Is Matt Barkley Making a Huge Mistake Opting Not To Throw at the Combine?

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystFebruary 19, 2013

PASADENA, CA - NOVEMBER 17:  Quarterback Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans drops back to pass against the UCLA Bruins in the second half at the Rose Bowl on November 17, 2012 in Pasadena, California. UCLA defeated USC 38-28.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

It's just been that sort of year for USC quarterback Matt Barkley.

Had Barkley decided to declare for the 2012 NFL draft after a junior season in which he threw for over 3,500 yards and 39 touchdowns, Barkley all but certainly would have been a top-10 overall pick.

However, Barkley decided to return to Los Angeles, and it's all been downhill from there.

The latest hit to Barkley's draft stock came on Monday. As Sam Farmer and Gary Klein of The Los Angeles Times reports, Barkley's agents have informed NFL teams that Barkley will not throw at this week's NFL scouting combine.

"Matt has been going through a very disciplined program to get back to 100%," his father, Les, said Monday. "He feels great, but he takes direction from Dr. Andrews." Les Barkley said his son's intent was to be "absolutely 100% for his pro day" workout at USC on March 27. Barkley is expected to throw to former Trojans receiver Robert Woods.

The "Dr. Andrews" Barkley's father refers to is Dr. James Andrews, who has been treating Barkley since November for a shoulder injury that cost Barkley the last two games of his collegiate career and capped off a very disappointing senior season.

Granted, Barkley still managed to throw for well over 3,000 yards. However, a USC team ranked in the top five to start the season floundered, and Barkley regressed significantly as a passer, leaving a player that Charlie Campbell of Walter Football called "nearly a finished product from an NFL perspective" and "the favorite to be the No.1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft" before the season with his stock very much in flux.

That makes this an important week in Indianapolis for the young signal-caller, especially in a class that's far from loaded at the quarterback position. Barkley himself indicated as much while speaking to Bill Vilona of The Pensacola News-Journal earlier this month.

“This is like the SAT (college entrance exam) times thousands,” said Barkley, during a reception at the Emerald Grande in Destin prior to the banquet at the Emerald Coast Convention Center. “I hear the whole couple days is a grind. But I am looking forward to that challenge. I am excited about it.”

However, Barkley was reportedly on the fence about throwing at the combine even then. He would be far from the first quarterback to eschew doing so in Indianapolis for the much more controlled environment of his college's pro day.

Whether it's because of that, his injured shoulder or a combination of the two, that's the track Barkley is taking.

The question now becomes how much it could potentially cost him.

This isn't to say that Barkley should attempt to throw at the combine if his shoulder is less than 100 percent. A subpar performance would only add fuel to the fire of critics who bemoan Barkley's lack of arm strength, and "gutting it out" in Indianapolis certainly isn't worth re-injuring his shoulder.

The problem is, that in a year when every quarterback prospect has question marks swirling around him, not throwing at the combine only serves to allow those other prospects to potentially put distance between themselves and Barkley.

Some of that distance Barkley has already created himself. Things got progressively worse for Barkley and the Trojans as last season progressed. After throwing more than one interception in only one game as a junior, Barkley did it six times a season ago, including the last four games of his collegiate career.

Barkley's supporters point to that as an aberration borne of a four-year starter trying to do too much. Detractors point to it as evidence of Barkley's less-than-ideal arm strength and a backslide in his decision-making.

Barkley's abilities as a leader aren't really in question. Nor should his accuracy on shorter throws be, as evidenced by the fact that even during last year's fiasco Barkley completed over 60 percent of his passes.

However, the $64,000 question with Barkley has always been arm strength. Can he make the sorts of throws down the field and to the outside that an NFL quarterback needs to make consistently, especially in a vertically-based offense?

Frankly, we already know the answer to that question. There are four years of game tape to watch on Barkley after all. When given time to set his feet and step into throws, Barkley's arm strength is more than adequate. Get in his face or hurry him, and he sometimes runs into problems.

That assessment wasn't going to change with one workout in Indianapolis, and in that respect Barkley not throwing in Indianapolis is no big deal.

What could be a big deal is a quarterback for whom arm strength was not a strength skipping the workout because his shoulder is still an issue. It may well be that that's all it takes for a team considering Barkley and another player to go that other direction.

The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, though. For all the naysaying about this year's class, there are enough desperate teams out there that I think draftniks will be surprised by how many go in the first round come April, perceived warts and all.

Whether Matt Barkley will be one of those quarterbacks remains to be seen.

One thing is certain, however.

Barkley had better bring his "A" game to the USC pro day on March 27.