Saquon Barkley Rooting For "Heck Of A Back" Kerryon Johnson

The two rookies share a bright future.

Will Burchfield
August 16, 2018 - 3:30 pm

© Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

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If the NFL is a brotherhood, the bond is strongest between players in the same draft class. Though Saquon Barkley said he doesn’t know Kerryon Johnson all that well, he’s pulling for one of his own.

The two running backs debuted in college in 2015. Then they shredded their competition for the next three years. Barkley was the Offensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten last season, Johnson earned the same honor in the SEC. They both entered the 2018 NFL Draft as prized commodities, in a class loaded with talent at their position.

Barkley went second overall to the Giants, Johnson went 43rd overall to the Lions. They found themselves on the same field in Allen Park this week for a trio of joint practices between their respective teams.

Barkley, who was a limited participant and is questionable for Friday night’s preseason game thanks to a minor hamstring strain, said he first chatted with Johnson at the scouting combine in March and again at the Rookie Premiere in May.

Like anyone who’s chatted with Johnson, Barkley enjoyed it.

“He seems like he’s a cool dude. Obviously watching his film from college at Auburn, he was a heck of a back. And as a running back you want to see other running backs succeed, especially the rookie class and the guys you come in with, the guys you’re familiar with,” Barkley said.

Seven running backs were chosen in the first two rounds of this year’s draft, tied for the most since 1995. The last among them was LSU’s Derrius Guice, once a rumored target of the Lions who went 59th overall to the Redskins. Much to Barkley’s dismay, Guice tore his hamstring during training camp last week and is out for the year.

As a fellow 2018 draftee, Barkley felt his pain.

“That’s why seeing Guice get hurt, hurt me really bad. I know Guice pretty well. Not only Kerryon, but Nick Chubb (35th overall to Cleveland), Sony Michel (31st overall to New England), Ronald Jones (38th overall to Tampa Bay), all those backs, I want to see them succeed and have a healthy and great career,” Barkley said.

Johnson, who battled injuries at Auburn but ran for more than 2,200 yards and 29 touchdowns over his final two seasons, is off to a good start. He’s earned high praise throughout training camp, and was one of the Lions’ best players in last week’s preseason opener versus the Raiders. He showed the breadth of his skillset with two carries and two receptions each of 10 yards or more.

The rookie will get a chance to boost his stock further Friday night.  

As for Barkley, it’s unclear whether he’ll play. The most activity he did this week, on the heels of Monday’s injury, was some light jogging. He’d suit up if the decision were his, but in all probability the Giants will play it safe.

“If there were a playoff game tomorrow, could I play? To be completely honest, as a competitor, I’d find a way. I want to play tomorrow. I don’t know what the game plan is, I just know that I’m day to day and taking it step by step,” Barkley said.

Odell Beckham Jr., who’s questionable himself after sitting out the Giants’ preseason opener versus the Browns, said there’s no reason for Barkley to rush back. The guy piled up over 5,000 yards from scrimmage and 51 touchdowns at Penn State. He’s not exactly fighting for a spot on the roster.

“I told him, ‘Take your time. There’s nothing you need to prove to any of us. There’s nothing you need to prove to anybody, not yourself. You know what you’re capable of, I know what you’re capable of, we know what you’re capable of. It’s just about getting healthy,’” Beckham said.

Naturally, Beckham was part of the headliner this week in Allen Park. His foil was Lions cornerback Darius Slay. The two first sparred in college, then again each of the last two seasons, and Beckham enjoyed resuming their friendly rivalry on the practice field.

“I’ve been going against Slay since Mississippi State, so every time I see him it’s always good energy,” Beckham said. “Obviously he’s been one of the best corners in the league. He’s been doing his thing for a while. It’s always been hard every time we’ve gone against each other. We just love to play football and compete.”

Beckham, who confessed he was waiting for the Lions to pick him in the 2014 Draft before they settled on Eric Ebron, said his status for Friday night is still up in the air. He’s coming off ankle surgery, but looked like his explosive self during practices this week.

“It’s just about timing. Whenever it’s time to go, it’ll be time to go. I’m feeling pretty good, I’m feeling fast,” he said with a smile. “It’s starting to come back to me, so I’m just very thankful to be where I’m at right now.”

Barkley and Johnson, two rookies at the outset of promising careers, would say the same.