. Penn State's “Big Back,” in ability and sheer physical size, won’t be that easy to slow down though. This will be for many reasons, but mostly because he is just that elite, and illustrates it every time he is on the field. Just like the elite backs before him and that now play on Sundays, he has special traits that make it inevitable that whenever he touches the ball, something good is bound to happen. What are those traits you might ask? I thought you never would. 

Athleticism — Todd Gurley

When thinking about “athleticism,” it describes one’s “absolute” athletic ability. Although anybody that plays a sport is an “athlete” in that sport, “athleticism” in its purest form describes the ability for athletic ability to translate across multiple sports and activities, or their sheer athletic abilities in general. In simple terms, this would be one's “Size, Speed, Agility” combination, and that makes Barkley an athletic freak. When initially looking at Barkeley, the first thing that pops off the screen or stands out about him is his sheer physical stature. At 230, and right around 6-feet-tall, Barkley is no “scatback.” One of the most amazing parts about his big physical stature is the fact that through it all, he can still make his body move much faster than a man half his size. As recently as March of 2017, it was reported that Barkley had been timed at an insane 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Expanding and estimating that time out to a paltry 100 meters, and you suspect Barkley falls right around 10-11 seconds, which actually puts him near if not on pace with some full time olympic sprinters. Yeah, that's fast. Don’t take your napkin out of your shirt yet though, as that isn’t even the end of his crazy athleticism. The cherry on top of it all is the obvious lower body strength and agility he possesses. Outside of the cuts, or “make em miss” moves he is able to apply while rushing the ball, Barkley is not shy about going over the top of the defender as evident by hurdle of an Iowa player earlier this year. Barkley would get a “10” for sticking the landing by the way, before continuing to stumble for the first down. 

It is these characteristics and moments that make me think Todd Gurley when seeing Barkley. They both are bigger, physical running backs, who not only have the speed to run away from you, the moves to make you miss or run around you, but they also share the agile gracefulness to hurdle you. The bonus to it all is that they can then stick the landing, and continue to break off what is probably a huge run on you. That is why his sheer athletic ability reminds me of Todd Gurley. 

Vision — Le'Veon Bell

LA Times

Having the ability to do what you want or get wherever you want to on the football field is only half the battle. The other half is being able to see or recognize those spaces in the first place. This aspect of a running back's game is called his “vision.” In simple but football terms, a running back's vision is mostly associated with a runner's ability to see holes, lanes, or alleys opening by the blocking or the best routes to take as a runner based on the scheme of the play. When thinking about some of the backs with the best vision in the NFL, there are a few, but the one that stands out more than any other is Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell.

Known for his slow-looking, patient, yet deliberate running style, Le'veon Bell has become one of those amongst the cream of the running back crop. Atop the fact that he too was gifted with world class athleticism (6’1, 225, 4.6 40YD), Bell has a special gift that allows him to be exponentially more successful than other backs, his vision. So often it will appear as if Bell is lagging or trapped behind his offensive lineman during a play, where in all actuality what he is doing is letting the play and therefore his blocking develop a bit before trying to make his play. Now, he must of course have the athletic ability to get to spots a bit quicker than others because he does wait a bit longer, but he is only able to do any of it because he trusts the fact that he is guaranteed to find and see the running lanes if and/or when they come available. Bell is famous for taking what looks like a 3-yard loss, and ripping it off for a big run in the blink of an eye, and that is because he always find a lane to run.

Barkley has this same special gift. Although not as evident in the same manner as Bell, as NFL RB “vision” and college RB “vision” are slightly different due to competition levels, Barkley as more often than not displayed his visual abilities in open field situations. The most illustrating scenarios of this point for Barkley are not only his big runs from the QB position in the wildcat formation, but also the way he can rip off big play touchdowns in the return game. Make no mistake, all of his accomplishments can be attributed to the fact that he is just that much more talented and athletic than those tasked with stopping him, and that point is not lost here. However, when exhibiting the ability to make plays in the open field like he does such as kickoff returning, he displays that he not only can physically make the plays but has the vision to see them come to fruition before they actually happen. This is why he has Le’Veon Bell-like vision. 

Complete Back — Ezekiel Elliott

Lastly, but not least, the kid is a complete back. If you watch him during passing situations, he mostly goes out to receive, but appears as though he is capable of pass-protecting at a high level. Although all backs have to go through an adjustment period with the new and higher levels of athletes they are facing on a regular basis, he should be fine in the pass-protecting game at worst based off his size and athleticism alone. He has shown what he can do in the open field, as well as displayed a good set of hands for catching the ball out of the backfield. He is their “main” guy, meaning they do anything and everything they can to get him the ball, so this displays he has the abilities to retain high level information. Plainly and simply, this guy has all the tools. He seems fairly bright on the football field, can make all the plays with his legs, pass protects, catches out of the backfield and seems to not be a problem to coach. He is a complete back. For these reasons, he gets the Ezekiel Elliott nod. 

From day one of the draft process, and on top of the fact that he had dominated for multiple seasons at Ohio St., the thing that most draft pundits talked about was Zeke’s ability to be a three down back in the NFL. Well he has confirmed, proven, and excelled in this roll as he is now one of the best backs in the league, and arguably the best, depending on who you ask. Barkley displays a very similar skill set, and may be a bit more impressive, as he doesn’t have the cache or recruits of Urban Meyer to hold him up. Not that Penn State or James Franklin are hog head cheese, but they aren’t quite the former. This is why Barkley reminds me of Ezekiel Elliott.

See For Yourself!

No matter how you slice it, Barkley is elite, and some NFL will be very lucky to get their hands on him. Now this team will more than likely be unlucky to have the record that allows them to fall into position and take Barkley (unless it’s the Browns, and some lucky team makes them their “sucker"), but Barkley goes a long way towards righting that ship. Just look at the teams of the three backs mentioned, all amongst the best in the NFL right now, and large part in due to their contributions. Regardless of where he ends up, they have themselves a good one, and the above traits illustrate why. 

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