Matt falls flat – will someone love Barkley?

Before this season started, Matt Barkley was expected by most people to dominate his senior season and end up as the number one pick at the draft in April. And then it began. His demise has been surprising and almost embarrassing in a draft where every person seems to have different opinions on who the best quarterback is. How far could he fall?

Lack of production would seem like a logical explanation for Barkley’s fall in recent months, but surely scouts would have figured out his glaring weaknesses by the end of his third year and how his weaknesses will affect his chances at becoming a top NFL quarterback. Production doesn’t dictate scout’s opinions, as it’s mostly down to physical traits and how the prospect uses their traits.

One of the main reasons for his fall is because of USC’s hype coming into the season. People looked at the talent surrounding Barkley and assumed he’d tear it up and lead the Trojans to the National Championship. When he contributed towards surprising losses against Stanford, Arizona and Oregon with poor performances, people started to take notice. In the final four games of Barkley’s season, he threw nine interceptions while USC lost three of those games. Numbers are not what you evaluate a prospect on, but if you have poor production without excellent physical traits you aren’t going to be popular with draftniks. You could argue that without the hype of being a USC quarterback and his 2011 production, he wouldn’t even be on people’s minds right now.

When evaluating Quarterbacks one of the first things you look for is their physical traits. While size won’t be as much of a concern anymore with the success of Russell Wilson, being under the prototypical size for a successful NFL quarterback as a pocket passer will still be a concern for NFL teams, especially as Barkley doesn’t have a huge arm to make up for lack of size. His lack of arm strength means that at USC, most of his throws were short range and relied on his receivers (arguably the in college football in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee) to make plays after the catch. His deep ball isn’t particularly terrible, its just not at an NFL level. Another problem with Barkley is that he tends to force the ball into areas it really shouldn’t be thrown to – this usually happens when he becomes too reliant on Lee and ends up targeting him on every play.

It isn’t all bad when evaluating Matt Barkley though. His character is top notch, he’s a true leader and although leadership won’t be something that NFL teams will determine their selections fully on, it definitely helps when it comes to the interview process, something that will have some impact in this years unpredictable quarterback class. While he may not be much of a mobile quarterback, he possesses great footwork that allow him to avoid pass rushers without running around like a headless chicken. His footwork allows him to buy time in the pocket, which is extremely useful on a team with a load of playmakers at the receiver position.

Where does Barkley stock up against the other quarterbacks in this class? When I read the work of other draftniks I get the sense that Geno Smith and Tyler Wilson are guys that most people think are going to be drafted before Barkley. After them, there’s a group that divides opinions. I’d put Mike Glennon, Ryan Nassib and Tyler Bray in this group. Smith and Wilson are the kind of quarterbacks who could come in and do a job for you straight away, whereas Glennon, Nassib and Bray are gaining attention with their upside, and whether you think they could start straight away depends on how you view them yourself. Barkley is a tough guy to put in a group because he doesn’t posses the arm that the quarterbacks in the upside group have, and he also doesn’t seem polished enough to have an immediate impact in the NFL unless you have an offense fit for him. I’d place Barkley in his own group in between the Smith/Wilson group and the upside group because he could start in the NFL if utilized properly but doesn’t seem to have a particularly high ceiling.

One thing that scares most draftniks about Barkley is where he came from. USC has a reputation of churning out overrated quarterbacks who fail in the NFL. Recent USC NFL starters include Carson Palmer, Mark Sanchez, Matt Leinart and Matt Cassel. Not a list that will exactly inspire confidence in the team that drafts him.

The main event of the pre-draft process is the scouting combine in Indianapolis. This is where prospects go to take part in a variety of drills to help get a clearer picture on what they can and can’t do. It will be events like this where quarterbacks with huge arms will show  up and win the love of scouts. Barkley won’t be able to reap those benefits when he’s competing in the throwing drills. Luckily for him, scouts don’t change much of their opinions at the combine, as it’s the game film that is most important.

Barkley’s draft stock has taken a tumble, and his demise has made his decision to stay on at school look like a really bad decision, as he was almost a certain top 10 pick if he’d declared last year. He’s already fallen from being the consensus number one quarterback to as low as the sixth ranked quarterback in some people’s eyes.

Barkley isn’t exactly dividing opinions – the reason everything is so unclear with him is because of the sheer amount of different opinions on the upside group – it all depends on if NFL teams would rather take upside (but more risk) over someone who has pedigree and should be a solid starter in the right system. On pure NFL talent/potential, Barkley should go in the second round – a solid but unspectacular prospect, but don’t be surprised if a team desperate for a quarterback decides to take a chance on the USC Trojan in the first round.

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