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Penn State Football: Which Heisman Winning Running Back Is Saquon Barkley Most Like?

by on June 28, 2017 2:00 PM

Saquon Barkley currently sits at 7-1 to win the Heisman Trophy in at least one establishment in the great city of Las Vegas. it isn't good enough to make him the favorite, but it is good enough to get him in the conversation.

And good enough isn't the question here. Nobody really doubts that Barkley has what it takes to win the trophy from a skill standpoint. He is on a shortlist for the title of best running back in college football in 2017. So it stands to reason he has what it takes to win the sport's biggest individual award. 

But what about his stats? Skills are one thing, production is what gets the job done. And in the end, the numbers, not the overall raw talent is what matters.

Since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1994 seven different running backs have taken home the Heisman Trophy at the end of the year. All of them rushed more yards and more yards per carry than Barkley, although Derrick Henry, the most recent back to win the award only did so by .1 yards a carry.

These are the winners.

Derrick Henry:

  • 395 rushes, 2219 yards (5.6 YPC), 28 TDs
  • 10 catches, 97 yards, 0 TDs

Mark Ingram:

  • 271 rushes, 1678 yards (6.19 YPC), 17 TDs
  • 32 catches, 334 yards, 3 TDs

Reggie Bush:

  • 200 rushes, 1740 yards (8.7 YPC), 16 TDs
  • 37 catches, 478 yards, 2 TDs

Ron Dayne:

  • 337 rushes, 2034 yards (6.0 YPC), 20 TDs
  • 29 catches, 307 yards, 1 TD

Ricky Williams

  • 391 rushes, 2327 yards (7.09 YPC), 29 TDs
  • 29 catches, 307 yards, 1 TD

Eddie George:

  • 328 rushes, 1927 yards (5.8 YPC), 24 TDs
  • 47 receptions, 417 yards, 1 TD

Rashaan Salaam

  • 298 rushes, 2005 yards (6.8 YPC), 24 TDs
  • 24 catches, 294 yards, 0 TDs

There are some extra special teams yards and touchdowns as well with this bunch, Reggie Bush perhaps the most noted of the ground on special teams, but for this exercise we stuck to the bread and butter of the position for the sake of uniformity. 

Barkley:

  • 272 rushes, 1496 yards (5.5 YPC), 18 TDs
  • 28 catches, 402 yards, 5 TDs

So which back can Barkley hope to replicate? We'll assume for the sake of argument that Barkley doesn't break the 2,000 yard barrier simply because Penn State's offense will be too balanced. It seems unlikely his 5.5 yards per carry is going to rocket up much higher (although it will help his cause greatly) and his carry total might not go much higher either. It's not impossible, but perhaps unlikely in this climate.

That cuts out Henry, Dayne, Williams and Salaam. 

At 1,496 yards last season Barkley is within striking distance of Ingram's 1,678 and already surpassed his touchdown total with 18 for the Nittany Lions in 2016 while Ingram rushed for 17.

This brings us to the biggest stat that Barkley might be able to bank on. His receptions. In 2016 Barkley pulled down 28 passes, more than three of the past seven running backs to win the Heisman. his 402 yards receiving was only bettered by Bush and George, and in both cases by a somewhat marginal amount.

But touchdowns though the air, Barkley outpaced the entire group with five receiving scores. Ingram is the only of the bunch to even catch more than two touchdown passes, and neither Salaam or Dayne had a single reception for a touchdown. 

So assuming Penn State wins, it might just come down a bit better season on the ground and not much more. If Barkley can only slightly improve on his 2016 season he'll likely outrush two of the past three Heisman winning running backs, and have more TDs and receiving yards to go with it.

The key of course is winning, and in the end that's partially out of Barkley's control.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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