At least five quarterbacks are in a fierce battle to become the first one off the board on NFL draft day. It's a group that includes Matt Barkley. While he won't be able to throw at the Scouting Combine, that doesn't knock him out of the top QB race.
Adam Schefter of ESPN reports Barkley will be in attendance during the annual event in Indianapolis, but his injured shoulder hasn't reached a point where he can participate in the drills. He still plans to meet with interested teams, however.
On the surface, it seems like a setback for the USC star because it gives his main competition a chance to upstage him. Geno Smith, Mike Glennon, Ryan Nassib and Tyler Wilson are all trying to stand out from the crowd, something none of the quarterbacks has done yet.
After last year's awesome quarterback class, which was headlined by Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, teams searching for somebody with similar potential have been disappointed so far. The combine is the first chance for this year's rookies to change that perception.
That said, it's not the be-all and end-all of the process. It makes for interesting drama for fans who are craving football during the offseason and gives teams an opportunity to scout some potential diamonds in the rough.
There's only so much a front office can learn from a quarterback throwing against open air without any pressure in his face. While they would probably like to see Barkley out there just to see how his shoulder is doing, his absence from drills isn't going to destroy his chances of being the top QB.
The most important thing for the Trojans star between now and draft day is receiving a clean bill of health. As long as teams are assured that he isn't permanently damaged from the moment he's drafted, it will overshadow his inability to throw in Indianapolis.
Schefter provided an update on his recovery.
Doctors who have examined and worked with Barkley are convinced he has made outstanding progress. He already has been cleared to throw at USC's Pro Day on March 27. Barkley's shoulder is said to be "90 [percent] of complete recovery" according to the statement.
If Barkley can get back to 100 percent and have a throwing session or two, whether it be at USC's pro day or individual workouts for interested teams, it will be enough in that respect to satisfy teams.
From there, they will look at his performance in college. Through three years, he looked like a surefire top pick. But lackluster numbers and his shoulder injury have caused his stock to drop.
If teams believe they are getting the quarterback who tore it up for three seasons and last season was just an aberration, he's clearly the most talented player at the position. He threw just 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions as a senior, however, so it's not a slam dunk.
There's a lot to learn between now and April about which version of Barkley will arrive at the next level. First, he has to get healthy. Second, he has to at least prove the basic skills that made him a star to begin with haven't been affected by the shoulder injury.
If he does that, he'll still be in position to be the first quarterback off the board at the draft, even without being able to showcase his talent at the combine.