In the next installment of a five-part series on polarizing prospects, Dane Brugler and Rob Rang take a look at Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley. In previous editions, they've debated Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel and Oregon pass-rusher Dion Jordan.
A year ago, Matt Barkley was being touted as a potential top 10 pick. Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian, a former quarterback, himself, surprised many with the assertion that if he were running an NFL team, he'd pick Barkley over Andrew Luck.
In returning to the Trojans for his senior season, Barkley gambled with his draft stock and may have lost. Despite possessing dynamic receivers in Biletnikof-awarding winning sophomore Marqise Lee and 2013 draft-eligible junior Robert Woods, Barkley's touchdowns dropped and his interceptions skyrocketed. Worse, the fairy tale senior campaign Barkley was hoping for turned into a nightmare when he suffered a shoulder injury against rival UCLA which abruptly ended his career.
Scouts love the intangibles Barkley brings to the table but will a team be willing to look past his average size, arm strength and athleticism based on his production and leadership? Is there something to be said about the struggles former USC quarterbacks have had in the NFL?
NFLDraftScout.com senior analysts Dane Brugler and Rob Rang explore.
BRUGLER'S QUICK TAKE: Entering the season, Matt Barkley was my No. 1 quarterback prospect and a large reason for that was the projection that he would take his game to a higher level in 2012 after a productive junior year. However he struggled to take that next step in his development and, for me, it became evident that he has a lower ceiling than I thought due to his physical limitations.
How many NFL quarterbacks have average size, average arm strength and average athleticism? Most successful starting quarterbacks at the next level shine in at least one of those areas. Even the average starters around the league seem to rely on one of those qualities to be productive. Vikings' Christian Ponder has average height and arm strength, but uses his athleticism to manipulate the pocket and extend plays. Browns' Brandon Weeden doesn't have ideal athleticism for the position, but uses his arm strength to push the ball vertically. Barkley has some NFL skills, but his average height, slower-than-ideal feet and lack of downfield zip are tough to ignore.
Barkley is smart, experienced and process information quickly, but while he has all the tools needed from the neck up, his physical tools are what will limit his potential at the next level. For me, Barkley grades out as a mid-second round pick and potential starter in the NFL, but I think it's likely he'll end up being drafted top-32, probably by a team trading into the back half of the first round.
BEST FITS: Chiefs, Raiders, Saints, Titans
RATIONALE: Although his NFL ceiling is limited, Barkley has the skill-set to start at the next level. Kansas City is moving forward with Alex Smith as their starter, but at some point will likely add a quarterback to groom as the future starter. Like Smith, Barkley doesn't have an elite arm, but tests off the charts in terms of X's and O's making him a possible fit in Kansas City. Barkley's skill-set doesn't make him an “ideal” fit for too many offenses.
RANG'S QUICK TAKE: A year ago, Matt Barkley was largely regarded as a top 10 pick. Now, some have characterized him as a mid-round selection. What happened?
In reality, very little, at least in terms of reasons to alter his grade as an NFL prospect.
At 6-3, 227-pounds, Barkley is bigger than either West Virginia's Geno Smith (6-3, 218) or Syracuse's Ryan Nassib (6-2, 227). He has completed 64% of his passes for 12,327 yards and 116 touchdowns against 48 interceptions in four seasons of a pro-style offense against top competition.
Critics will point to the fact that Barkley's interception numbers sky-rocketed in his senior season. After all, the USC product had just one game in which he threw multiple interceptions as a junior but had six - including his last four in a row - this past season.
I'd argue that this had more to do with Barkley attempting to overcome shoddy pass protection and a defense which ranked 60th in the country than a regression on the quarterback's part.
Another Matt - former Boston College star Matt Ryan - saw a similar jump in interceptions from his junior season (10) to senior season (19), but few mention this concern because, of course, the Eagles didn't boast the same caliber of pass-catchers that Barkley had with the Trojans and "Matty Ice" has developed into one of the game's better young signal-callers in Atlanta.
While Ryan didn't have anyone close to Marqise Lee or Robert Woods catching passes for him at Boston College, he did have a very good offensive line. Barkley also had the benefit of quality pass protection early in his career but not in 2012. With eventual No. 4 overall pick Matt Kalil leaving early for the NFL and center Khaled Holmes suffered an injury-plagued 2012 campaign, Barkley was under constant duress last season. Kalil, who deserved Pro Bowl consideration for his play at left tackle for the Minnesota Vikings as a rookie, was replaced by Aundrey Walker, a true sophomore who entered the year with zero career starts and was benched after seven games. Walker's replacement, 6-6, 285-pound true freshman Max Tuerk surrendered the sack to UCLA's Anthony Barr which ended Barkley's collegiate career.
Furthermore, for all of the dynamic plays Lee, in particular, made for USC a year ago, his tendency to freelance as a route-runner also contributed to number of the interceptions which Barkley was blamed.
Unlike some of the other quarterbacks of this draft class, Barkley isn't a projection. He's shown mastery of an offense every bit as complicated as most currently being used in the NFL. In this offense, he's been asked to throw with velocity, touch and accuracy and he's done so. He's also better on the move than many acknowledge. He's more accurate rolling to his right than Smith, Nassib, North Carolina State's Mike Glennon, a trait which makes him especially well-suited to West Coast principles.
Barkley is not an elite talent who fits every NFL offense or is capable of leading a team to a Super Bowl without a talented supporting cast. While he does not possess elite arm strength or athleticism, Barkley does possess the highest cumulative grade among the class of 2013 quarterbacks in the "Three A's" -- accuracy, awareness and anticipation -- the traits I believe are the most critical for a quarterback to achieve success in the NFL.
Due to both his own talent and the value of the quarterback position, Barkley will be drafted in the first round. If he's as impressive as I expect him to be in his March 27 Pro Day, he'll lock up a spot in the top 10, quite possibly overtaking Smith as the quarterback selected first in the 2013 NFL draft.
BEST FITS: Raiders, Cardinals, Bills, Jets, Cowboys
RATIONALE: While Barkley does not possess a cannon for an arm, he's shown plenty of zip, accuracy and anticipation to continue to be successful in a West Coast Offense. He showed improved touch and timing on his deep ball as a senior, which could make him a better fit in Bruce Arian's vertical attack in Arizona than some anticipate.
Finally, as the most recognizable football player in a huge Los Angeles market, Barkley is used to the media scrutiny that comes with being "face of the franchise." To most fans, that might sound like a trivial quality. It is not to NFL teams. Pro-ready does not just mean the ability to master an NFL playbook. Barkley has the leadership qualities - on and off the field - that few other quarterbacks in the 2013 draft class possess, a stark contrast to some of the quarterbacks who preceded him at Southern Cal.