"Obviously I was only alive for his last two years. But Barry Sanders. With technology today and YouTube and highlight videos and stuff like that, at a young age I was able to see the things he was able to do on a football field," Barkley said Thursday during his NFL Scouting Combine media session. "He was spectacular. He was an awesome runner. He was a guy I looked up to growing up, not only on the field, but off the field. The way he carried himself. He was humble. When he scored a touchdown he gave the ball to the ref. You look at his Football Life (documentary), he was carrying cups to his offensive linemen. I think that's what a running back should be about. I think that's what our position should be about. I try to model myself after that."
Barkley's most Sanders-like moment, of course, came on a dazzling 79-yard touchdown run against USC in the 2017 Rose Bowl in which he made about half the Trojans' defense miss a tackle. But he brings plenty of power and strength to go with that elusiveness. Barkley checked into the combine at 233 pounds and tied for the highest total of bench-press reps (225 pounds) at his position with 29.
Sanders was selected No. 3 overall by the Lions in the 1989 draft, and projections on Barkley's draft value are in that neighborhood. Barkley rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons at Penn State, while Sanders' draft stock was fueled on a single spectacular season at Oklahoma State in which he crashed the record books with 2,628 yards and 37 touchdowns in 1988.
Here are six other things we learned Thursday at the combine:
2. Crazy questions. Alabama RB Bo Scarbrough knew that interview questions at the combine can be on the nutty side at times, but he probably wasn't expecting one to come quite the far out of left field. Or perhaps, this far from the heavens. In Scarbrough's interview with the Cleveland Browns, he was asked whether he thought God is an Auburn fan. Some in Alabama might think it's a fair question, considering the Tigers found themselves with a chance to be the first two-loss team to ever make the College Football Playoff field entering the SEC Championship Game in December. A loss to Georgia ended Auburn's divine fortune, however, and Scarbrough wasn't having it. "I said, 'No, I definitely don't think he is," he said.
3. Mean demeanor. A year ago at the combine, Utah OT Garret Bolles wasn't shy about describing his play as mean and nasty, and spoke of defensive linemen as if they were a mortal enemy. This year, the mean-streak award goes to Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson. The Fighting Irish guard, who is expected to be an early first-round pick, also minced no words. "I want to dominate my opponents and take their will away to play the game by each play, and finishing them past the whistle," Nelson said. "I would consider myself a nasty player."
5. Action Jackson. With the ink barely dry on Jimmy Garoppolo's $137 million contract, the San Francisco 49ers would figure to be an illogical landing spot for Louisville QB Lamar Jackson. But GM John Lynch isn't conceding the most electrifying player in college football. And he's evaluating Jackson as a quarterback, not for another position. "I don't think we can just turn a blind eye to the quarterback position," Lynch said. "... Lamar is a unique athlete, a special athlete."
6. Quotable: "That if they don't draft me, I'm going to give their defense hell." -- LSU RB Derrius Guice on what message he wants to drive home with all 32 teams in combine interviews.
7. Interview pairings. Every prospect at the combine meets with many, if not all, NFL teams during their time in Indianapolis. Here are a few confirmed interviews between clubs and prospects: USC RB Ronald Jones with the New York Giants; Notre Dame OT Mike McGlinchey with the Philadelphia Eagles; Alabama RB Bo Scarbrough with the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants; Auburn OL Braden Smith with the Kansas City Chiefs; Miami RB Mark Walton with the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants; Texas OT Connor Williams with the New York Giants.