Alex Barnes: Fantasy Scouting Report
I have said it before and I will say it again, this year’s running back class is iffy at best. Plenty of people have latched on to the notion that there just isn’t a “stud” talent at the position. Upon my evaluation of this running back class, I can say that notion is closer to a fact. My love for guys like Darrell Henderson and David Montgomery hold strong. But there are a couple of stray running backs that I had pegged as “just guys”. One of those was Kansas State running back Alex Barnes.
Barnes has been a running back that I see being touted as a top tier back in this class. So much that it caused me to have some doubt on whether or not I missed something completely. With that said, I gave him the full process treatment in this article and looked to find what others were seeing. Barnes had a great 2018 campaign from a statistical standpoint and displayed what some believe as top-level play at the position. But is he worthy of being in the discussion as one of the top backs of 2019? Let’s find out.
Alex Barnes: Top Tier or Nowhere Near?
School: Kansas State
Position: Running Back
Weight: 227 pounds
D.O.B: 10/27/1996 (Age 22)
Breakout Age: 21 years old
Rushing Dominator: 60.8%
Alex Barnes college background is brief. He came into Kansas State out of Pittsburg High School in Pittsburg, Kansas. Barnes redshirted his freshman season for the Wildcats in 2015 but made his debut in 2016. As a redshirt freshman, Barnes was used sparingly behind Charles Jones and Justin Silmon for much of the season. However, in his final two games of 2016, Barnes tallied 232 yards rushing and five touchdowns rushing. Those two games were also the first time Barnes had seen over eight carries in a game for Kansas State.
After those final two games of 2016, it looked as if the genie had been let out of the bottle. Barnes was elevated to lead duties as he saw the majority of running back touches for the Wildcats in 2017. As a result of his new role, he made an impact in the Big 12 in his first season as a starter. He ranked fifth in rush attempts, rushing yards, and rushing yards per attempt in all of the Big 12. He also ranked seventh in rushing touchdowns and plays from scrimmage.
2018 was the year Barnes made his largest impact in not only the Big 12 but all of college football. He saw the largest touch total of his entire career and became a focal point of the Kansas State offense. He had his best statistical year as he notched 1,355 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns on 256 attempts. However, he was not just effective in the rushing game for Kansas State. He also logged 20 receptions for 194 yards receiving in 2018. In the Big 12, Barnes ranked first in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage as well as second in rush attempts and plays from scrimmage.
😤 Alex Barnes was a beast today.
— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) October 13, 2018
Alex Barnes is inarguably one of the most powerful backs in this class. Before I even say anything, just turn on the Kansas State vs Mississippi State game from this past season and watch him end a poor safeties life in the first quarter. Barnes is a mean runner who drops his pad level and welcomes contact. In any one of his games from 2018, he can be seen eating contact between the tackles and powering through defenders. However, for a running back with his strength, his contact balance was seen lacking plenty in his tape. He had negative plays behind the line of scrimmage where it looked as if his power was useless and he would succumb to first contact. With that said, he seemed far better against contact when in open space at the next level when able to generate speed and really bulldoze through defenders.
For a running back of his size, Barnes did have a good first step but never really angles himself off the snap to generate good burst. Because of that, it takes away from his ability to move well laterally and open up space for himself off his first steps. Barnes is far from a “one cut and go” type of back. But he is smooth in his footwork as he generally does not waste steps and gets to the play gap. Pairing with his lack of lateral movement is his lack of stop and go ability as a runner. On the tape, this led to plenty of missed opportunity and negative plays behind the line of scrimmage. His Lack of burst and acceleration off the snap led to an inability to be elusive when he should. Although, how much elusiveness can we expect from a running back of his size?
As I said in the section above, Barnes does a great job at following his reads and getting to the designed play gap with the football. That said, this an area he excelled in at Kansas State. Barnes does a good job at following pulling lineman and following his blocks. On the tape, you can see him be decisive with where he wants to take the football. He does have lapses in judgment that cause him to wait behind his line a little too long though. Again, another factor leading to negative plays. Regardless, he does have a good blend of patience and decisiveness that lead to some flashy runs when big holes open up. In open space, his vision isn’t fantastic. He’s better at gaining long speed and shaking defenders off rather than having the vision to find open lanes down the field.
