Why Matt Barkley Will Be the First QB Selected in the 2013 NFL Draft

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystMarch 25, 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

There has been an endless array of discussion and debate regarding who the top quarterback prospect is in the 2013 NFL Draft.

The general consensus is that West Virginia's Geno Smith, who threw for nearly 4,200 yards as a senior, possesses the most upside, and on Monday Peter King of Sports Illustrated reported that the Jacksonville Jaguars have expressed "preliminary" interest in drafting Smith second overall.

However, once the University of Southern California holds their pro day on Wednesday that's all going to change.

Scouts from around the NFL will be descending on Los Angeles this week for that pro day, and the star attraction will no doubt be quarterback Matt Barkley, who will work out publicly for the first time since separating his throwing shoulder last year.

That injury capped off a very disappointing senior season for Barkley, who entered last year as the presumptive favorite to not only be the first quarterback selected in the 2013 draft, but also the first pick overall.

Things didn't exactly go as planned. A USC team that started the year ranked in the top five faceplanted, and Barkley's numbers dropped across the board.

That isn't to say they were terrible. For the season, the 6'2" Barkley completed nearly 64 percent of his passes for 3,273 yards and 36 touchdowns, although his 2012 interception total jumped to 15 after throwing only seven in 2011.

That drop off in stats and Barkley's injured shoulder have raised doubts about Barkley's ability to be a successful NFL quarterback, and Greg Cosell of NFL Films told the NFL Network's "Path to the Draft" via Dan Hanzus of NFL.com that he wasn't impressed after watching tape of the youngster.

"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 Cosell's criticisms have merit.

Yes, Matt Barkley's arm strength isn't spectacular, although Barkley told Peter King that's something he's been working on improving in advance of Wednesday's pro day.

It's also true that in the face of pressure Barkley's accuracy suffered badly at times, especially last year. In a loss to the Stanford Cardinal last September Barkley was under duress for much of the game, and the end result was Barkley completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes and tossing a pair of interceptions.

The thing is, there isn't a quarterback in this year's class that doesn't have a question mark surrounding his game. If you're looking for an Andrew Luck in the 2013 draft you're fresh out of, you know, luck.

What Barkley does bring to the table is that, as a four-year starter in a pro-style offense at USC, he's easily the most NFL-ready of this year's quarterback crop. Sure, he may not have Dan Marino's arm, but as Jen Floyd Engel of FOX Sports points out there's a ton of tape showing that Barkley is more than capable of making the throws necessary to be a quality NFL starter.

What Barkley’s tape screams is "NFL ready now," a quality not to be diminished in this league. He is capable of making every single throw, with a decent enough long ball and really crazy smarts, making him capable of reading and handling NFL defenses now.

Those smarts that Engel speaks of shouldn't be minimized. Barkley has demonstrated time and again the ability to go through his progressions and find the open man.

Provide Barkley some time, and allow the 227-pounder to read a defense and step into his throws, and you get the player who completed over 75 percent of his passes and threw four touchdown passes in a win at fourth-ranked Oregon in November of 2011.

Yes, Matt Barkley struggled in 2012, however, those struggles had more to do with him trying to do too much as they did with his suddenly regressing significantly as a quarterback.

The three-year captain is essentially being punished for trying too hard to salvage a season that fell apart for the Trojans. A year in which his left tackle left for the NFL, his center got hurt, and the defense was horrible.

Were there another quarterback in 2012 that came from nowhere, ala Robert Griffin III in 2011, to take college football by storm, then you'd get no argument from me that Matt Barkley wasn't the top quarterback prospect this year.

However, there wasn't. In the first half of the year it appeared that it would be Geno Smith, but his game showed holes as the season wore on. Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater will be playing college football again in 2013.

I'm also not going to sit here and say definitively that Matt Barkley has the most upside of any signal-caller in this year's draft. He probably doesn't. However, what he does have is the highest floor of the bunch.

In 2011, scouts raved about the 6'5" size and arm strength of Blaine Gabbert.

How's that worked out so far?

Potential is great, but only if it's realized. With a strong showing throwing the ball Wednesday, Matt Barkley can show that he has ample potential of his own to go along with stacks of game tape showing his ability to run a pro-style offense.

And that's going to be enough to shoot Barkley past Smith, making Barkley the first quarterback whose name we'll hear called by Roger Goodell in April.