Saquon Barkley kept his cool when his name was called. When he made his way up to the stage. And when he walked over to shake the hand of commissioner Roger Goodell.
The moment that finally caught the Penn State star — at least a little bit? When he was handed his New York Giants jersey, looked down and saw his name on it.
Barkley closed his eyes, shook his head and beamed his biggest smile of the night. He was headed back to his birthplace.
In an era where NFL teams have largely devalued the running back position, Barkley continued to make a name for himself in the sport after being drafted second overall in Thursday’s first round of the draft.
Born in the Bronx, raised in the Lehigh Valley and honed at Penn State, Barkley made some history, becoming the first running back to go No. 2 since Reggie Bush in 2006.
He is Penn State’s highest draft pick since Courtney Brown and LaVar Arrington went first and second, respectively, in 2000. He also broke an eight-year drought for the Nittany Lions in the first round since Jared Odrick went 28th overall in 2010.
“I’m just truly excited and honored to be a part of the New York Giants,” Barkley said on the ESPN broadcast a few minutes after being picked. “When I got to visit their program, I fell in love. You walk in, you see the Super Bowl (trophies) right away, and you see the team’s about winning. And hopefully I’ll be able to help as quickly as possible.”
That’s the idea.
The Giants chose not to pick a successor to Eli Manning, hoping to pair Barkley immediately with the future Hall of Fame quarterback and dynamic receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
New York signed veteran free agent rusher Jonathan Stewart, but he spent much of his career splitting carries while with the Carolina Panthers.
In other words, Barkley will likely have a chance to shine right away.
“We felt Saquon was the best player in the draft,” Giants general manager Dave Gettleman told reporters at the draft in Arlington, Texas, after making the pick. “… I haven’t seen a guy like this in a long time.
“We all know he can catch the heck out of the rock. He can pick up the blitz. He’s powerful, runs through tackles. … This kid makes our quarterback better, our line better, our receivers better, our defense better. He’s going to be great for our culture.”
Asked if it was ultimately an easy pick for him, Gettleman responded, “At the end of the day, if I have to be honest, yes.”
Barkley, who was still wearing the hospital bracelet from the birth of his daughter, Jada, on Tuesday in Scranton, said he was anxious to play with Manning and Beckham — one of his favorite players — in particular.
Beckham reciprocated on Thursday night, tweeting that “26 in the big blue jersey WILL be the number one selling jersey in America next year. Takin’ all bets!? (Saquon), can’t wait.”
Barkley also joined a fraternity of 11 Penn State running backs to be drafted in the first round.
“So happy for Saquon,” former Lions star Ki-Jana Carter — who remains the last running back to be drafted first overall — wrote on Instagram. “Wish he got picked 1 but at 2 he’s in a GREAT situation and the missing piece. Got a QB, got dynamic WR and now a GREAT RB! That offense is going to cause PROBLEMS!
“Can’t wait to see him on Sundays next year.”
The day turned into something of a commercial for Barkley and the Penn State program, as Lions coach James Franklin was part of the running back’s entourage in Arlington and appeared live on multiple networks to tout Barkley.
“I’ve been doing this 23 years, and I’ve never seen a guy like this guy,” Franklin told the NFL Network panel in the afternoon. “And he’s a better person than he is a player.”
Barkley himself represented both Penn State and Whitehall High School, including having logos of both schools stitched onto opposite linings of his tuxedo jacket.
Penn State teammate Mike Gesicki was still undrafted at the end of the night, as the tight end was considered a borderline first-round pick. He figures to be the next Lions player off the board when the draft continues at 7 p.m. Friday with the second and third rounds.
Other Lions who could end up hearing their names called on the second day include safety Marcus Allen and wideout DaeSean Hamilton.
Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse