INDIANAPOLIS — Saquon Barkley seems to have sprung to life from the pages of a comic book.
The former Penn State star measured in at 6-foot and 233 pounds this week during the NFL Scouting Combine. He posted an astonishing 29 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press Thursday at the Indiana Convention Center. And he's expected to run the 40-yard dash somewhere in the 4.4-second range Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
After spending three years as the face of a resurgent Nittany Lions football program, he's something akin to a king in Happy Valley. And he could probably give the Black Panther a run for his money.
There's a reason many evaluators believe he is the best player in this year's draft class.
"Good player," Colts general manager Chris Ballard said when asked about Barkley as a prospect. "We are all watching the same TV. The guy is a good player."
Good enough to take with the third overall pick if he's available when Indianapolis goes on the clock?
That's just one spot higher than Dallas drafted Ezekiel Elliott in 2016 and Jacksonville took Leonard Fournette last year.
But Barkley might not last even that long.
"I learned early if you think a guy’s got a chance to be a difference-maker at any position, doesn’t matter, you take him," Ballard said. "You take him."
The Browns might have the best shot at grabbing this particular difference maker with picks at No. 1 and No. 4. The Giants also figure to have some level of interest at No. 2.
Elliott and Fournette — along with the Rams' Todd Gurley, who went at No. 10 in 2015 — have helped lead a running back resurgence that has paved the way for serious discussion of Barkley at the top of the draft.
No running back has been selected No. 1 overall since Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter in 1995. And just a few years ago, the notion of that streak ending any time soon would have been laughable.
With the proliferation of the spread offenses, the position was devalued. Runners became fungible commodities that could be replaced — often on the cheap — every few years.
But athletes like Elliott, Fournette and Gurley have changed the conversation. They're versatile enough to play on all three downs and have as much impact in the passing game as they do on the ground.
Barkley is well aware of that evolution and his place in it.
"You want to be a complete back," he said. "You want to be a guy who’s on the field for three downs. That’s something I had to do in college. I definitely struggled with that my freshman year. A lot. I’m not where I want to be with that. I’m not satisfied with any part of my game."
Scouts are significantly more enamored.
In three seasons at Penn State, Barkley rushed for 3,843 yards and 43 touchdowns. He also caught 102 passes for 1,195 yards and eight scores.
The receiving numbers improved each year, topping out with 54 catches, 632 yards and three touchdowns last season.
For good measure, he added 500 yards and two touchdowns on kickoff returns.
"Obviously, he’s a tremendous football player, he’s had a tremendous career," Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson said. "And again, just like him and every player that’s here that we feel is worthy of that pick, that early pick, we’re going to dive into him and dig into him and make sure we understand them as well as we can and how would they fit to help us win here at the Cleveland Browns."
Barkley's already been a part of one major rebuilding project.
He helped lead the Nittany Lions from the depths of probation to a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl berth during his sophomore year. Last season, Penn State was an early national championship contender and finished 11-2 with a 35-28 victory against Washington in the Fiesta Bowl.
Barkley isn't concerned with where he's drafted, but it would fulfill a dream he's held since he was 2 years old.
And he wouldn't be intimidated by becoming the face of the Browns' latest rebuilding effort.
"That would be awesome," Barkley said. "Any team that wants to draft me and bless me with the opportunity to play for their franchise is a blessing. You grow up as a little kid dreaming of playing in the NFL. If it’s the Browns, if it’s the Giants or whoever, I’m gonna come in with my head low and ready to work."