The scouting reports on Saquon Barkley scream NFL stardom. No wonder he's in consideration to be the No. 2 overall pick by the New York Giants in this year's draft, or maybe even the No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Browns.
Barkley's floor is expected to be the No. 6 overall pick, when the Indianapolis Colts make their selection.
"He's special," one NFC scout said, before explaining Barkley was a better prospect than both Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette. Elliott was the fourth overall selection by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2016 NFL draft and Fournette was fourth overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars last year.
"You're talking about a 230-pound dude who runs sub-4.4 that has balance and run skills. It's rare," the scout added.
Talent evaluators around the NFL seem to be in agreement that Barkley is legitimate, worth all the attention that has come his way. There is hardly a knock on the Penn State product.
"He's really, really good," one evaluator said.
For as impressive as Barkley is on and off the field, neither evaluator would take the running back with the second-overall pick if they were running the Giants. It has little to do with Barkley, but more to do with the draft slot, the Giants' needs (hello franchise quarterback!) and the position he plays.
Reggie Bush was the last running back selected with a top-two pick. That was 12 years ago, in 2006.
Bush's lack of overall success -- he was a solid player at the NFL level but never a star -- isn't among the reasons some teams would avoid selecting a running back that high in the draft. But others' success despite being drafted much later is a major factor.
RB draft value
There is a reason that quarterbacks traditionally dominate the top of drafts, and will likely do so again this year. Four quarterbacks are expected to be selected among the first five picks. It's because good ones are hard to find.
It's not the same for running backs, which seem to grow on trees these days. Good ones are available throughout the draft rather than almost exclusively in the first round.
Last year, the league's leading rusher (Kareem Hunt, Kansas City) and one of the top playmakers (Alvin Kamara, New Orleans) were drafted in the third round. The Philadelphia Eagles received a significant contribution from undrafted rookie running back Corey Clement.
The success of late-round running backs is more than a one-year anomaly. It has become the norm.
Of the 40 Pro Bowl running backs from the 2008-17 seasons, only 15 (38 percent) were first-round picks. During that same time, 21 of the 36 Pro Bowl quarterbacks (58 percent) were first-round selections. And 13 of those 21 quarterbacks were top-two picks.
Only one running back, Ronnie Brown, selected with a top-two pick has reached a Pro Bowl in the past decade.
Barkley may very well buck the trend. He is special, and universally considered the top running back in this year's draft. But this is also considered a deep running back draft, in which quality options are expected to be available in the later rounds.
"Strong running back draft," one talent evaluator said. "You can get good ones in the second and third rounds."
The financial and long-term commitment
If Barkley is selected with the No. 2 overall pick, his draft slot would guarantee a four-year deal worth approximately $30 million. That kind of guaranteed money is what All-Pros David Johnson and Le'Veon Bell, arguably the two best running backs in the game, are currently looking for in long-term deals.
Right now, Fournette has the largest guarantee among running backs based off his draft slot last season. Barkley would immediately have the largest guarantee among running backs the moment he is drafted by the Giants with the second pick.
Considering $30 million guaranteed would be 15th among all quarterbacks, you can see which position would provide the Giants a competitive advantage when it comes to team building. Eli Manning is slated to count $22.2 million against the salary cap this year.
The cheap starting quarterback would allow the Giants to invest heavily -- at least in the short-term -- in other positions, such as wide receiver and safety, where Odell Beckham Jr. and Landon Collins are looking for new contracts.
The combination of Beckham, Collins and Barkley being paid top dollar at wide receiver, safety and running back would likely affect the Giants' ability to allocate significant resources toward pillar positions such as quarterback, defensive line, offensive line and cornerback moving forward.
Is that the way general manager Dave Gettleman wants to build his team?
Gettleman has expressed a desire to land a "gold jacket" player in this draft. Barkley seems to fit that criteria with his skills and profile. He can be the Giants' Bell alongside wide receiver Antonio Brown. He can contribute in the running and passing games.
But as long as Beckham is on the Giants' roster, Barkley will never be the centerpiece of the offense. And especially not with wide receiver Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram as complementary pieces.
The Giants will be built as a pass-first offense, unlike the Cowboys and Jaguars who were committed to be power and run-first teams when they drafted Elliott and Fournette, respectively.
A team with Beckham, Shepard and Engram is not designed to feature a power running game. None of the three are known for their blocking.
With this group, Barkley would be a complementary piece, albeit an expensive one with tremendous value in the passing game. Would he be worth it over a potential quarterback of the future?
"If I was New York [and didn't want a quarterback]," the scout said, "I would seriously consider trading out."
For more than one reason.