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Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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2018 NFL draft: How Saquon Barkley could fall to the Bucs and why they shouldn’t take him

There is "mounting belief" in NFL circles that the Browns are going to choose quarterback Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick tonight, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

If that happens, that increases the likelihood of running back Saquon Barkley falling to the Bucs at No. 7, though only slightly.

Here's how: We've heard reports leading up to the NFL draft that Barkley is the Giants' target at No. 2. But we also know, via SNY's Ralph Vacchiano, that the front office is divided on what to do with the pick. "(Sam) Darnold will be in play," Vacchiano wrote recently, "because there are some in the organization who think passing on a franchise quarterback would be nuts."

Say the Giants take Darnold. The Jets hold the No. 3 pick and most certainly will use it on a quarterback. Any of the next three teams — the Browns, Broncos or Colts — could snap up Barkley. For Barkley to slide to the Bucs, they might need the Broncos to take a quarterback or for the Broncos or Colts to trade their pick to a quarterback-needy team.

Considering the Bucs' apparent need for an every-down dual threat running back, it'd be a surprise to see them pass on Barkley, as the Times' Rick Stroud wrote today.

They'd likely take him, but they shouldn't.

A recent FiveThirtyEight analysis found that workhorse running backs aren't as valuable in today's NFL. The Patriots and Saints, for example, have successfully used platoons for years.

The argument for taking Barkley is that he is supremely talented and could single-handedly transform the offense. And maybe he will. But the historical evidence isn't convincing. First-round backs don't separate themselves from backs drafted in other rounds, according to the FiveThirtyEight analysis, authored by Scott Kacsmar.

"Yet when we broke down the numbers for running backs who were drafted between 2002 and 2017 and who actually played in the NFL, we did not find much difference in performance from round to round," Kacsmar wrote. "No matter when backs were drafted, they posted pretty similar numbers in terms of yards per carry and rushing Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average."

In short, good running backs can be found anywhere, according to the analysis.

Kacsmar also looked at the rosters of recent Super Bowl winners and found that almost all of them did not need a running back drafted in the top 10. Only three of the leading rushers on the past 16 Super Bowl winners were first-round picks.

Here's an example that might be familiar to you: the 2002 Bucs. Their leading rusher? Michael Pittman, whom the Cardinals drafted in 1998 … in the fourth round.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.

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