Matt Barkley's Lingering Shoulder Injury Should Be Major Red Flag for NFL Teams

Justin OnslowContributor IIFebruary 18, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20:  Quarterback Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans throws a pass in the first quarter against the Colorado Buffaloes at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 20, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The NFL Scouting Combine doesn’t always have a substantial impact on the draft stock of quarterback prospects, but Matt Barkley’s inability to throw at the event may be cause for major concern.

Barkley separated his throwing shoulder in USC’s Nov. 17 loss to UCLA, and proceeded to miss the team’s final regular season contest and its bowl game against Georgia Tech, citing lack of medical clearance as the reason for not taking the field:

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, doctors have been pleased with Barkley’s progress, and his shoulder is “90 percent” toward complete recovery. While that prognosis is good news for the quarterback—who hopes to throw at his pro day on March 27—that doesn’t mean he is well on his way to impressing NFL talent evaluators.

It doesn’t take a doctor to explain how important a healthy throwing shoulder is to a quarterback, especially one with an NFL future in his sights. The injury that sidelined him for USC’s last two games of the 2012 season was an exacerbation of a shoulder injury that plagued him throughout the season (via ESPN).

Taking a chance on a quarterback with nagging injury issues is a risky proposition—one that will no doubt cross the minds of NFL general managers in April.

Barkley declined an invitation to the Senior Bowl in January for the same reason he will be unable to throw at the combine, and it seemed he might lose his foothold as a first-round prospect in this year’s draft as a result. None of the quarterbacks who attended the game did much to bolster their draft stock, though, and Barkley remains in the first-round discussion with only Geno Smith garnering more attention to be the first signal-caller selected in April.

For Barkley’s injury history to not adversely affect his draft stock, he will have to prove his shoulder is fully healed in time for his pro day in March—and even that may not be enough to keep NFL general managers from shying away. Injury history plays a big role in the evaluation of NFL draft prospects, especially the kinds of injuries that can be devastating for quarterbacks.

Ultimately, the pre-draft interview process will play a major role in Barkley’s NFL landing spot, but he still has to prove he has the ability to hold up physically at the NFL level. Scouts have already gotten a look at his physical tools (there’s no shortage of game tape for the USC star), but how well he recovers from the injury will be the most telling indication of how prepared he is to lead an NFL team.

This year’s draft class isn’t exactly loaded with top-tier talent at the quarterback position. Barkley stands to gain more than any other player in the draft should he prove his shoulder is fully healed, but that’s a big question mark considering how long it has taken him to recover for the injury.

With so much depth at other positions this year, Barkley stands to lose a lot of money if his injury causes him to fall down the draft board.