Why Are The Experts So Torn on Matt Barkley?

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMarch 6, 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

In a year when the opinions regarding this year's incoming crop of quarterbacks is all over the place, there may well be no passer who has generated more varied viewpoints than USC signal-caller Matt Barkley.

The latest draft expert to weigh in on Barkley was Greg Cosell of NFL Films, who apparently isn't much of a fan of the 6'2", 227-pound senior (per NFL.com's Dan Hanzus):

"When I look at Matt Barkley, here's a couple of things I immediately see," Cosell said. "Number one, he has average arm strength by NFL standards. Number two, his feet are not particularly quick, he has slower feet. And three, he's a little shorter.

"So then I go beyond that and think, 'OK, how can he be successful in the NFL when you got certain limitations?' And I think those limitations are the things I notice immediately and it's very difficult for me to look at him as a first- or second-round pick given those limitations and given what I know works effectively in the NFL."

Granted, some of what Cosell said is true. You probably won't find a scout out there who is going to debate the fact that, by NFL standards, Barkley's arm strength is mediocre. There also aren't many people out there raving about Barkley's athleticism. Colin Kaepernick, he ain't.

However, to call Barkley a third- or fourth-round prospect isn't necessarily accurate and it certainly isn't realistic.

Yes, Barkley's game has weaknesses, and his lack of a cannon is one of them, but Cosell appears to be solely focused on the negatives while completely ignoring the positives.

The biggest asset that Matt Barkley brings to the table isn't his arm or his legs. It's between his ears.

Of all the quarterbacks entering the NFL this year, Barkley has the best head on his shoulders—whether it's taking control of the huddle or reading defenses before the snap.

Barkley may not have been able to throw at the recent NFL Scouting Combine to allay fears about his right arm, but he was able to show off his football smarts. According to Albert Breer of NFL.com, the youngster made quite an impression in that regard:

One NFC personnel executive said that Barkley, from a "football smarts" standpoint, is rare, comparable with Andrew Luck when he came out last year. In fact, when asked if anyone could pass [Geno] Smith, the exec texted to say, "I think (Barkley) already has."

According to Breer, that executive wasn't the only person who thought that Barkley could pass the West Virginia quarterback to be the first player at his position drafted in April:

When I asked a second AFC college director the same question late last week -- about whether or not Smith could be passed -- his immediate response was, "I'd say 'No,' based on the ones I've seen. (Smith) has the most impressive body of work, he throws it well, has the arm strength, makes good decisions and has mobility and accuracy. And I don't think it's a strong enough group as a whole for anyone to pass him."

Then, given a moment to think more globally -- and outside of his own impressions -- the college director altered his tune, without changing it all together.

"If Barkley goes out there and has a great pro day, and with the great intangibles he brings, he could do it," the second college director said. "I like Geno better on film, but Barkley might fit someone's offense better."

That unnamed college director makes a couple of very good points.

First, Barkley's upcoming pro day will have a huge impact on his draft stock—especially with Barkley recovering from a separated throwing shoulder.

If he throws well, then many teams are going to look more at Barkley's football acumen and leadership abilities and worry less about his less-than-ideal arm strength.

Should he struggle, however, the "Cosell camp" is going to gain several new members, as more clubs begin to doubt Barkley's ability to make the throws necessary to be a quality starter in the National Football League.

The college director is also spot-on when he talks about the right fit for Barkley.

Barkley would appear to be best suited for a West Coast-style offense, a system in which his arm's deficiencies wouldn't be that big of an issue.

However, there's dissension even in that assessment. Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians employs an offensive scheme that favors attacking defenses vertically, but according to Bleacher Report NFL Lead Writer Matt Miller, the Cardinals are ready to pounce on Barkley with the seventh overall pick if he's available.

The fact that opinions on Barkley vary so greatly is an excellent metaphor for this year's crop of quarterbacks as a whole. There just isn't a can't-miss, slam dunk prospect in the bunch.

With that said, though, for all his shortcomings Matt Barkley is an accurate quarterback whose "intangibles" probably make him the most NFL-ready of this year's class.

That's going to be enough for some team to roll the dice in the hopes that Barkley's arm is strong enough, and with all due respect to Cosell, that's going to happen a lot earlier than the third or fourth round.

In fact, he likely won't make it out of the first.