Assessing the Draft Value of USC Quarterback Matt Barkley

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Assessing the Draft Value of USC Quarterback Matt Barkley
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Returning for his senior season and foregoing a shot at being selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Matt Barkley cemented himself as one of the more likeable prospects in the country and was set to be the top quarterback prospect heading into his senior season.

Originally recruited by now-Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, Barkley was mired in a 3-year playoff ban stemming from recruiting violations that occurred earlier during Carroll’s tenure at USC. Barkley nevertheless proved his loyalty and commitment to USC and overlooked escape routes presented in the form of a college transfer or the NFL Draft.  

As a four-year starter, Barkley has broken a multitude of passing records, including the all-time completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns records in Pac-12 conference history. Giving his all to a program tied down by NCAA sanctions, Barkley, regardless of his unsuccessful title run, ought to be lauded by fans as one of the great Trojans in recent memory. 

His senior season has certainly been a major disappointment, as a chance at a Pac-12 championship, BCS title and Heisman trophy have all slipped away from his fingertips.

More crushing than those accolades being lost, could be the criticism Barkley has faced as an NFL prospect. 

Once a lock to go in the first round, Barkley is now considered to be on the outside looking in to the top of the draft. Where the USC quarterback appeared to have taken a step forward as a decision maker in 2011, Barkley only regressed back to his old ways of forcing the issue and pressing under increased pressure. Setting a career high for interceptions in a single season, Barkley’s inability to protect the football has been the telling difference during his final year. 

But speaking in terms of college productivity is not the intended talking point of this article—rather, how will Matt Barkley’s skills translate to the next level? 

Is Matt Barkley worth a first round draft choice?

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In terms of stature, Barkley has average height but a sturdy frame, at 6'2", 230 pounds. And though he won’t be mistaken for a running quarterback, he does possess the requisite foot speed and even more important pocket instincts to slide around and avoid the rush. 

The main sticking point among evaluators, is Barkley’s only average arm talent. Lacking the “plus” velocity or zip needed to drive throws into tight windows at the NFL level, Barkley is somewhat limited in what he brings to the table as a starter. 

Barkley can throw with great timing and anticipation to all levels of the field, while flashing excellent ball placement in the short to intermediate range. As such, he fits ideally within a West Coast offense, where he can win with the chemistry developed with his receiving corps.

To that point, Barkley’s tremendous feel and understanding of how to operate in the pre-snap phase will only make him more appealing to NFL offensive coordinators. Given the ability to audible out of plays at the line of scrimmage, Barkley already has a feel for the type of responsibility he’ll be facing at the next level. 

A major concern I’ve developed in viewing Matt Barkley’s throws at USC, is how many throws are behind the line of scrimmage or within five yards.

Wisely not asking Barkley to drive the ball downfield, the USC offense has taken advantage of their top two wide receivers’ ability to make plays after the catch in the quick passing and screen game.  

This isn’t to say Matt Barkley is incapable of throwing to the deep half of the field, as he’s more than shown an ability to drop in deep fade and post routes beyond 25 yards. His tendency to hang the ball up in the air on those throws, however, will be an issue with next-level cornerbacks. Surrounded by a bevy of 4 and 5-star wide receiver prospects at USC, Barkley has fallen into a bad habit of trusting his receivers to win at the catch point regardless of the leverage played by opposing cornerbacks

Barkley Breakdown vs. Stanford

And while his pre-snap processing remains elite in relation to other quarterbacks in this draft class, Barkley has not done a particularly good job of confirming his pre-snap reads in the post-snap phase.

Not double-checking the coverages he’s receiving in the pre-snap look, Barkley will make mistakes such as the one he details in the attached video, “Barkley’s Breakdown”, starting at the 1:15 mark.  

Unchecked reads and limited arm talent aside, Barkley still remains one of the more polished quarterbacks in terms of throwing mechanics and footwork.

Quick to set up in 3-step, 5-step and 7-step pass drops, Barkley’s footwork within the pocket are excellent, as is his ability to deliver the ball from a variety of foot platforms. As he progresses through his targets, Matt Barkley more importantly resets his feet and re-aligns his shoulders to the target line, maintaining ideal mechanics throughout the play.

Sticking with the positives, despite lacking tremendous height, Barkley surprisingly doesn’t struggle with batted balls at the line of scrimmage due to his ability to locate throwing lanes and deliver from a crisp, over-the-top arm angle. 

Though excellent with his footwork in his setup and weight transfer, in addition to his mechanics throughout the throwing motion, an issue that’s arisen in Barkley’s senior season is how inaccurate he’s become when forced to alter his throwing arm slot due to oncoming pressure. Definitely a trait needed at the next level due to the step up in pass rushing talent and defensive pressure, Barkley’s inconsistency in throwing under duress will likely lower his true grade to a second round level. 

All things considered, Matt Barkley as an NFL quarterback, has enough physical tools to be considered a starter. He has a very bright mind for the game, ideal mechanics and instincts at the position and “plus” intangibles as a locker room presence.

While he undoubtedly needs to land in the right situation (as any quarterback prospect does), Barkley will likely be inserted as a year one starter.

Whether or not he can correct his mistakes at the next level or be able to compensate for his lacking arm remains to be seen. But I know for certain that he is the type of competitor and person that welcomes adversity. 

In a quarterback-driven league, Matt Barkley will inevitably be over-drafted next April. I would be comfortable taking Barkley in the middle of the second round, but again, he is a quarterback heavily dependent upon the scheme under which he plays and the surrounding talent. Success or failure at the next level will be determined in the following three words, "Location, location, location."

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