PHOENIX — It may indeed have been a tough decision for Saquon Barkley, as he said all along. But with his junior season now in the books, it was the only one he could truly make.
With nothing left to prove in college football and millions of dollars awaiting him and his family as a sure-fire top draft pick in April, Barkley announced that he would be headed to the NFL on Sunday night.
The star running back posted a lengthy message to Penn State and its fans on Instagram as he takes the inevitable next step in his career by foregoing his senior season with the Nittany Lions.
“God has blessed me with the opportunity to pursue the dream I have had since I was a little kid of playing in the NFL,” Barkley wrote, thanking his family and coaches and teammates at both Penn State and Whitehall High School, where he grew to become of the nation’s best players.
“I hope I have left a lasting impression on this university, football program and community at large. It has been an honor and a privilege to be able to call Penn State home and represent the Blue & White and all of the great players who came before me and will follow after me.”
Barkley wrote that he promised his parents and Lions coach James Franklin that he would eventually return to finish his degree.
But the life-changing opportunity of being a top pick comes next. And while the modern NFL has taken to viewing running backs as largely disposable and not worthy of selecting high in the draft, that trend may be changing for elite talents like Barkley.
The immediate success of the top drafted running backs before him the last two seasons — Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott and Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette both went No. 4 overall — bodes well for Barkley, who can play on all downs.
Barkley’s announcement came shortly after the NFL regular season ended, meaning the draft order was set. Cleveland has the first and fourth picks, the New York Giants are at No. 2, Indianapolis is No. 3 and Denver rounds out the top five.
Franklin said previously that he had discussed the NFL with Barkley before the 2017 season and strongly hinted that he told Barkley he couldn’t pass up leaving early.
“Saquon Barkley is a once in a lifetime type of player and it has been an honor to coach him and watch him grow into a fantastic young man,” Franklin said in a school release. “Saquon has left a legacy both on and off the field that will long be remembered by the Penn State community.”
Though he finished fourth in Heisman voting this season, narrowly missing out a trip to New York as a finalist, Barkley finished second in the nation in all-purpose yards and proved his worth as a rusher, receiver, blocker and return man.
He also spearheaded the Lions to back-to-back 11-win seasons, an improbably Big Ten championship and almost certainly two straight top-10 finishes in the polls.
More than that, he became the face of a program that had been battered by scandal and sanctions, leading the Lions into a new era.
His affinity for Penn State was clear leading up to his final collegiate performance in Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl, where he racked up 175 total yards and scored two touchdowns, including a school-record 92-yarder that helped edge Washington.
Afterward, Barkley said he wanted to enjoy the win and didn’t set a timetable for an announcement.
“A lot of people think it’s an easy decision,” Barkley said. “Because you’re able to play football in the NFL and make money and be able to support your family. But (Penn State) is special to me. I’m kind of torn.”
He leaves the Lions as the program’s second all-time leading rusher and one of its most dynamic players to ever suit up for the school.
“I am so thankful to my family for all of the sacrifices they made to get me in this position,” Barkley wrote. “To my teammates and coaches for the last three years, it has been a blessing to call you guys family.”