INDIANAPOLIS — The projected No. 1 running back in the NFL Draft is a Jets fan who has been interviewed by the Giants at the NFL Combine. So let the games begin as to where Penn State and Bronx-born running back Saquon Barkley will end up.
The Giants have the No. 2 overall pick; the Jets have No. 6.
Speaking of the Giants, Barkley said Thursday: “If I was fortunate enough to go to a team like that, that would be a good fit. Any team in my mind would be a good fit. They were in a lot of games last year, too. Had a lot of injuries. They’ve got a lot of great players, a quarterback that’s established and has proven himself.”
Barkley didn’t shy away from talking about his favorite team, either. His father, Alibay Barkley, used to sit with him and watch Jets games, and Saquon admired future Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin. But for the purposes of this draft, Saquon Barkley will remain neutral.
“Was a Jets fan growing up,” he said. “Right now, you’re kind of neutral. Whatever team drafts me, it’s going to be a blessing. You’re never going to forget that moment your name gets called and you walk up on that stage and pick up that jersey. That’s something everybody here has dreamed about since they were a little kid.”
It wouldn’t be the Combine if not for a little drama. Barkley was asked about being heavy coming into the Combine. He weighed 233 pounds and attributed that to “eating a lot of food and sitting a lot and not really moving.”
The 5-11 Barkley played at 230 and admitted that he’s a little heavier than usual. The extra weight is a minor thing, and Barkley put on an impressive performance Thursday afternoon in the bench press. He lifted 225 pounds 29 times, which tied Georgia’s Nick Chubb for the most among running backs, who will work out Friday for teams.
Barkley’s stock peaked during an outstanding 2017 season in which he rushed 217 times for 1,271 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also returned two kickoffs for scores and caught 54 passes for 632 yards with three touchdowns. In three seasons at Penn State, he ran for 3,843 yards and 43 touchdowns and had 1,195 receiving yards and eight scores.
“I’m a versatile player,” he said. “I think I’ve shown on film that I can run the ball. I can run it between the tackles or outside. I can catch the ball out of the backfield. I can pass-block and I can play special teams. I want to continue to grow my game and continue to be a complete player.”
Barkley’s rise as a football player almost didn’t occur. His father and great-uncle, Iran Barkley, were boxers. Alibay Barkley injured a shoulder fighting as an amateur, and Iran Barkley won titles in three divisions as a pro. But after Saquon’s mother, Tonya Johnson, decided that the family should move from the Bronx to Pennsylvania, his need to play football grew in a state obsessed with the sport.
“I did box a little bit growing up,” Barkley said. “But I just love football. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid. My dad did try to put me in boxing. I did Golden Gloves and go to gyms and train a little bit.”
Given his current situation, it seems as if he made the right decision to stick to football.
“I can’t see the future and sit here and say I’m going to rush for this amount of yards and have this amount of touchdowns,” he said. “That’s all in God’s plan. But I do know that whatever team I go to, I’m going to work.”