Oregon has somewhat of a bad wrap for producing players who don’t necessarily project to the NFL. Their offense is very unique and about as far away from the NFL game as you can get. They use small, speedy role players in space that spread out defenses and eat up yards. In the NFL, it is much harder to spread defenses and even harder to create separation in the field. It is pretty hard to project these little weapons as you can’t really view them as traditional running backs. You have to project them as playmakers.
Last year LaMichael James was the running back with question marks. His injury history was the primary concern, but his size and build were certainly questioned by many. James is an extremely dynamic runner who was a Heisman runner up and highlight reel player for Oregon. He was drafted late in the second round by the San Fransisco 49ers and has yet to receive a carry.
Next year, people are already discussing where DeAnthony Thomas will go. Thomas is considered one of the fastest players in the game and is a do-it-all weapon in the Oregon offense. However, this year the guy is senior running back Kenjon Barner.
Much like I mentioned about Eddie Lacy last week, Barner is stuck between two very hyped players in James and Thomas. Barner has produced very well in a reserve role in his time at Oregon, and he has been huge for the Oregon offense this year. His awesome season came to a peak this week against USC.
Barner rushed for 321 yards and had five touchdowns against the talented yet underachieving USC defense. Barner showed off his excellent cutback ability and quickness avoiding would-be tacklers and embarrassing the USC defense.
At the NFL level Barner, like James, has less-than-ideal size for the running back position. He will probably measure in at the combine at 5’9″-5’10″ and around 195 pounds. His build reminds of Titans’ Chris Johnson or the Rams’ Daryl Richardson. He certainly isn’t too small to succeed, but he doesn’t have the lower body thickness to carry the load at the NFL level.
So if he isn’t going to be a workhorse at the NFL level, what is he going to be? A weapon.
Barner can be an explosive complimentary back and special teams contributor. He doesn’t have the receiving abilities of James or Thomas, but they are certainly solid enough. Explosive athletes are always in high demand at the NFL level, but that doesn’t mean it is easy to predict where Barner will go.
If you are looking at him just as a running back, he is a day three project who needs to add weight and ride the bench for a year or two. If you are looking at him as a weapon to use his speed and disregarding his weight, I think he could go as high as the second round.
His game reminds of current Chris Johnson’s. He isn’t going to be able to create yards himself using his strength, and will rely upon what his o-line gives him. However, like Johnson, he has the explosion to do more with what his o-line gives him than traditional backs. He doesn’t have Johnson’s straight-line speed, but he makes up for it with added quickness.
Barner will be a guy that I watch very closely as we approach the offseason. I think he has more NFL potential and less injury history than his former teammate LaMichael James, but he also has less of a resume and much less hype. If he tests as well or better than James, he could go in the same day two range.