BY BARRY WILNER
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Saquon Barkley is the best player in this year’s draft. Yet he might not go in the first handful of picks Thursday night.
Blame the desperation to find quarterbacks in great part for the possibility that the Penn State All-America running back could fall well below where his talent, character and versatility warrant.
How good is Barkley? Draft expert Gil Brandt says he’s the best at the position since Adrian Peterson. Other scouts and general managers have compared Barkley to LaDainian Tomlinson. Last we looked, LT is in the Hall of Fame, and Peterson sure seems headed there.
“If you remember, there was some concern about Adrian’s shoulder and he was not picked until No. 7 (in 2007),” says Brandt, now a draft consultant for the league and analyst for SiriusXM Satellite Radio. “Look at him and he has everything you need to be successful: quickness, speed, strength, a great character person, will pass protect.
“I am sold on Barkley. I think Barkley will be a star in this league.”
So why might he wind up out of the first half-dozen or so selections. Brandt cites the preponderance for passing in the NFL these days, noting that two decades ago, teams ran 57 percent of the time, and now it’s switched around.
Plus, he notes, “Quarterbacks, they will probably occupy four of the top six in this draft.”
It seems certain the Browns at the top, the Jets at No. 3 and the Broncos at No. 5 will go the quarterback route. The Giants could pull the trigger on a QB at No. 2. There’s lots of trade talk, too, with clubs such as Miami, Buffalo and Arizona eager to climb high enough to run in the derby for Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield.
It’s possible the three best overall prospects for 2018 — Barkley, North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb, and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson — won’t come close to going 1-2-3.
The Browns are in a nice spot; of course, they had to go 0-16 last season to earn it. They also own the fourth choice and can grab one of those three after taking a quarterback to start proceedings. There’s also the chance a QB-light team will unload a bunch of choices to get to No. 4, and Cleveland still could wind up with Barkley, Chubb or Nelson if it doesn’t trade down too far.
“The guy is a really good football player,” new Browns GM John Dorsey says of Barkley. “Absolutely. You cannot have enough of them on your team.”
There’s more to Barkley that could make him the biggest star to enter the league from this draft, even if he goes fifth, sixth, seventh …
He can break open games with kick returns.
“I’m not going to lie, he’s a tremendous talent,” says new Giants GM Dave Gettleman. “You put the film on of a defensive guy and if they’re playing Penn State, then I’m watching Saquon. He’s one of those guys that my mother could have scouted. She could have figured that one out.”
Yet, Barkley, who this week became a father to a girl, could last almost an hour into the draft Thursday night.
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