NFL Draft 2013: Considering Matt Barkley to the Arizona Cardinals

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NFL Draft 2013: Considering Matt Barkley to the Arizona Cardinals
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Many fans of the Arizona Cardinals have expressed to me the many issues they have with Matt Barkley potentially being taken by the team.

Not just at No. 7 in Round 1—some fans don’t want him in Arizona at all.

The main issues they seem to have range from his less than ideal arm strength to something as asinine as the fact that he follows former Southern California quarterbacks who were supposed to be stars in the NFL but who have underachieved.

What you are about to read is intended to discredit the above concerns and shed light on the prospect Barkley truly is.

While at the NFL Scouting Combine, Bleacher Report NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller sent out this tweet on Barkley that caused quite a stir around the football world:

While I do not condone the Cardinals drafting him at No. 7 overall, I am not against taking him in Round 2 or trading up to the bottom of the first to get him (that is a long discussion for another column).

Here we go.

 

Barkley’s Arm Strength

With new coach Bruce Arians bringing in what can be dubbed a “Six-gun offense,” in which he has a minimum of six plays per game specifically designed to get the ball deep downfield, Barkley naysayers have been spoon-fed ammunition with which they can proudly say, “Matt Barkley does not fit the Cardinals’ offense.”

They are not entirely correct.

Arians does love to force the issue downfield in order to put pressure on an opposing secondary. However, one area in which Barkley succeeds is using play-action passing. This is especially true when throwing deep off play action.

This play, from USC’s game against UCLA in 2011, shows just how well Barkley utilizes play action—it also reveals his football IQ.

While in an I-formation, Barkley brings tight end Xavier Grimble in motion from left to right, drawing the attention of both cornerback Aaron Hester (No. 21) and safety Stan McKay (circled in blue). Both defenders have their eye on the tight end, while true freshman phenom receiver Marqise Lee has corner Sheldon Price in man-coverage.

Off the fake to running back Marc Tyler, Barkley looks to Lee while a defender is barreling down on him. He doesn’t panic.

Instead, while keeping his eyes downfield, he steps into the pocket and into his throw to Lee.

Lee hauls it in and scores from 52 yards out. But why was he open?

This screen shot is from the 20-yard line, and as you can see, Lee’s vision of the ball is temporarily blocked by Price. A short throw into such good coverage would likely result in an interception for the UCLA cover-man.

Instead, the ball is placed far enough out in front where Lee was able to use his speed to separate during the final 15 yards to haul in the bomb.

Barkley does not always throw the deep ball this well, as pointed out by Bleacher Report contributor and NFL draft evaluator Ryan Lownes:

While Barkley will certainly leave some [deep] passes short, I do not think that is always a result of below-average arm strength. […] In my evaluation, I graded his arm strength as adequate, very much on the Andy Dalton level. There will be instances in which his lack of exceptional arm talent will bite him, as he will occasionally lack zip on throws outside the numbers. Additionally, his deep ball (40-plus yards) will hang in the air at times, which could hurt him at the next level. Sometimes, he simply does not put enough on throws, but I believe that could be a case of him thinking too much.

Lownes goes on to say he came away pleasantly surprised by Barkley’s velocity on his short to intermediate throws and that he shows the capability to “drill passes 50 to 60 yards downfield.”

We have seen his ability to sling it deep. While I won’t show you in detail an example of a throw outside the numbers, this play is a perfect representation of his arm strength on a typical out-route. Give it a look.

Your quarterback doesn’t need the biggest arm to complete passes downfield.

An example of that is former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner. He was never considered a strong-armed quarterback, but Warner was among the most accurate during his playing days. That led to one of the highest accuracy rates on passes 20-plus yards downfield ProFootballFocus ever recorded (since 2008).

The chart below shows the most accurate deep-ball passers since PFF began recording every play during the ’08 season. Accuracy percentage is highlighted on the far right and is defined as, “The completion percentage, including dropped passes, where the quarterback throws the ball 20 or more yards downfield.”

Warner is tied with Drew Brees for the second-highest accuracy percentage the site has recorded. While he threw only 7.7 percent of his passes beyond 20 yards that season, he was extremely effective when doing so.

In the right offensive system, Barkley can be a Warner-like quarterback in terms of accuracy and deep passing. In Arians’ attacking system, he can succeed with pin-point short to intermediate throws and taking advantage of vertical routes off play-action.

 

“He’s Just Another USC Quarterback—No Thanks”

This statement is nothing more than an uneducated stab at a player most casual fans know nothing about. Phrases from draft experts like "system quarterback," "lacks ideal athleticism" and "has a weak arm" turn previously unknowing fans into sudden Matt Barkley know-it-alls.

While zoning in on two to three phrases out of thousands of words praising every other aspect of his game, fans fail to realize Barkley really is a good fit for Arizona. He shows good poise in a closing pocket, delivers passes on time and accurately, sells a play-action handoff as well as anyone in this draft and is more intelligent and has a higher football IQ than all his competitors.

He called plays at the line of scrimmage in a pro-style offense his entire four-year career.

He was successful while at USC and compares well to other recent Trojans signal-callers. Here is a chart comparing Barkley to those quarterbacks.

That does not mean, however, that his NFL career will be anything like those of his Trojan predecessors.

Carson Palmer was briefly successful as the Cincinnati Bengals’ leader, as was Mark Sanchez for the Jets. Both may have benefited from great rosters around them and have since become the subject of fan loathing.

Everyone remembers Matt Leinart as a flash-in-the-pan leader of the Cardinals who was injured and replaced by Warner and never got the job back. Following a poor outing during a preseason game in 2010 after Warner’s retirement, he was released and has bounced around with the Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders.

All three were made top-10 picks in their respective drafts. Will Barkley follow suit? After his shoulder injury and subsequent surgery, that seems unlikely (despite what Miller’s source says).

But if he is available when the Cardinals are on the clock at No. 38 overall, why not pull the trigger? The right coach could convert him into a solid starter. Barkley possesses everything you want in an NFL quarterback.

Could Arians and his staff be those developers?

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