Saquon Barkley loved watching the NFL Scouting Combine on television.
That’s one of the reasons the star Penn State running back is about to pay it forward for those who also get their kicks watching draft-evaluation drills.
Unlike other elite prospects who previously have shunned Combine participation in favor of more comfortable surroundings at their schools’ Pro Days and private team workouts, Barkley is good to go for Indianapolis in late February.
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“I’ve been watching the Combine since I was a little kid,” Barkley told co-host Gil Brandt and me Wednesday on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “That’s something I dreamed about doing. Getting an invitation was special. You definitely want to take advantage of the opportunity you’ve got there.”
In his case, that could be elevating himself to the top spot in April’s draft if Cleveland decides Barkley is too promising to pass up.
The Browns, who hold the No. 1 and No. 4 overall picks, aren’t the only club with a high choice that could use a bell-cow rusher who can also thrive as a receiver and kick returner. The Giants (No. 2) and Colts (No. 3) both averaged less than four yards per carry in 2017.
Nobody could blame the Broncos (No. 5), the Jets (No. 6) or the Buccaneers (No. 7), either, if they considered trading up to land a 21-year-old phenom who became Penn State’s second all-time leading rusher in just three seasons before turning pro as a junior.
“Obviously, I’m not blind to the teams that do need a running back,” Barkley said. “But you can’t really look too far ahead at what teams may pick you.
“The way I look at it, every team fits me or I can fit any team because at the end of the day you want to adapt to the team and coaches that pick you. I don’t look at myself as a one-dimensional back. I look at myself as a back that can do it all and is going to continue to work and grow in every part of the game. Whatever team drafts me is going to get a person who’s going to try and be the best.”
That attitude is reflected in Barkley’s approach to the Combine.
Barkley has spent the past several weeks prepping with renowned trainer Tom Shaw in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Barkley said that work includes “little stuff like how you run a 40 (yard dash) with the start, how many steps you take in the (short) shuttle and where you put your hands for the bench press.”
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“To be out there with some of the best of the best and the best at your position … It’s not a competitive event but it really is if you think about it,” Barkley said. “I just want to do the best I possibly can to not only challenge myself but challenge the other backs in there, too.
“I’m not just going to bash anybody that decides not to (participate). Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. But me, I think it’s important. It helps you see where you’re at personally and against competitors who are competing for the same spot as you.”
One area in which Barkley need not worry is the interview process with NFL teams at the Combine. He received high marks for his character while at Penn State and by all accounts has a squeaky-clean background.
“The way I’m going to attack (the interviews) is to be honest and open and just let it all out there because I feel like I don’t have anything to hide,” Barkley said. “I give credit to my family, coaches and friends that have kept me in line at school and made sure I didn’t make dumb decisions.”
Unlike some other prospects who might feel uncomfortable about the 15-minute “get-to-know-you” sessions at the Combine, Barkley is looking forward to learning more about his potential suitors.
“As they’re asking you questions, you’re getting to know the people that you might be surrounding yourself with,” he said. “You never know — that team might be the team that drafts you and you want to give a good first impression.
“They want to give a good first impression, too, because that’s where you’ll be playing for the next five or 10 years.”
Barkley isn’t blowing smoke about having a big-picture vision. Barkley said part of his Combine prep has focused on bettering his flexibility along with other training methods designed to increase his chances for NFL success and longevity.
The only thing Barkley can’t control is where that career will begin.
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“The biggest thing I’ve just been thinking about is that my life is going to change in a matter of two months,” Barkley said. “I’m going to be in a new city with a new team living my dream.
“It’s exciting to think about it. It gets me fired up because I’m passionate about this game. I fell in love with this sport at a young age and everything that I’ve worked for is coming all together.”
Everyone who watches the Combine should find that out soon enough.
Alex Marvez can be heard from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET Thursday on SiriusXM NFL Radio.