With the NFL Draft finally within sight – and thank goodness, because the pre-draft spin and silliness seems to get more ridiculous every year – Sports Illustrated’s most recent edition features multiple covers and features on two of the biggest names in this year’s draft: Saquon Barkley and Baker Mayfield.
In the story on Barkley, written by Ben Baskin and currently on the magazine’s website, we learn that Barkley’s “handlers” – he’s represented by Roc Nation Sports, an arm of hip-hop superstar and businessman Jay Z’s Roc Nation empire – think being taken No. 1 overall would be a negative for the running back.
What’s wrong with being taken No. 1?
“They don’t want him in Cleveland,” Baskin writes. “They want him to go second to the Giants and play in the media capital of the world. That’s where you can become the Face of the League. His manager even implored him to pull an Eli Manning and demand that the Browns not draft him. Barkley never considered the option. Sure, he likes the idea of being back in the city of his birth—even playing for the Jets, the team he grew up rooting for. And of course he’s heard countless people tell him that if he ends up in Cleveland, his career will be ruined.”
But Barkley disagrees, and, according to Baskin, has a vision for bringing a championship to Cleveland, just as LeBron James did. Doing that, becoming a generational NFL player, those things are just as good for the Barkley brand.
UPDATE: Not surprisingly, Barkley’s agent Kim Miale told cleveland.com Browns reporter Mary Kay Cabot that no one at Roc Nation is steering Barkley away from the Browns.
“I can say on behalf of our entire team that we would be thrilled for Saquon to go to whichever team drafts him,” Miale told Cabot via text. “We know he will be a resounding success for any team fortunate enough to select him.’
Barkley believes he’s worthy of the top pick
“Why should I not go No. 1?,” Barkley asks, according to Baskin. Other top players in this draft class have a “but”, one or more negatives, but Barkley says there aren’t any with him, on or off the field.
And the 21-year-old has a heck of an expert asserting that he is: Gil Brandt, the longtime former Dallas Cowboys personnel man and revered talent evaluator. According to Brandt, Barkley ranks highest of the 492 running backs he’s graded in his 60-year career on his nine-point scale, which assess five areas: character; quickness and agility; strength and explosion; competitiveness; and mental alertness.
Barkley’s childhood hero – his current hero – is Hall of Famer Curtis Martin
Born in The Bronx though raised in Bethlehem, Penn., Barkley’s earliest football memories are of watching Martin as a member of the New York Jets.
Sports Illustrated set up the opportunity for Barkley to meet Martin, and the two played chess together at a members-only club. Barkley, who picked up chess just a month earlier after learning Martin is a longtime player, was star-struck.
“As they sit and talk, Saquon keeps turning to his father, Alibay, expressing his disbelief that he is sitting and talking with Curtis Martin,” Baskin writes. “He says he’s trying to act cool and not seem like a little kid. When Saquon was two years old, he’d sit by his dad’s feet every Sunday as Alibay lounged on the couch, watching Martin play. ‘One day that will be me,’ Saquon would say. Now Martin is telling Saquon that he has the chance to be better than he ever was.
“‘You get guys that have my type of potential every year,’ Martin says. ‘But every once in a while you get a guy like you that comes into the league’.”
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