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MMQB: Should Saquon Barkley be Penn State’s Kick Returner?

Barkley would absolutely be a home run threat as a return man- but is the risk worth the reward?

NCAA Football: Illinois at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

During the past few weeks, there have been rumblings that running back and human-highlight film Saquon Barkley may get a look as a kick returner this upcoming season. Here’s this right from the mouth of James Franklin:

“We have the depth now that we really feel like we can use some of those players on special teams and I think Saquon is a part of that. What you have to decide is does the starter give you significant -- is there a significant difference between maybe a starter, whether it's a receiver, whether it's a running back or whether it's a corner being your punt return, kick return, and is his value so great on special teams over the next guy that it's worth using him? And then also, how do you feel about the next running back and the following running back or the next corner and so on and so forth? Or do you have another guy on your roster that brings similar value in the return game that it makes sense not to use one of those guys? I think you look at Stanford and [Christian] McCaffrey who is a tremendous player that we love watching and we're forced to stay up real late to watch him, but we like watching him. That's something that Saquon is seeing. Saquon does not have any individual goals. Saquon's goal is to do whatever he possibly can to help the team win and if it's returning kicks or punts, we've got to consider doing that.”

So should Barkley expand his role and return kicks in 2016? Well, it’s a bit complicated.

Reasonable arguments can easily be made for both sides. On one hand, Barkley would add an immediate spark to Penn State’s stagnant return game (The last time Penn State had a punt or kick return result in six? Week one of 2011). On the other hand, losing one of the nation’s most dynamic playmakers on special teams would be a disaster of utmost proportions.

So does the risk match the reward? Let’s look at the facts:

Penn State has a loaded backfield heading into the season, meaning that he won’t carry the extremely heavy load he did a year ago, where he was clearly worn down towards the end of the season. It also means that Barkley isn’t quite as indispensable to the team’s success as linebacker Brandon Bell or left tackle Andrew Nelson, both who lead rather thin units.

Barkley has nearly unmatched field vision, both college and pro. It’s like he has the ability to know where all defenders are at all times, and has the burst and lateral movement to elude would-be tacklers at just the right time. I mean seriously, how do you even explain this? Or this? It’s a gift, pure and simple. Now just imagine the damage Barkley can do with so much open space to work with. I’d hate to be the special teams coach charged with stopping Barkley in the open field.

Penn State’s roster is littered with young, speedy players- DeAndre Thompkins, Brandon Polk, Irvin Charles, Nick Scott, Koa Farmer, Mark Allen, Juwan Johnson and Miles Sanders just to name a few. Obviously, the Nittany Lions have plenty of options for return men who won’t receive nearly the amount of touches Barkley will. Why not just use some of those players and let Barkley purely focus on his role as a running back? In fact, following a few strong recruiting class, why not base all the special teams units entirely the young and talented players who will be taking on back-up/reserve roles this fall?

It’s quite a difficult question to answer, and something I can’t quite make up my mind about after plenty of thought. So what say you, BSD reader? Do you want Barkley back deep on Sept. 3 to provide a home run threat as a returner, or do you prefer his undeniable talents be saved for his role as a running back?