New dad Saquon Barkley set to make the leap to the NFL

By Derek Levarse - [email protected]
Saquon Barkley and Forest City grad Anna Congdon welcomed their daughter, Jada Clare Barkley, on Tuesday. - Instagram.com
Saquon Barkley’s brand is already growing. Represented by Jay-Z’s agency, Roc Nation, Barkley has been rubbing shoulders with the likes of LeBron James in the past month. - Twitter.com
On Thursday, Saquon Barkley will become Penn State’s first draft pick taken in the first round since 2010 and likely the highest Nittany Lion selected since Levi Brown went fifth overall in 2007. - Sports Illustrated

At least this wait will be a little easier for Saquon Barkley.

Projected to go anywhere from first to seventh overall in Thursday night’s first round of the NFL draft, the Penn State star will have some nervous moments before his name gets called.

No big deal.

After experiencing the birth of his daughter on Tuesday, this whole draft thing should be cake.

“Words can’t even describe how I feel right now,” Barkley posted on social media following the delivery of his newborn, Jada Clare Barkley — 8.4 pounds, 20.5 inches — at 5:13 p.m. “You are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Thank God for blessing me with you in my life and into my arms. I pray that I can be the best father to you and help you grow into an amazing woman.”

With both Jada and mom — Forest City grad Anna Congdon — doing well, it’s off from Scranton to Texas, where the draft will be held at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium.

When Barkley met with media at Penn State’s pro day in March, he said he initially planned to stay around his hometown of Coplay for the draft, but his mother convinced him not to pass up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He will be joined by a contingent that includes Nittany Lions coach James Franklin and former Penn State running backs coach Charles Huff, Barkley told The Morning Call.

And now that the day is here, Barkley will get to live out the scene that has been playing in his head for years.

“Something I’ve been dreaming about as a little kid is hearing, ‘This team drafts Saquon Barkley, running back,’” Barkley said. “And going up there and being able to shake the commissioner’s hand and take that picture. That’s a special moment.

“And no matter what you do in the NFL, whether you play for two years or 12, you’re always going to be able to look back at that moment and have that picture and be able to share that moment with my kid.”

Well, the kid is here. The mystery now is which jersey dad will be holding up in that picture.

Barkley and his agency — Jay-Z’s Roc Nation — have been aggressively marketing the running back, who already has an endorsement deal with Nike and graces the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated with Barkley’s quote, “Why should I not go No. 1?”

Barkley most frequently appears as the best talent in the draft on the big boards of pundits.

“He’s the best player (in the draft class) I’ve seen on tape,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “He’s got more upside both on and off the field than (Cowboys star) Zeke Elliott.”

But odds are that won’t translate to the No. 1 pick when the Cleveland Browns make their selection after 8 p.m. Many NFL teams aren’t crazy about paying a running back upwards of $30 million of guaranteed money on a rookie contract when the position can often be filled effectively on a budget.

All signs are pointing to the Browns nabbing a quarterback with the top pick, with USC’s Sam Darnold and Wyoming’s Josh Allen as the most likely candidates.

Next up are the New York Giants at No. 2. And Big Blue could badly use a feature back to pair with Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr.

“I’ve heard very strongly that there are important people in the building who believe in Saquon Barkley and being a physical, run-first team,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said on a recent conference call. “Barkley can be the face of the team moving forward several years. It feels inevitable that Saquon Barkley is going to be a New York Giant.”

Barkley, for one, would welcome that.

Born in the Bronx before moving to the Lehigh Valley, Barkley has set his goals beyond just being a successful NFL player — he wants to inspire future generations of football players from the Big Apple.

“Hopefully it’s New York,” Barkley told Sports Illustrated. “That’d be perfect because it’s home and I could go to the Bronx, I could go to the five boroughs. … I want to get to the point where at the end of my career, I can say that I sent kids to college.”

Barkley actually grew up a fan of the New York Jets, who have traded up to grab the No. 3 pick. But the Jets appear set on drafting a franchise quarterback themselves.

Cleveland picks again at No. 4, the next most likely spot for Barkley to land. The Denver Broncos are up at No. 5 but are aggressively shopping the pick. The Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are at No. 6 and No. 7, respectively, and no mock drafts have Barkley sliding past the Bucs, who recently cut leading rusher Doug Martin.

Regardless, Barkley will become the first Lions player to be drafted in the first round since Jared Odrick went 28th overall in 2010. Levi Brown was the last to go in the top five (2007) and the school hasn’t had a top-two pick since Courtney Brown and LaVar Arrington went one-two back in 2000.

There remains a chance that Barkley could be joined in the first round by Mike Gesicki, rated by some services as the top tight end in the draft. Gesicki has appeared in a handful of mock drafts at the tail end of the first night.

In all, it projects to be a busy weekend for Penn State, which also has Marcus Allen, DaeSean Hamilton, Christian Campbell, Jason Cabinda, Grant Haley, Troy Apke, Saeed Blacknall and Brendan Mahon among its draft hopefuls.

But on Thursday, it will be Barkley in the spotlight, a position he has relished in the past month.

“You’ve gotta have fun,” Barkley said. “You’ve gotta enjoy the moment, to be blessed with this opportunity. Some people can’t walk. Some people can’t see. Some people would love to be in my position. That’s why I can’t take anything for granted.”

Saquon Barkley and Forest City grad Anna Congdon welcomed their daughter, Jada Clare Barkley, on Tuesday.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_DbmQbvmVwAAc82D201842514509657.jpgSaquon Barkley and Forest City grad Anna Congdon welcomed their daughter, Jada Clare Barkley, on Tuesday. Instagram.com

Saquon Barkley’s brand is already growing. Represented by Jay-Z’s agency, Roc Nation, Barkley has been rubbing shoulders with the likes of LeBron James in the past month.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_DaZJdocU0AA04M62018425141529779.jpgSaquon Barkley’s brand is already growing. Represented by Jay-Z’s agency, Roc Nation, Barkley has been rubbing shoulders with the likes of LeBron James in the past month. Twitter.com

On Thursday, Saquon Barkley will become Penn State’s first draft pick taken in the first round since 2010 and likely the highest Nittany Lion selected since Levi Brown went fifth overall in 2007.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_SI-2018-NFL-Draft-Preview-Saquon-Barkley2018425144748463.jpgOn Thursday, Saquon Barkley will become Penn State’s first draft pick taken in the first round since 2010 and likely the highest Nittany Lion selected since Levi Brown went fifth overall in 2007. Sports Illustrated

By Derek Levarse

[email protected]

Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse

Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse