The question heading into this season was whether or not Matt Barkley was going to be the first overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft. Now the question is whether or not he'll be selected in Round 1.
In what was likely his last play at USC, Barkley was drilled in the back on a sack that reportedly separated his shoulder. A picture tweeted by ESPN's Beto Duran of Matt Barkley exiting the Rose Bowl in a sling captures the sad departure of a USC legend:
Beto Duran (@DuranSports) November 18, 2012
On the surface, the odds of Barkley being selected in the first round appear to be dwindling. A closer look shows he's far more likely to be drafted in the top 10 than slip into the second round.
Teams Overvalue Quarterbacks
We hear "It's a quarterback-driven league" every single Sunday. Every team wants to get their hands on the franchise QB who is going to drag their struggling franchise out of the cellar.
As a result, we've seen teams put tremendous value on the position and bypass other needs to nab a quarterback in the first round. Take a look at the quarterbacks who have been drafted in Round 1 over the past two seasons;
No. 1: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
No. 2: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
No. 8: Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
No. 22 Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
No. 1 Cam Newton Carolina Panthers
No.8: Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
No. 10 Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 12 Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
While Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III can be considered slam dunk prospects, every other QB had serious question marks coming into the draft. Ryan Tannehill was a converted WR, Brandon Weeden was 28 when he took his first NFL snap, Cam Newton didn't come out of a pro-style offense, Jake Locker had a miserable senior year, Blaine Gabbert lacked arm strength and Christian Ponder struggled with injuries. It seems like every year we get a reaction like this one.
Teams are willing to gamble when they see a prospect they think can be the long-term franchise QB of their team.
Factors That Will Improve Stock
Barkley didn't transfer when USC was put on a bowl ban. He returned for his senior season and gave up the opportunity to become a slam dunk top-10 pick in this year's draft. His high character makes him a natural leader, and his intangibles off the field are unparalleled.
Barkley has been the face of USC since he won the starting job as a true freshman. Barkley's leadership has been on display since this epic game-winning driver on the road vs. No. 8 Ohio State in his second start ever.
Teams are always looking for the "it" factor, and Barkley's got it. Let's not forget that Tim Tebow was a first-round pick, and Ryan Mallett plummeted into the third round. Character isn't everything, but it definitely comes into play.
The white board will be Barkley's best friend. He's got a good understanding of what defenses are trying to do to him and is coming out of a pro-style offense. He's been coached up since his days at Mater Dei and that should help with his transition into the NFL.
While inconsistent going down the field, Barkley has excellent accuracy on shorter throws. USC makes a living with YAC yards, and Barkley has demonstrated the ability to hit receivers in stride with ideal placement.
Barkley completed 64.3 percent of his passes at USC and threw over 1,500 balls. His production and efficiency speaks for itself.
What Barkley lacks in his legs, he makes up for in his feet. He's a true technician, and his footwork is one of the strongest points of his game. He's elusive and has an uncanny feel for the pocket. He routinely escapes pressure, extends the play and hits an open man in the midst of a coverage breakdown.
Factors That Will Hurt Stock
USC isn't short on playmaking wide receivers. Marqise Lee and Robert Woods are elite playmakers and give Barkley plenty of opportunities to look good during the course of a game. Lee alone has 98 catches, 1,447 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. To say that Barkley is getting some help is an understatement.
Barkley threw for over 12,000 yards in his career. Many credit that to the talent he had at his disposal throughout his career.
Quarterbacks don't have to have RG3 wheels to be considered mobile. The NFL is changing, and guys who can get outside the pocket and extend the play are becoming increasingly sought after. Aaron Rodgers isn't going to outrun a defense, but he can get up and go when he needs to.
Barkley isn't going to impress anyone with his legs. Don't expect an Andrew Luck combine performance from Barkley, who is going to need to make his living inside the pocket.
Matt Barkley's arm strength is...
Barkley can't throw the ball like Matthew Stafford or Joe Flacco, and his deep-ball accuracy is less than stellar. Unfortunately for Barkley, he doesn't have the mobility to make team's forget about his physical shortcomings.
