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2018 NFL Draft: Rough Draft - Is Saquon Barkley Worth the Number One Pick?

Each week, ROTB Lead Writer Justin Higdon provides a quick rundown of the latest NFL Draft-related news, notes and takes. Plus, a look ahead to the weekend’s most intriguing matchups.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

In the Spotlight

Saquon Barkley RB Penn State

Penn State’s Barkley has had such a hot start to the season that he has analysts wondering just how early the running back will come off the board. Zeke Elliott and Leonard Fournette were drafted fourth overall in 2016 and 2017, respectively, and Barkley - who has drawn comparisons to Marshall Faulk - looks poised to go at least that high.

In last weekend’s win over Iowa, Barkley established new career highs with 211 rushing yards and 12 receptions (for 94 more yards). Through four games, the junior back is averaging 7.8 yards per carry, and needs just five catches for 67 yards to match his totals for the entire 2016 season. With every college passer having his ups and downs, Barkley is the clear, early-season frontrunner for the Heisman trophy.

Barkley is a well-built runner, listed at 5’11” 230 pounds, with an extremely powerful lower body. He’s rumored to have 4.3 speed in the 40, and while I’m skeptical of that number, he does show breakaway speed in the open field. He’s a patient guy who runs with balance. He can go between the tackles or outside, and he’s a fine receiver with soft hands. I have little doubt Barkley will become a successful NFL player. So the question again, is how early will he be drafted?

Before Fournette and Elliott, Trent Richardson went third overall in 2012. Reggie Bush was drafted second overall in 2006, as was Ronnie Brown the year before. We have to go all the way back to 1995 to find a running back drafted with the top pick of the draft, when Ki-Jana Carter, another Penn State runner, was taken number one by the Bengals. Despite my reservations about the class, if I placed a bet on the first pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, I’d still put my money on a quarterback, but without a clear favorite, or an anointed defensive player like Myles Garrett or Jadeveon Clowney, Barkley could make things interesting.

Riser of the Week

Bradley Chubb DE North Carolina State

Chubb logged seven tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in an upset win at Florida State last Saturday. It was the fifth multi-sack game of the Wolfpack pass rusher’s career, and he punctuated the performance after the game by sprinting to midfield and spitting on the Florida State logo.

Chubb is a 6’4” 275-pound senior with a high motor and a couple of nifty pass rush moves. He finished last season with 21.5 tackles for loss, and already has 7.5 this year. While NFL scouts wait for touted edge defenders Arden Key and Harold Landry to start producing, Chubb is out there staking his claim early in the season.

Slider of the Week

Josh Allen QB Wyoming

I covered this in more depth earlier in the week, so I don’t want to completely repeat myself, but it was impossible for me not to include Allen here. Playing at home against Hawaii, the Wyoming quarterback passed for 67 yards in regulation before tossing a game-winning 25 yard TD in overtime. Allen began the year billed as a potential number one overall draft pick, but in his last two games has gone 18/43 (41.9%) for 156 yards, a touchdown, and a pick. I get he feeling that many analysts and scouts alike are in too deep at this point, and that Allen will somehow be drafted before the end of the second round next spring ala Christian Hackenberg, but I don’t see how anyone can make a logical case that it would be a good idea.

Box Score of the Week

Chase Winovich DE Michigan

8 TKL (4 solo) 3.5 TFL 2.5 SCK

Michigan’s redshirt junior defensive end earned C0-Big Ten Player of the Week honors for his performance against Purdue. Winovich has at least half a sack in each game this season, and through four games he’s already equalled his sack total for all of 2016.

Looking Ahead

USC at Washington State Friday 10:30 PM ET

Sam Darnold has been a roller coaster for the Trojans, with seven interceptions on the season already, while Falk has been on fire since being benched for a series against Boise State. Both teams come into this Friday night tilt at 4-0 on the season.

Indiana at Penn State Saturday 3:30 PM ET

Somehow the Hoosiers held Saquon Barkley to 58 yards on 33 carries in a 45-31 loss to Penn State last season. Barkley looks to get his revenge against a defense that’s allowing almost 200 yards per game on the ground so far this year.

Mississippi State at Auburn Saturday 6:00 PM ET

Nick Fitzgerald and the Bulldogs hope to rebound from a brutal loss to Georgia. Meanwhile, Auburn junior running back Kerryon Johnson returned from a two week layoff last weekend, and rushed 18 times for 48 yards and five touchdowns. Yes, five. Not a typo.

Clemson at Virginia Tech Saturday 8:00 PM ET

Despite losing a host of key players to the NFL after last season, Clemson hasn’t missed a beat since winning the National Championship in January. Their vaunted defense gets a look at Virginia Tech senior receiver Cam Phillips, who is among the nation’s leaders in catches, yards and receiving touchdowns.