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Penn State's Saquon Barkley: I'd be happy with Browns

Joe Rutter
| Thursday, March 1, 2018, 8:44 p.m.

INDIANAPOLIS — Saquon Barkley is the transcendent player in this NFL Draft class, a superlative runner with the mixture of size, speed and strength that leaves talent evaluators gushing.

He also is the rarest of football specimens in that he actually wants to play for the Cleveland Browns.

Seriously.

The Browns have the first and fourth picks in the draft and seem like the most logical destination for Barkley, the former Penn State sensation.

Thing is, Barkley isn't cringing at the prospect of playing for only the second 0-16 team in NFL history, for a franchise that has a 1-31 record the past two seasons under coach Hue Jackson.

In fact, he welcomes it.

“That's awesome, that's something bigger than you,” Barkley said. “You got a team like that, obviously they've had some rough years, but I think they're a couple of pieces away. They have a lot of young talent, a new offensive coordinator. … You want to be a part of something like that. It's something that's bigger than yourself. It's something where you can leave a legacy and be a part of something special.”

A running back hasn't gone No. 1 overall since another Penn State player, Ki-Jana Carter, in 1995. Leonard Fournette went fourth overall last season to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Browns also need a quarterback, which means that if Barkley doesn't go off the board No. 1, he might not be around three picks later. The New York Giants, at No. 2, and Indianapolis Colts, at No. 3, have issues at running back and might not allow Barkley to fall back to the Browns at No. 4.

Doesn't matter to Barkley, who isn't dismayed about suiting up for the 3-13 Giants or 4-12 Colts any more than he would the winless Browns.

“Any team that wants to draft me and bless me with the opportunity to play for their franchise is a blessing,” Barkley said. “You grow up as a little kid dreaming of playing in the NFL. If it's the Browns, if it's the Giants or whoever, I'm going to come in with my head low and be ready to work.”

Barkley showed off his strength Thursday in the bench press. He lifted 225 pounds 29 times, tying Georgia's Nick Chubb for the most by a running back. More impressive is that only five offensive linemen lifted that weight more times than Barkley.

NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock expects nothing less from Barkley at each of his combine workouts.

“All it is, is confirmation of his physical gifts,” Mayock said. “For a guy like Barkley who has worked so hard to develop his gifts, for him it ought to be a victory celebration. It really should. You got to come in and knock it down one drill after another.

“He's going to walk out four days later, and everyone's going to go, ‘Wow, he's just as good or better than we thought he was.' ”

At Penn State, one knock on Barkley is that his yardage totals during his three seasons in State College weren't linear. He had 1,496 yards rushing as a sophomore, but his total dipped to 1,271 as a junior, although his yards-per-carry increased from 5.5 to 5.9.

Barkley is more proud of his improvement as a receiver. His receptions increased from 20 to 28 to 54.

“That's a challenge I took on,” Barkley said. “My coaches challenged me to take that on. That's where the game is going. If you want to be elite, if you break down the top five backs, all of those guys can catch the ball out of the backfield. All of those guys are special with the ball in their hands. That's something I strive to be.

“I want to be one of the best.”

At the combine, he's gotten off to a good start.

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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