ARLINGTON, Texas — The New York Giants chose Penn State running back Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft on Thursday night, capping the most hectic two-day period in Barkley’s 21 years.
Minutes before, the Cleveland Browns shocked much of the NFL by going for Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, not USC QB Sam Darnold, with the first overall selection.
That pick set up an interesting decision for the Giants. But they also passed on Darnold and took Barkley, who has been called a generational prospect and likened to such all-time greats as Barry Sanders.
Barkley, a native of the Bronx who grew up a New York Jets fan, became a father on Tuesday, arrived in Dallas on Wednesday afternoon, and took over as the face of his other hometown team on Thursday. Barkley’s departure for the draft was delayed as he and his girlfriend, Anna Congdon, welcomed Jada Clare into the world.
“Coming home,” Barkley said at a news conference following his selection, though he now lives in the Lehigh Valley. “The last 48 hours have been crazy for me – crazy in a good way. I was able to be accepted into fatherhood and have my first child, my daughter, Jada. From here now, I’ve got to do everything to represent her and try to set an example for her.”
It’s difficult to argue with 3,843 career yards – second-best in Penn State history – or with a star of unequaled athleticism at 234 pounds who projects such a humble, thoughtful demeanor. Barkley wowed scouts at the NFL Scouting Combine, where he ran his 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds, recorded a 41-inch vertical leap, and bench-pressed 225 pounds 29 times.
Barkley is the highest-drafted Nittany Lion since Courtney Brown and LaVar Arrington, who went first and second overall in 2000.
“He’s special,” draft analyst Mike Mayock said in his position-by-position breakdown for Philly.com. “Zeke Elliott, [Leonard] Fournette, and [Todd] Gurley all were top-10 picks and made their teams better on Day 1. I’ve got this kid rated higher than those three. And he’s as clean off the field as anybody in the draft.”
Barkley was widely thought to be the Giants’ target for weeks. His pick wasn’t a shock. But some Giants observers will argue the selection nonetheless, given that quarterback Eli Manning is 37, and the team passed on what might have been its best chance to draft his successor in the foreseeable future. Running backs, even dominant ones, tend to have much shorter careers than franchise quarterbacks. The Eagles might have blocked the Giants from making a second-round move for Louisville QB Lamar Jackson when they traded their first-rounder to the Ravens, who drafted Jackson with the final selection of the night.
The Giants second-guessing situation got spicier when the rival Jets took Darnold third overall – meaning Giants fans can monitor his progress in their stadium and on their sports pages and TV screens.
Barkley said he was taking photos with his family after being picked, then headed to the press conference, only to cross paths with Darnold.
“I said, ‘Congratulations, and I’ll see you in New York,’ and he said, ‘We’ll look forward to playing each other,.’ ” Barkley said.
Cleveland, picking again fourth overall, went for Ohio State’s Denzel Ward, a gifted cover corner whose slight frame worries some analysts; Ward might have been available a little later, with a trade-back. But the Browns wouldn’t be the Browns if everyone understood their logic.
The fifth pick was the draft’s most heralded pass rusher, N.C. State’s Bradley Chubb, tempting enough to make Denver pass up taking a QB. Then came Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, to Indianapolis, which doesn’t need a QB but certainly does need to protect Andrew Luck.
Overall, this first round was largely about jockeying for quarterbacks, out of what is thought to be an exceptionally deep group. For the first time, four were taken among the top 10 picks, after Buffalo traded up to seventh to nab Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Arizona traded up to 10th to draft UCLA’s Josh Rosen.
Earlier in the day, several-year-old racially-insensitive tweets from Allen’s account surfaced on social media, leading some observers to believe he would drop. That didn’t happen.
The Cardinals’ trade-up for Rosen meant that for the second time in three years, Sam Bradford got to watch a team draft his replacement.
Rounding out the top 10: Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, eighth, to Chicago, just before San Francisco drafted Mike McGlinchey – the Notre Dame offensive tackle who graduated from Penn Charter, as did his cousin, Matt Ryan. McGlinchey was a bright spot in a draft lacking offensive-line talent at tackle.
Later, Imhotep grad D.J. Moore was the first wide receiver picked when the Carolina Panthers chose him at No. 25. He left Maryland early to declare for the draft after finishing his junior season with the fifth-most receptions in school history.
Just before the Eagles went on the clock, the New England Patriots made their second pick of the night, grabbing Georgia running back Sony Michel. Several analysts had linked Michel to the Eagles, who then traded their pick for the 52nd pick in the second round, a second-round pick next year, and a flip of fourth-round picks on Saturday.
Some Eagles fans on social media thought hints from draft insiders about a special, emotional moment in store during the first round had something to do with honoring their first-ever Super Bowl title. But the references apparently were to Pittsburgh linebacker Ryan Shazier, who suffered a spinal injury last season that has threatened his career. Shazier slowly walked onto the stage to announce the Steelers’ pick.