Barnes was never asked to line up in the slot or out wide in the Kansas State offense. However, he was used a fair amount running routes out of the backfield and he did well in doing so. He has natural hands and can catch the ball from a variety of routes out of the backfield. He doesn’t profile as a pass-catching back but he put up enough work in this area to be serviceable in the NFL. Where he gets dicey is in pass protection. Barnes got manhandled plenty in pass protection. This is concerning to me. He has the size and frame to be incredible in this area yet he’s one of the worst in this class. Barnes has a hard time planting himself against blitzes and just misdiagnoses where the pressure is coming from altogether. Leading to pressure and sacks for his quarterback.
Barnes had a great week at the combine last month. As you can see in the chart above, he tested really well. Particularly in his Broad Jump (92nd percentile), his Verticle (90th percentile), and his bench press (98th percentile). He looked like an athletic monster during drills in Indy. He displayed well above average strength, explosiveness, but lacked in overall speed in his 40 Yard Dash time.
Two measurable results stood out to me more than others though. His Broad Jump and his 20 Yard Shuttle. The Broad Jump is used to test explosiveness in the lower body. As you can see. Barnes ranked very high among other running backs yet, on tape, his explosiveness didn’t correlate with how he tested. The same can be said for his 20 Yard Shuttle, which is used to test overall quickness and change of direction ability. None of what was seen on his game tape showed me he had high-level quickness or change in direction.
What is interesting about these results is they tell me he has the athletic capability to be an explosive, one-cut, downhill runner but it conflicts with what I saw on his game tape. Thinking intuitively, this leads me to think he has more issues with his footwork and first steps off the snap more than anything. For a running back that big to be as athletic as he is, he should flash far more on tape in this area than he did.
Barnes made himself relevant at the end of 2016 but really exploded on the stat sheet in 2018. He saw highs in every statistical category as seen in his raw statistics table above. This was largely due to the fact that he was finally able to garner a huge market share of Kansas State’s rushing offense. In his first season seeing over 150 carries he still managed to obtain over 5-yards-per-carry.
Barnes statistical uprise correlates directly with the opportunity given in 2018. Even looking back to 2017, he was just under the regression line for running backs with a top 36 fantasy season at his age. Nevertheless, He vastly exceeded the threshold at age 21. This was also his Breakout Age as when he sustained over 40% of his teams total rushing production. 60.8% of Kansas State’s rushing production, to be exact.
In spite of his impressive stat line in 2018, Barnes did have some statistical discrepancies this past season. Of his 256 rushing attempts, only 38 of those went for 10 or more yards. So, I decided to log some Yards-Per-Touch data and what I found was less than exciting. In the above chart, I logged the percentage of touches for under three-yard and under seven-yard splits and compared it to multiple running backs. Barnes graded out near the bottom of the pile with 41% of his runs going for three or fewer yards and 69% of his runs going for seven or fewer yards. This pretty much backs up my theory of Barnes being a short yardage grinder and not much else.
Alex Barnes profiles as an athletic, strong running back with enough power to be effective in an uphill zone running scheme. He has good vision when looking to run between the tackles and often decisive when doing so. What he has in power and vision, he lacks in dynamic speed and lateral movement. He projects best as a zone scheme runner for a team looking to gain a between the tackles grinder. When he is able to get to the next level of the field, he has shown he can be effective in space and is capable of the occasional big play.
Although he showed that he can catch the ball at Kansas State, his versatility in this area is not enough to make him a three-down back at the next level. His lack of physicality and discrepancies with processing incoming defenders while pass blocking will likely be seen as a big issue for teams. This can lead to decreased playing time in the future and overall, less opportunity for Barnes to see the field.
Barnes is a running back with plenty to be desired but also plenty to find value in. With that said, I believe teams will recognize what he is and what he does best and be cautious with how they deploy his skillset in the NFL.
Alex Barnes is a player I won’t have a ton of exposure to this draft season. I don’t believe he put anything on tape or at the combine that would cause him to jump up a running back needy teams big board. Just like any fantasy relevant running back, he is only as valuable as the opportunity a team allows him to have. I don’t believe he goes to a situation that allows him to be anything more than a third down short yardage back, which is what he projects best at in the NFL. His value looks to be more inside the realm of real football rather than fantasy football for me. I likely won’t be looking at him anywhere before a late fourth-round pick in rookie drafts and won’t be looking at all in standard redraft leagues.
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