INDIANAPOLIS — Saquon Barkley didn’t flinch when asked about the possibility of being drafted by the Browns.
Yes, he knows they went 0-16 last year and 1-31 over the past two seasons.
While some may run from the challenge of turning around a franchise that hasn’t had a winning season in a decade, Barkley was adamant he’d embrace it.
“That’d be awesome,” the Penn State running back said Thursday at the scouting combine. “Something bigger than you. If you go to a team like that, obviously they’ve had some rough years, but I think they’re just a couple of pieces away. They do have a lot of young talent. They’ve brought in a new offensive coordinator.
“They only won one game, but they were in a lot of games. You want to be a part of something like that. Something that’s bigger than yourself. Something that will leave a legacy. Being a part of something special.”
Plenty of Browns fans were already enamored with Barkley for his immense talent and breakaway ability. The relationship went to the next level after the comments circulated on social media.
Barkley (6-foot, 233 pounds) was impressive throughout a long interview with a mob of reporters. He said he’d be blessed to play for any team and be picked anywhere. And he sounded like he meant it.
“You grow up as a little kid dreaming of playing in the NFL,” he said. “If it’s the Browns, if it’s the Giants or whoever, I’m gonna come in with my head low and ready to work.”
The Browns will have the chance to take Barkley with the No. 1 pick. They would make history and buck conventional wisdom if they passed on a quarterback to take him.
Penn State’s Ki-Jana Carter was the last running back taken to start a draft, in 1995 by Cincinnati. He didn’t live up to expectations, starting 14 games in seven seasons with 1,144 career rushing yards.
More likely is the Browns pick Barkley at No. 4, if the Giants and Colts pass.
Some people in the NFL believe the top five is too high to take a running back, but the recent success of high picks Todd Gurley (No. 10 by the Rams in 2015), Ezekiel Elliott (No. 4 by the Cowboys in 2016) and Leonard Fournette (No. 4 by the Jaguars in 2017) has convinced others the right back is worth the draft capital.
“Having a very good runner is important to an offensive football team and to a team in general,” coach Hue Jackson said Wednesday. “You get to kind of dictate the game.
“There’s been some fine players that have come out the last couple years. You know this all changes from year to year, so here’s an opportunity. I think the running back class is strong, obviously spearheaded by Barkley. But at the same time, there’s a lot of other really good players in this draft that are running backs.”
The position depth could lead the Browns to address another need at the top of the draft and grab a running back in the second round with No. 33 or No. 35. LSU’s Derrius Guice, USC’s Ronald Jones, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny and Georgia’s Sony Michel would be candidates.
Dorsey found Kareem Hunt in the third round last year as GM of the Chiefs, and Hunt led the NFL in rushing. That doesn’t mean Barkley can be eliminated from the conversation.
“This is a really good draft for running backs. There’s some very talented running backs in this thing,” Dorsey said. “That’s not to say whoever the first running back is taken can’t be a franchise difference-maker, so that’s how you have to look at these things, as well.
“Where was Gale Sayers picked back in the day? He was picked really early up there and he was a difference-maker, too, so it’s a case-by-case study.”
Sayers was picked at No. 4 by the Bears in 1965.
Barkley said he’s studied NFL backs, singling out former Lions great Barry Sanders.
“I’ve never wanted to be like anybody. That’s something my dad taught me growing up,” he said. “Be the next you.
“But I am a fan of the game. I am a fan of the position. I watch everyone. I try to take pieces of people’s games and add them to mine and be the most complete back I can possibly be.”
Barkley tied for the running back lead Thursday with 29 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press. He played 38 games for Penn State, rushing for 3,843 yards, a 5.7 average and 43 touchdowns and catching 102 passes for 1,195 yards, an 11.7 average and eight touchdowns.
He called versatility his strength and noted he can run inside or out, catch the ball and pass block. He was at his best with the Nittany Lions busting loose for long touchdown runs.
“I’m very confident in myself,” he said. “Whether the ball’s on the 1-yard line or the 99-yard line, I like to think I can find a way to get into the end zone.
“I can do it all. I can go over top of you. I can beat you with speed. I can beat you with some wiggle. I can run through you.”
The bragging was short-lived. When asked the impact he could have in the NFL, he refused to get ahead of himself.
“I can’t see the future and sit here and say I’m going to rush for this amount of yards and have this amount of touchdowns. That’s all in God’s plan,” he said. “But I do know that whatever team I go to, I’m going to work. That’s something I’ve been doing since I was a sophomore in high school. Working and pushing myself and pushing my teammates.
“I’m going to continue to try to be a leader and a competitor. If I’m able to do all those things, everything else will take care of itself.”