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The 2018 RB Championship: (1) Saquon Barkley vs (3) Rashaad Penny

The RotoViz Running Back Prospect Sweet 16 Tournament matches the top incoming prospects in a head-to-head March Madness style format. Various RotoViz writers break down each matchup with the winner moving on to the next round.


Let’s get into today’s matchup!

(1) Saquon Barkley vs (3) Rashaad Penny

Hasan Rahim – Saquon Barkley

Barkley’s victory in this years bracket was all but a foregone conclusion. Although Penny has similar traits, Barkley is ostensibly in a tier of his own compared to his peers. The RotoViz Prospect Lab’s comps for Barkley consist of several running backs who could single-handedly win you matchups.1 Additionally, the floors on most of the incoming RBs is is likely lower than we anticipate. Which is what makes Barkley stand out compared to the rest. Not only is Barkley an athletic marvel, he’s also been one of the most productive RBs from a prolific age. Not only does Barkley have one of the highest floors among incoming RBs, his prospect profile is likely more impressive than several RBs who have been drafted with top-10 picks in the past few years. A superior receiver to Leonard Fournette, and bigger in size than Christian McCaffrey, Barkley should hopefully take the NFL by storm.

Dave Caban – Saquon Barkley

This is another easy win for Barkley. Penny is an exciting prospect but his body of work can’t hold a candle to Barkley’s. If you’re lucky enough to hold the first pick in your rookie draft, you have one of the easiest decisions you’ll ever make. Don’t overthink it!

John Lapinski – Saquon Barkley

I always try to look for a contrarian angle, but the only real argument against a prospect with Barkley’s impeccable athletic and production profile is his price. Any argument about his price that mentions the uncertainty surrounding rookies who haven’t played in the NFL yet can be applied to Penny as well. We all want to find the under-the-radar stud at a discount price, and Penny fits that bill as well as anyone in this class, but sometimes it’s ok to just accept that the top prospect is legitimately great.

Blair Andrews – Rashaad Penny

If I have the 1.01 and I can’t trade it, I’m taking Barkley without hesitation. But consider that according to a recent poll Brian Malone took, if you have the 1.01, you could trade down to the 1.05 to get Penny, and also get picks 1.07, 1.08, 1.09, and 1.11, thereby also locking up Ronald Jones, D.J. Moore, Calvin Ridley, and Royce Freeman. And after all that you still would have overpaid slightly. Barkley may very well deserve the hype, but at some point the offers become impossible to refuse.

Sean Slavin – Saquon Barkley

Barkley vs. Penny makes for an interesting matchup as they belong to an elite club together. Since 2000, they are two of only eight FBS players with at least 30 rushing TDs, five receiving TDs, and multiple kick return TDs. Of their peers in that club, only Todd Gurley and C.J. Spiller were as efficient as our championship pair. In regard to per-play efficiency, both are standouts in this class with Penny having a slight edge on the ground and Barkley being superior in the air. When you look at overall production however, it’s not even close. No RB in the last six draft classes has been as productive on a per-game basis as Barkley. His 170.8 TANY/G* (schedule-adjusted version of total yards per game that accounts for TDs) edged out Dalvin Cook for that honor. Meanwhile, Penny sits at 94th among RBs in the last six draft classes with 105.8 TANY/G*. Penny’s explosiveness shows up in his per-play efficiency, but Barkley matching that on approximately 60 percent more touches per game shows just how insane of a prospect he is.

Matt Wispe – Saquon Barkley

As much as I prefer Penny’s rushing efficiency with a heavy workload, Barkley’s projected draft stock and likely usage as a receiver makes him as good a team-agnostic prospect as there has been in years.

Shawn Siegele – Saquon Barkley

Superstar prospects2 translate extremely well to the NFL, and Barkley may be the best skill position prospect since Calvin Johnson. I love Blair’s angle, and I’d certainly prefer Penny, Jones, Moore, Ridley, and Freeman, but the ADPs for Jones, Moore, and Freeman will likely rise after the NFL draft. Once that happens, the combined prospects in that area will still be intriguing but perhaps not enough to lose out on a true generational prospect.

Cort Smith – Saquon Barkley

Penny is an excellent prospect but holds flaws just like every other RB in this class … save for Barkley. I own the 1.01 in my main dynasty league, and it would take an absurd offer to move it, mostly for reasons that have nothing to do with optimal game theory. In theory, a trade like the one Blair proposed is a no-brainer because even if Barkley is the best RB prospect ever, he still carries risk. But I confess to occasionally playing for fun, so while Barkley is no guarantee, his ceiling is insane, and I want a piece.

Anthony Amico – Saquon Barkley

In my RB model database, the only prospects with a higher projection than Barkley are Reggie Bush, Spiller, Darren McFadden, Gurley, Adrian Peterson, and LaDainian Tomlinson. All of these prospects were hits.3 Barkley is all but guaranteed to be an impact fantasy player right away, and that is worth the price difference in this matchup.

Final Result

As expected, Barkley dominated this matchup as he has the entire bracket. He is one of the best prospects of the last decade, and better than the RBs who have gone inside the top five in each of the past two drafts. Our staff is smitten with him, as is the rest of the football world.

That does it for this year’s RB Sweet 16! Thanks to all who have contributed, and to all of you who have followed along through the series.

  1. Some of Barkley’s comps include LaDainian Tomlinson, Le’Veon Bell, and Matt Forte.  (back)
  2. When the production numbers, athletic measurables, and NFL draft slot all agree.  (back)
  3. At least one 200 point PPR season in their first three years.  (back)

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