INDIANAPOLIS (92.3 The Fan) – Saquon Barkley helped turn around the Penn State football program.
He could be tasked with trying to help turn around another troubled team come April: the Cleveland Browns.
“That’s awesome. Something bigger than you,” Barkley said. “A team like that and obviously they’ve had some rough years but I think maybe they’re a couple of pieces away. They do have a lot of young talent, bringing in a new offensive coordinator…They are a good team if you look at the schedule, they won one game (the last 2 years) but obviously they were in a lot of games.
“You want to be a part of something like that. That’s something bigger than yourself. That’s something you’ll leave a legacy.”
Times have been tough in Cleveland.
The once proud Browns, owners of 4 AAFC championships and 4 NFL championships with the last coming in 1964, haven’t finished with a winning record since 2007 and have set a new record for futility the last 3 seasons having gone 4-44, but Barkley isn’t the least bit wary of carrying such a burden of trying to turn the woebegone franchise around.
“That’d be awesome, any team, any team that wants to draft me that’s blessing me with the opportunity to play for their franchise is a blessing to me,” Barkley said. “You grow up as a little kid dreaming of playing in the NFL and have the opportunity for a team to pick you so if it’s the Browns, the Giants or wherever I get drafted I’m going to come in with my head low to work.”
Those words had to be music to the ears of Browns general manager John Dorsey, who has a profound respect for the heritage of the Browns and what they mean to northeast Ohio.
Barkley helped turn the troubled Nittany Lions from an average, middle of the pack 7-6 team into a conference champion with back to back 11-win seasons.
“I never viewed myself as the face of Penn State,” Barkley said. “I think there’s multiple guys at that university that did an unbelievable job. Even guys before the last two great years we had keeping that program and keeping that university in tact obviously after everything that happened Bill O’Brien came through and he did an unbelievable job. A lot of those guys were walk-ons and Cristian Hackenberg came and did a great job and set the standard.
“Obviously, I got asked a question about the Browns earlier, that’s something bigger than yourself and you want to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Even though unfortunately we weren’t able to win a national championship we were able to get a Big Ten championship and help get that thing turned around. That’s bigger than yourself and that’s something that you leave a legacy and people are going to talk about for a long time.”
Barkley was poised, mature, humble and gracious in the 15 minutes he spent at the podium fielding questions from reporters around the country.
He was as impressive as his film, which is an epic visual of dynamic running and pure explosiveness that makes him one of the most coveted prospects in this year’s draft class. The Penn State rusher has racked up 3,843 yards and 43 touchdowns, including three consecutive 1,000-plus yard seasons and he’s scored 18 TDs in each of the last 2.
“I feel whether I’m running the ball from the 99-yard line or the 1-yard line that I can find a way to get into the end zone. I can do it all, I feel like,” Barkley said. “I can go over the top of you, I can beat you with speed, I can beat you with some wiggle, I could run through you.”
Barkley looks to follow running backs Ezekiel Elliott in 2016 and Leonard Fournette in 2017 as a top-5 pick.
While Barkley said he doesn’t model himself after anyone if he’d pick anyone he’d like to emmulate it’s Lions Hall of Famer Barry Sanders.
“That was a great guy that I looked up to growing up not only on the field — off the field. The way he carried himself, he was humble,” Barkley said. “When he scored a touchdown, he’d give the ball to the ref. If you look at his football life, he’s carrying cups to his offensive linemen, and I think that’s what a running back should be about. That’s what our position should be about and I try to model myself after that.”
That is why Barkley will likely go early in April.
The Browns will have two chances to take him too.