The system Chip Kelly employs in Eugene, Oregon has put up unbelievable offensive statistics since he has been there and if guys have talent, he will put them in position to be incredibly productive. Kenjon Barner took full advantage gaining a total of 1,856 total yards and 22 touchdowns with the Fiesta Bowl ahead of him. He also had one of the most impressive games of the entire season when he went off for 347 total yards and 5 touchdowns against USC briefly vaulting him into the Heisman discussion. Kenjon Barner has accepted an invitation to participate in the Senior Bowl next month and this will be the first indication of how well he performs outside of the Oregon system. This could be a tough adjustment for him, but it also might highlight just how athletic and fluid he is in addition to his speed. Barner’s draft stock is going to depend on how many roles a team feels Barner can fill for their team; the teams who look at him as a dynamic option at running back, returning kicks and even as a slot receiver, he could go as early as the third round, but more than likely, he will go somewhere on day three, likely early.
In terms of his physical ability, Kenjon Barner is listed at 5’11” 192lbs, which looks more the part of a wide receiver than it does a running back, but he appear to have the frame to continue adding bulk, though after four years in Eugene, it is natural to worry if he is not just about maxed out. The other possibility is that if he does add weight, it would take away from his natural ability that has made him so effective at Oregon and could be productive in the NFL. His agility, explosiveness, and short area quickness are really impressive. Barner is certainly fast and has more than enough speed to make plays, but he may not have the 4.3 speed some expect.
Barner is somewhat tall for a running back but he does not play like it. He protects himself well despite having virtually no power whatsoever. He is a fluid athlete who can get skinny to take advantage of small holes in the blocking scheme and gain yards, which makes him somewhat difficult to defend. His acceleration and quickness are impressive and while his speed is not overwhelming, it is more than enough to be a threat to be a home run threat. Barner does not have a jolting stiff arm that is going to knock someone down, but he does use it effectively to break tackles. Barner is not afraid to hit the hole between the tackles and can make plays in that area, but he does have some Barry Sanders in him and will try to make something out of nothing even if that means running backward can blow up in his face.
In the first three years of Barner’s career, he was an effective kick returner for the Ducks, both on kickoffs and punts. This is something he should get back to doing in the NFL, because it would certainly improve his value and viability. Especially on punts, he is such an electric athlete with agility and explosiveness that he is always a threat to make a big play.
As a receiver, Barner is pretty decent when it comes to catching the ball and he knows how to sell screens. The routes Oregon has their running backs run are not difficult, so it remains to be seen what he can do there, but he has the feet and the body control to do it if he is willing to commit himself to the job. And because of his athleticism, he is certainly a threat for yards after the catch.
The role Barner should work on adding to his game in the NFL is that of a slot receiver. He has good size and quickness for the position as mentioned earlier, he looks more like a wide receiver than he does a running back. If he can learn how to run routes and catch the ball in traffic, he could be a dynamic threat there. Continuing the role of a third down back getting 5-8 touches, a few catches in the slot, and returning punts and he becomes a pretty valuable player in terms of his ability to make plays but also working to save a team roster spots. When he is practicing for the Senior Bowl, it will be interesting to see how many roles he is asked to perform.
Blocking is where Barner is going to have a lot to prove, because the Ducks offense simply did not ask Barner to do much of it. Their attacking system has him either carrying the ball, being a receiving option or carrying out a fake and then being a receiver. When he is at the Senior Bowl, he is going to have to do it in practice, so it will be his chance to sink or swim in this area.
The best comparison for what Kenjon Barner can be in the NFL is Reggie Bush when he was a role player for the Saints when he seemed to briefly forget how good he could be. Bush was a part time running back, slot receiver, and a punt returner. Barner has the ability to do all of these things and is a fluid athlete like Bush with the ability to make big plays.
Although Barner has been incredibly productive in his career at Oregon, he will come into the NFL with little wear and tear which works in his favor. Even with this year where he could end up eclipsing 2,000 yards, he was efficient with his touches and stayed healthy. Determining Barner’s value in the draft will depend on how much teams feel he can contribute to their team. If a team is only looking at him as a running back that can add depth, he is a day three player. But if there is a team out there that sees him and thinks he can play running back, return kicks, and maybe contribute in the slot, he could end up going in the late third round.
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