The San Francisco 49ers have been connected to Penn State running back Saquon Barkley in recent 2018 NFL mock drafts, and it seems likely that will continue for some time. We don’t know the plan for Carlos Hyde after this season, and that leaves plenty of questions about the position.
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner have done a lot of impressive work with running backs landed in the later stages of the draft. It raises some questions as to whether or not the 49ers would invest a high first round pick in a running back, but what if they see Barkley as a franchise-altering type of player?
NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock was on the Rich Eisen Show recently, and he offered high praise for Barkley. He stated flat out that Barkley has more upside than Ezekiel Elliott.
"So far he's the best player I've seen on tape. He's got more upside both on and off the field than Zeke Elliott." -@MikeMayock on @PennStateFball RB @saquonb21 pic.twitter.com/3q6UcZEPSK— Rich Eisen Show (@RichEisenShow) November 22, 2017
Elliott put together a fantastic rookie season, but now is in the midst of a six-game suspension for violating the NFL personal conduct policy. Prior to the suspension, he was having a solid follow-up season, although not quite as productive as his rookie season. The Cowboys offensive line has had some issues, and that seems to have impacted his play to some extent.
But looking at Barkley, if you knew you could get a high end performer, is it worth passing on an impact defensive player? Additional options if the 49ers are there at No. 2 include Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and NC State edge rusher Bradley Chubb. The 49ers could also trade down with a quarterback-needy team, or go a host of directions.
Barkley seems like a safe bet as a high first round pick, but there are virtually no guarantees when it comes to draft picks. But if you knew for certain he would be one of a small number of the best running backs in the league, would that be enough to grab Barkley? Or is still not worth the addition given other needs and what Shanahan and Turner have done with less heralded running backs throughout their respective careers?