Last summer, most of the college football world thought that Matt Barkley was the de facto Heisman winner, number one NFL draft pick, King of the Universe, etc. Many pundits joked that it was useless for the rest of college football to even try, it looked like such a done deal for the Trojans and their golden boy.
Hindsight is cruel.
Just last month, NFL Draft pundit Mel Kiper said that Barkley would be lucky to be a top-20 prospect after his 2012 season, implying that his fate would have been better had he elected to enter the draft after his junior season (or simply had a better senior season this year).
I think the fact that Barkley has presumably fallen to the bottom of the first round or farther can only help him in his long-term NFL career.
Consider that since 2001, the overall No. 1 pick in the NFL draft has been a quarterback 10 times. In all but a few of those cases, that No. 1 pick has struggled mightily and even completely busted.
Quarterbacks selected as the overall No. 1 NFL Draft pick since 2001:
2001 Michael Vick/Atlanta Falcons
2002 David Carr/Houston Texans
2003 Carson Palmer/Cincinnati Bengals
2004 Eli Manning/San Diego Chargers, then immediately traded to the New York Giants—doesn’t fit within the parameters of my hypothesis.
2005 Alex Smith/San Francisco 49ers
2007 JaMarcus Russell/Oakland Raiders
2009 Matthew Stafford/Detroit Lions
2010 Sam Bradford/St. Louis Rams
2011 Cam Newton/Charlotte Panthers
2012 Andrew Luck/Indianapolis Colts
That’s quite a list, and excluding Eli Manning (due to the trade), the accomplishments of this group of QBs is in most cases disappointing, dubious and more worthy of a much lower draft pick.
The problem, of course, with being selected as the No. 1 overall draft pick when you are a quarterback is that you are, as a 21-23 year old young man, immediately cast into the role of savior for the team. Obviously, a team with the number one draft pick has been struggling, is coming off a bad season and has immediate needs to be filled.
When that need is a quarterback and they turn to a man in his early 20s it is, based on recent examples, almost always a bad idea.
Now, on the flip side of things, let’s consider just two quarterbacks who were picked a bit later and their relative successes: Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.
In 2005, Aaron Rodgers was expected to be the overall No. 1 NFL draft pick after two great seasons at Cal under head coach Jeff Tedford. Rodgers had an amazing junior season in 2003, throwing for 2,320 yards with a 67.5 completion rating. He tied an NCAA record against that year’s eventual National Champions USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum when he completed 23 consecutive passes. In his final season as a Golden Bear, Rodgers had 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
NFL scouts were a bit skeptical, despite Rodgers overall arm strength and impressive collegiate career. Cal played in a quarterback-friendly system and a quarterback-friendly conference, which could have been seen as skewing his stats higher than they’d be if he played in, for instance, the SEC.
Despite being projected as the number one pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, Rodgers slipped to the 24th overall pick and was drafted by the Green Bay Packers where he was fortunate enough to have three seasons to develop while Brett Favre finished his career in Green Bay.
Conversely, the overall No. 1 pick in Rodgers' year was QB Alex Smith who has not lived up to his expectations during his time as a San Francisco 49er. Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, won a Super Bowl. He had time to develop and adjust from college football to the NFL and make no mistake—the two are vastly different games and environments.
- Rodgers has a single season QB rating record of 122.5
- He is the only player in NFL history to throw for over 4,000 yards in each of the first two seasons as a starting QB
- Rodgers is the only player in NFL history to throw 45+ touchdowns, and 6 or fewer interceptions in a single season.
Because Aaron Rodgers didn’t have to go in and immediately be a team’s savior, he was able to become a truly great NFL quarterback.
This is the position in which Matt Barkley now resides.
Consider also the case of New England Patriots QB Tom Brady. We all know how successful he’s been in his time in New England. After a collegiate career under Lloyd Carr at Michigan, where he spent two seasons as the Wolverines starter (1998 and 1999), Brady was selected as the 199th overall pick of the 2000 NFL draft in the sixth round, a compensatory pick.
That’s staggering to contemplate given all that Brady has accomplished at New England.
Again, he did not have to step in and become a program’s savior from the get go. Rather, Brady started off as the fourth string QB behind then Patriots starter Drew Bledsoe. He would take over after a Bledsoe injury in 2001, and struggled at first. However, as a sixth round draft pick, he was given time to develop and we all know how it has turned out. In Brady's 10 seasons as a starter in New England, the Patriots have earned trips to the Super Bowl in five of them, winning three. He has also won two Super Bowl MVP awards.
Matt Barkley is in an overall much better position if he isn’t drafted until late in the first round or later. He will have time to develop and mature and grow as an NFL quarterback.
His less impressive (by Barkley and USC standards) senior season will serve to set him up for a much better NFL experience in the long-term.