Listed at 6'2", 230 pounds, Barkley isn't the prototypical NFL QB. Drew Brees proves that height isn't everything and that quarterbacks don't need to be 6'5" to excel in the pocket, but Barkley's average size isn't doing his stock any favors.
It's hard to say how much Barkley's most recent injury will factor into his draft stock. Obviously drafting a quarterback coming off a shoulder injury is risky, but it isn't unheard of. Sam Bradford went No. 1 overall after injuring his throwing shoulder. Even surgery isn't guaranteed to deter teams as long as the long-term outlook is positive.
Teams That Need Barkley
Ryan Fitzpatrick has helped put a band-aid on the Bills' unstable QB situation but it's time to lock down a quarterback who actually has the potential to hoist the Lombardi at some point in his career. The Bills have been looking for an answer at quarterback since Jim Kelly left, and Barkley would be a perfect fit in Buffalo's potent offense.
The Cardinals swung and missed by trading for Kevin Kolb. John Skelton has proven he isn't the answer either. Larry Fitzgerald will be 30 next season, and Arizona's horrific QB situation is making it impossible for their best player to maximize his potential. Unfortunately for Barkley, the Cardinals whiffed on Matt Leinart. Will they be hesitant to the pull the trigger on another USC QB?
When given the option between former Trojan backup Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn and whatever is behind door number three, you take whatever is behind door number three. The Chiefs are 1-8 because they have a league-high 15 interceptions and a league-low six touchdowns. There is a 100 percent chance the Chiefs' starting QB next season is not on the current roster.
There is a good chance Andy Reid and Michael Vick both make their way out of Philadelphia in the near future. It's hard to believe the next head coach would want to kick off his career with Nick Foles under center. If Vick isn't in an Eagles uniform next season, the Eagles would hit a home run by bringing in Barkley.
It's clear Blaine Gabbert isn't the answer in Jacksonville, but it's hard to believe the Jaguars would part ways with him for a player with as many question marks as Barkley. Gabbert has shown statistical improvement in nearly every category this year, but he's still average at best. It won't be long before the Jags grow tired of mediocrity.
Trading up to draft Mark Sanchez at No. 5 ended up being a huge mistake. Yet again, we see a team looking to replace their former Trojan QB. There is a very real chance that the Jets will see a lot of Sanchez in Barkley. If Rex Ryan is driven out of town, a new regime enters and Barkley is available late, it could be a perfect landing place.
The Raiders made a huge move trading for former USC standout and No. 1 overall pick Carson Palmer. The problem is that Palmer turns 33 in December. The Raiders have greater needs to fill, but if they see an opportunity to land their quarterback of the future, they shouldn't hesitate to scoop him up.
Geno Smith, West Virginia
Smith has the edge physically. He's got blazing speed and a cannon for an arm. His combine performance might put Barkley in the fetal position, and there is an excellent chance a team at the top falls in love with Smith. The thought of pairing his skillset with the Chiefs' run game is scary.
Which Quarterback will be drafted earliest?
Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
Wilson has a lot of the same qualities as Barkley. He's a savvy pocket passer with decent accuracy and a solid arm. Though he doesn't have the "wow" factor that has made him stand out as a future top-15 pick, he's the type of QB who will likely soar up draft boards after the season ends, as Ryan Tannehill and Christian Ponder did just before they were drafted.
Most Likely Landing Spot
Even if Barkley is the third quarterback taken in this draft, he's got a great chance at being drafted in the top 15. If the season ended today, the Bills would be drafting 11th, with the Jets, Raiders, Eagles, Jaguars and Chiefs drafting in front of them.
There is still a lot of football left to be played, and not all of the aforementioned teams are going to elect to draft a quarterback, but it's hard to imagine the Bills passing on Barkley if he's still available when they draft.
The Bills have drafted a defensive player in Round 1 in four out of the last five years. Inserting Barkley into an offense with Stevie Johnson, C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and Scott Chandler would make Buffalo one of the most threatening offenses in the NFL.
If all else fails and Barkley enters a draft day freefall, perhaps we could see a situation in Foxboro like the one we saw when the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers.