By all accounts, Saquon Barkley has a team-first mentality.
He’s said it. His coaches have said it. National media members have said it.
Barkley, who will go down in history as one of if not the most talented running back in Penn State’s storied history, announced Saturday that he will play in the Nittany Lions’ bowl game, regardless of where they end up.
That may not be the best choice.
Should Barkley choose, as many feel he will, to enter the 2018 NFL Draft, he is as close to a lock for a top-five pick as any running back in the last decade. NFL scouts and executives have ranted and raved for nearly a year about both his physical tools and his character. That draft stock, whether he plays in a bowl game or not, will remain unchanged.
No one that matters will question his character. No one that matters will question his heart, and no one that matters will do anything that will affect the large paycheck that is surely coming his way.
However, should Barkley suffer an injury in Penn State’s impending bowl game, that last point may well change significantly. And there’s recent precedent to prove it.
Former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith was considered a lock to go in the top 10 picks of the 2016 NFL Draft. He had speed, power, and smarts. He was everything you could ask for in a modern NFL linebacker.
And then the Fiesta Bowl happened.
Smith suffered a horrendous knee injury in the game while trying to change direction. He tore multiple ligaments, he suffered nerve damage, and his draft stock fell significantly.
He fell from a surefire top-10 pick to the second round, where he was selected at No. 34 by the Dallas Cowboys. His recovery took nearly two years, as he missed his entire rookie season and, quite frankly, he hasn’t shown near the burst he had prior to the injury since his comeback.
“But hey, injuries happen and that could well have been a fluke,” you say.
Sure, and then it happened again.
Former Michigan tight end Jake Butt was considered by many to be a potential first or second round draft pick in 2017. He’s was a fantastic pass catcher with good size and high-level run blocking
And then the Orange Bowl happened.
Butt, like Smith a year prior, suffered a severe knee injury which included nerve damage.
He fell out of the first couple rounds and down to the fifth, where he was selected by the Denver Broncos with the 145th pick in the draft. Butt has yet to play a game and was only recently cleared to return to practice.
“Injuries are a part of the game though, and why wouldn’t Barkley just shut it down now,” you ask.
Well, that’d be fine as well.
As mentioned prior, Barkley sitting out at this point wouldn’t do a darn thing to his draft stock.
Hello, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey.
Barkley owes nothing to anybody except maybe himself and his family. His teammates know damn well the risk he’s taking by stepping out on to the field with them in a bowl game.
As we’ve seen time and again, college athletic programs and NFL owners would drop Barkley faster than a speeding bullet as soon as they determine he’s no longer able to make them money.
Maybe it’s a point of pride. Maybe it’s something he feels he owes his teammates or coaches. But in playing in Penn State’s bowl game, in which the stakes are likely to be darn near zero, Barkley is taking a massive risk with little to no reward.
The sports world is full of selfish people looking to make a quick buck, it would be hypocritical to blame Barkley should he have chose to do the same.