Saquon Barkley Declares for 2018 NFL Draft After Fiesta Bowl Win

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 31, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA - NOVEMBER 18:  Saquon Barkley #26 of the Penn State Nittany Lions carries the ball on a touchdown run during the first quarter against the Nebraska Cornhuskers on November 18, 2017 at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania. Penn State defeats Nebraska 56-44.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley announced Sunday that he will forgo his senior season with the Nittany Lions to enter the 2018 NFL draft.

Barkley made it official with the following Instagram post:

The announcement came down after Barkley rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns in Penn State's 35-28 win over Washington in the Fiesta Bowl.

Barkley arrived at Penn State as a 4-star prospect in 2015, but he was only rated as the No. 13 running back in that year's recruiting class, based on 247Sports' composite rankings. He easily outplayed that placement.

The Whitehall High School (Pa.) product enjoyed a solid freshman campaign to the tune of 1,076 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns.

He became a household name among football fans during his breakout 2016 season, though. The dual-threat offensive weapon racked up 1,898 yards from scrimmage on 300 touches with 22 scores. He was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year for his efforts.

Barkley backed up those numbers by tallying 1,271 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns to go along with 54 receptions for 632 yards and three scores in 2017. He also threw a touchdown pass and became a weapon on special teams, returning two kickoffs for scores for the Nittany Lions.

Yet the junior rusher, who faced Heisman Trophy and NFL draft hype throughout the year, said he always tried to remain focused on the next task, per Kimberly Jones of NFL.com.

"If I don't focus on the season, and focus on being the best player and teammate I can be, none of the rest of the stuff will matter," Barkley said in October. "How can I focus on the NFL and my future when I got (our games) coming up?"

Now Barkley can shift his focus to the NFL. He's a prospect without any major red flags. While he endured some lackluster rushing days in 2017, those can be attributed to increased defensive attention, and he almost always made up for the lost production as a receiver out of the backfield.

His tools are off the charts. He can run between the tackles or break a big play to the outside. He's an asset in the passing game whether serving as a check-down option or splitting out wide. And, while it's rare for an NFL team to use its starting RB as a kick returner, he's proved his value there, too.

All signs point to Barkley coming off the board somewhere in the top 10. A strong draft process paired with some mediocre showings from the class' quarterbacks could push him near the top.