I have probably watched parts of ten bowl games this holiday season, and I can draw at least one conclusion from all that TV: I have yet to fall in love with a college running back. Kenjon Barner didn’t do it for me tonight, either.
I like Barner – insofar as I think a team drafting him in the late third round gets good value. I just don’t think he’ll last that long, and that’s probably a mistake.
On the plus side, Barner catches the ball well, seems to follow blockers effectively, and shows pretty good burst. His top gear may impress at the combine.
Most importantly, Barner doesn’t fumble. Ever. At least this season. For a guy who got as many as 38 carries in a game, that’s saying a lot. What’s more, ball security seems to be in Barner’s nature – or at least, whatever nurturing he got from the Oregon staff didn’t sink in for teammates De’Anthony Thomas (three fumbles in much more limited action) or Marcus Mariota (I stopped counting at eight or nine).
Barner’s Fiesta Bowl performance left me just as uninspired as the rest of the tape I watched on him, however. He is small and runs upright, searching desperately for a cutback lane, a la Chris Johnson. Consequently, Barner doesn’t break tackles. And, contrary to Todd Blackledge’s comment during the Fiesta Bowl, he doesn’t break many ankles, either.
The most effective role for Barner may be as a kick returner and adopting a bit of Darren Sproles’s role: the occasional carry, plus a motion out of the backfield to create a mismatch with a safety or linebacker. This amounts to twenty snaps a game or so. Teams have the opportunity in the first sixty to seventy draft slots to add players who see much more time than that. Anywhere higher than the back end of the third round is too much to pay for Barner.