The quarterback class for the 2013 NFL draft is a muddied mess, with no real consensus on who the top prospect at the position is this year.
Wednesday was USC quarterback Matt Barkley's chance to stake his claim to that spot, as the 6'2" 227-pound senior took to the practice field at Southern Cal's pro day.
Barkley, who all but certainly would have been a top 10 pick in last year's draft had he not returned for a disappointing 2012 season in Los Angeles, hasn't thrown publicly since separating his shoulder last November.
That made it imperative to some that Barkley throw well at his pro day, but some draftniks, including Albert Breer of the NFL Network, didn't expect to be surprised going into the workout.
Think we can save everybody the time and just say that Matt Barkley will look fantastic throwing the ball at USC's Pro Day today?— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 27, 2013
Neither did Benjamin Allbright of NFL Draft Monsters, who wasn't expecting to be swayed on Wednesday.
There is absolutely nothing about USC QB Matt Barkley playing catch w/ his WRs vs. air that's going to change his low grade from me.— Benjamin Allbright (@NFLDraftMonster) March 27, 2013
Barkley ran a 5.02-second 40-yard dash in his first attempt, and fared slightly better in his second.
However, as Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated pointed out, those 40-yard-dash times had about as much significance as watching Barkley throw with no defenders in his face.
He's also about to go 60-for-61 against no defense. RT @adam_jacobi: Matt Barkley's 40 time is who cares he's a friggin' quarterback.— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke_SI) March 27, 2013
And that's the thing with Matt Barkley. If there's a scout whose opinion of Matt Barkley changed a great deal based off what he saw at USC's pro day, then he or she should probably be fired.
We're talking about a four-year starter, after all. There are miles upon miles of film and hours upon hours of tape of him actually playing football to watch and study.
Other than making sure that the rehab on his shoulder has progressed well, there really wasn't a lot to be gleaned today.
USC's pro day isn't going to change the criticisms of Barkley's arm strength and velocity, although Sharon Katz of ESPN pointed out an interesting stat in that regard:
Since the start of the 2011 season, Barkley threw 24 touchdowns and only two interceptions on passes 20 yards or longer (in 120 attempts). When Barkley missed his receivers on those deep passes, he was four times more likely to overthrow his target than underthrow.
In fact, Barkley put up comparable numbers to what Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III did on passes of 20 yards or longer in their final two seasons.
And, Barkley’s completion percentage actually improved on throws of this distance from 2011 (39.7 percent) to 2012 (42.3).
At the end of the day, Matt Barkley is probably the most "known" commodity of any quarterback in this year's class. We know what he does well and the areas in which he struggles. All Wednesday's workout was supposed to do is highlight the former and gloss over the latter.
To no one's surprise, Barkley fared well early in his short and intermediate throws, which was to be expected.
It also wasn't any sort of shock that Barkley's deeper throws were accurate, although some didn't have a whole lot of "mustard" on them.
OK, this last throw by Matt Barkley was an impressive 40-yard corner route to Rob Woods, Barkley was exemplary, if he can do that often....— Brad James (@BroncosItaly) March 27, 2013
At the risk of beginning to sound repetitious, we already knew this about Matt Barkley. He doesn't have the arm strength of, say, Mike Glennon of North Carolina State, but he was also a far more accurate and consistent performer in college.
That knowledge of Barkley's game, borne from four years of watching him at USC, will probably appeal to some teams while turning off others.
Barkley is likely the most "NFL-ready" signal-caller of this year's class. He's shown the ability to effectively run a pro-style offense, and when given time to set his feet and step into his throws, Barkley's arm strength is more than adequate.
Is Matt Barkley a first-round draft pick?
However, USC's struggles up front last year also exposed some warts in his game. He made some poor decisions under duress, and there weren't any pass-rushers coming after him Wednesday in L.A.
Matt Barkley is a risk/reward pick in reverse. Rather than hoping that he'll develop and pay off, it's more about sacrificing a bit of potential upside with Barkley for a little less risk.
Like I said, we've seen what he can do. For better and for worse.
Will Matt Barkley be the first quarterback taken in the 2013 NFL draft?
Probably not. West Virginia's Geno Smith is more athletic and likely has the higher ceiling. It will be something of an upset if he's not the first quarterback off the board.
As to whether Barkley will be a first-round pick or a successful NFL starter, in this year's jumbled crop of quarterbacks, that's still a nearly impossible question to answer at this point. For every "expert" that says yes, there's another whose opinion is the complete opposite.
Welcome to the 2013 quarterback class. There just isn't a slam dunk in the bunch. Every player, from Smith to Glennon to Barkley, has things they do very well and dents in their game.
One workout isn't going to change that.