Considering that Matt Barkley started 47 games for the USC Trojans over the past four years, it might seem ridiculous that his NFL stock is highly dependent on his performance in Wednesday's pro day.
However, that just might be the case for the Southern California quarterback, who is hoping to answer questions about his health, arm strength and overall athleticism after missing the final two games of his career (not to mention the Senior Bowl and scouting combine) due to an injury to the AC joint in his throwing shoulder sustained against rival UCLA on Nov. 17.
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Barkley made the surprising decision to return for his senior season despite the general consensus that he would have been drafted in the top 10 a year ago. Having thrown multiple interceptions in six games in 2012 (after doing that just once in 2011), however, Barkley's stock is much more in flux now than a year ago. Dane Brugler and I, for example, have vastly different takes on where he ranks in this draft class.
While Barkley was unable to play against Notre Dame or Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl, the dismal performance by the Trojans on the offensive side of the ball in the two losses helped spark a bit of a momentum for the senior quarterback after a less than inspiring final season, overall. One of the knocks on Barkley is that he possessed such firepower around him that any quarterback could have been successful. In the 11 games he started last year, USC averaged 36 points a game. The Trojans averaged 10 in the two games he missed.
Barkley may have gained more traction after reportedly dazzling scouts during interviews at the combine.
No team, however, is going to invest a first-round pick in a quarterback based strictly on his intangibles, which is why Wednesday's workout is critical. Barkley has boasted that he has plenty of arm strength to make every NFL throw. While there will be no defenders at Loker Track Stadium to stand in his way, scouts will be gauging the velocity and accuracy of each pass.
Barkley is expected to follow a scripted throwing session, but don't be surprised if some of the NFL talent evaluators on hand ask him to attempt a few extra passes -- just as representatives of the Detroit Lions' staff did four years ago when Mark Sanchez was throwing at his Pro Day.
While the throwing session is unquestionably the most important element of the workout for Barkley, scouts will also be curious to see his overall athleticism. One of Barkley's most underrated talents is his accuracy on the move. With dual-threat quarterbacks Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, and, of course, Colin Kaepernick taking the NFL by storm a year ago, teams will want to see just how fast Barkley is as well. His game tape proves that he's certainly not in those quarterbacks' class when it comes to athleticism, but in a quarterback race as tight as this one, the Southern Cal passer could help his cause if he's able to run faster than the mid 4.9-second 40-yard dash times turned in by other traditional pocket passers -- like Syracuse's Ryan Nassib (4.95), North Carolina State's Mike Glennon (4.94) and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson (4.93).
Barkley certainly ranks as the star attraction, but he's far from the only former Trojan that scouts will be watching closely during Wednesday's workout. NFLDraftScout.com officially views seven USC prospects as potential 2013 NFL Draft selections.
His primary target during the workout, junior wide receiver Robert Woods, isn't expected to compete in all of the timed drills after enjoying a strong overall performance in the 40-yard dash and other "measureables" at the combine. The 6-foot-1, 201-pound Woods clocked in at a deceptive 4.51-seconds in the 40-yard dash. Woods, one of the draft's better route-runners, is considered more quick than fast, though he didn't demonstrate this in Indianapolis, coming in slower than expected -- and slower than many of his peers -- in the short-shuttle (4.47) and three-cone drill (7.15). Scouts also wouldn't be surprised to see Woods try to improve his 33.5-inch vertical jump, however.
While scouts would love to see some improvement in these events, the most important component of Wednesday's workout for him will be the positional drills where scouts will want to see the crisp routes and reliable hands he's demonstrated over his record-breaking career.
Barkley and Woods are certain to draw most of the hype, but in reality, center Khaled Holmes has as much riding on his performance Wednesday as any of the USC athletes.
The 6-3, 302-pound Holmes was recognized as a Rimington Trophy finalist as one of the country's top centers but struggled with a nagging ankle injury much of the year. Worse, he suffered a strained pectoral during the bench press drills at the combine and raised some eyebrows with his decision not to participate in any of the other events. Scouts expect him to participate fully on Wednesday.
A once-proud USC defense struggled mightily in 2012, but four defenders are expected to draw plenty of attention from scouts.
After solid performances in timed drills at the combine, scouts aren't necessarily expecting to see much from cornerback Nickell Robey or safety T.J. McDonald, though each is likely to perform during a positional workout. Robey, 5-7, 169 pounds, is much more physical than his size would indicate and possesses quick feet for coverage. But he's simply too small for some clubs. McDonald, on the other hand, looks the part at a chiseled 6-3, 219 pounds but has to answer concerns about his fluidity.
USC's "other" safety, Jawanza Starling (6-1, 202), had a solid effort in Indianapolis and proved to be a more natural playmaker in 2012 (five turnovers) than his more hyped teammate. He could ride a solid Pro Day into a Day 3 selection.
Another intriguing defender that scouts will want to keep an eye on is defensive end Wes Horton, a 6-5, 261-pound pass-rusher with the combination of size and overall athleticism to intrigue scouts of 4-3 and 3-4 teams, alike. Horton, who battled through injuries to collect a career-high 6.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2012, was not invited to the combine.