Does the Current State of USC QBs in NFL Spell Doom for Matt Barkley?

Chris Trapasso@ChrisTrapassoAnalyst IMarch 28, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 26:  Quarterback Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans celebrates following the game against the UCLA Bruins at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 26, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. USC defeated UCLA 50-0.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Matt Barkley is a quarterback and went to USC. 

He is doomed. 

Or is he? 

Well, if basing a projection solely on what Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez did in the NFL, the future isn't very bright for Barkley. 

Let's examine what happened to the Trojans' signal-caller trio and decipher what it means for the 2013 quarterback prospect. 

Carson Palmer 

Palmer was an extremely polished prospect coming out of USC in 2003. He started three full seasons for the Trojans and showed improvement from his sophomore year to his magnificent, Heisman Trophy-winning senior campaign. 

He had desired size, arm strength and accuracy and displayed a keen sense to read defenses properly and deliver the football accordingly.

In 2002, his last season in SoCal, Palmer completed 63.2 percent of his passes, which mostly came out of the pocket. He finished with 33 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. 

USC went on to beat the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Rose Bowl, and Palmer completed 21 of 31 passes for 303 yards and one score. 

His sparkling senior season and elite quarterback tools made him an easy No. 1 overall selection for the Cincinnati Bengals. 

Where it went wrong in the NFL

Palmer didn't play as a rookie—remember this was before the days of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan—but in 2004, he went 6-7 as a starter while throwing 18 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. 

In 2005, his third year in the NFL, Palmer was elevated by some to "elite" status following his 32-touchdown, 12-pick regular season. 

Sadly, on the first Bengals' play of the opening-round playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, defensive linemen Kimo von Oelhoffen fell onto Palmer's leg, which totally shredded his knee. 

He labored through an arduous rehabilitation process and was ready for the 2006 season opener. 

Palmer was slightly above-average in 2006 and 2007, but Cincinnati failed to make the postseason. 

In 2008, which should have been the prime of his career, Palmer's sore elbow ended up being a partially torn ligament that ended his year. 

He was a relative statue in the pocket and noticeably panicked when pressure mounted. Despite his big arm, Palmer was somewhat inconsistent with his accuracy and proficiency in regards to reading secondaries. 

In Oakland, he was thrown into a horrible situation that was exacerbated when running back Darren McFadden went down for the year in Palmer's first game. 

Matt Leinart


Leinart was hyped to be even more naturally gifted than Palmer, his predecessor. In 2003, when he took over as the USC starter, the southpaw from Santa Ana exploded onto the scene. 

His Trojans team was absolutely loaded with future NFL players, Mike Williams, Winston Justice, Steve Smith, Keary Colbert, Shaun Cody, Frostee Rucker and Lofa Tatupu. 

USC went on to upend a solid Michigan Wolverines team in the Rose Bowl, and following a brilliant 38-touchdown, nine-interception season, Leinart, only a sophomore, was a Heisman favorite heading into 2004.

With added pressure, Leinart certainly didn't disappoint in his junior season. He guided his team to an undefeated record and orchestrated a 55-19 drubbing of the Oklahoma Sooners in the national title game.

His completion percentage increased and touchdown-to-interception ratio improved.

But because running back Reggie Bush emerged as one of the most electrifying runners in the land, Leinart wasn't asked to win as many games as he did in 2003.

However, he did win the 2004 Heisman Trophy.

We will never know how the 2005 draft would have ultimately played out, but Leinart would have been on the San Francisco 49ers' radar for the No. 1 overall pick, and he likely wouldn't have made it out of the Top 10. 

Instead, he came back to USC for another season and led the Trojans to a 12-0 record and national title showdown with Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns. 

In what was arguably one of the most entertaining championship games in college football history, Young unseated the Trojans. 

Leinart didn't win another Heisman Trophy as Bush took home the game's highest honor. He didn't win another title and wasn't the No. 1 overall pick in the subsequent draft. 


Leinart's lack of arm strength was a major deterrent for some teams looking for a quarterback in the draft, and many organizations believed his statistics were inflated due to the tremendous collection of talent he played with in college.

The Arizona Cardinals made the 6'5'', 225-pound quarterback the No. 10 overall selection in 2006 draft. 

Where it went wrong in the NFL

Leinart was involved in a lengthy holdout after being picked and was the last member of his draft class to sign his contract. 

Did that play a role in his undoing as a professional? 

Eh. Probably not. 

But it wasn't the best way for Leinart to start his NFL career, that's for sure.

He played as a rookie, but his weaker arm—his inability to drive the football down the field with zip—was the most glaring hindrance to his game. 

Leinart wasn't asked to stretch the field with long throws often, but defenses never felt threatened by his deep ball. 

In fact, he never was as accurate in the NFL as he was in college on any throws. 

Also, an injury to his shoulder in 2006 and a broken collarbone in 2007 curtailed his development. 

Probably most importantly, Dennis Green, the head coach who drafted Leinart in 2006, was fired in 2007. Ken Whisenhunt was named the head coach, a guy who had absolutely no connection to Leinart whatsoever. 

Bringing in a new coaching regime is rarely a positive development for a young, holdover quarterback. 

After that, Leinart simply couldn't do enough to earn a starting gig, and the rest is history. Despite experience and extreme success at USC, Leinart's limited physical tools, sub-par decision-making, inability to avoid the rush and injuries were instrumental to his downfall.

Mark Sanchez

After a Rose Bowl-winning season in 2006 and Pac-10 co-championship season with John David Booty as the starter, the Trojans turned to youngster Mark Sanchez who was billed by some to be a better quarterback than Leinart. 

As a junior in 2008, Sanchez was dazzling, as advertised. 

He played with a veteran's poise, and despite being smaller at only 6'2'', he delivered the ball with accuracy and plenty of velocity down the field. 

Sanchez completed nearly 66 percent of his passes and threw 34 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions, and he played flawlessly in a 38-24 Rose Bowl win over Penn State, completing 28-of-35 passes for 413 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. 

The latest good-looking USC quarterback saw his draft stock skyrocket, and the New York Jets traded up to grab him at No. 5 overall in the 2009 draft. 

Where it went wrong in the NFL

Sanchez's decision to enter the NFL after only one full season as the Trojans' starter was met with plenty of criticism. 

Actually, Pete Carroll wasn't a fan. 

From a physical-trait perspective, Sanchez had it all. 

His arm strength was never mind-blowing, but his traditional release yielded a ball with adequate speed, and he could fling it down the field rather easily. 

Sanchez played in USC's pro-style offense and didn't make many poor choices with the football, but simply put, he wasn't ready to make the jump to the faster, more complex NFL. 

In New York with the Jets, he played on teams with sound offensive lines, decent running games and amazing defenses; therefore, his slower transition to the professional game was originally masked. 

However, when the pieces around him weren't as prolific, Sanchez faltered under the heightened pressure. 

His confidence seemingly deteriorated every week, and so did his completion percentage, which really wasn't high in the first place. 

Matt Barkley

Barkley started for Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif. as a freshmen, and called his own plays—something that, according to Sports Illustrated, head coach Bruce Rollinson never allowed in his twenty years at the school. 

He enrolled early at USC and was handed the reigns to the offense as a true freshman in 2009. 

Pete Carroll's decision to make him the starter meant Barkley was the first true freshmen to ever start an opener for the Trojans. 

He dealt with a few injuries in 2009, and ended the season with a completion percentage just shy of 60 percent and 15 touchdowns with 14 interceptions. 

In 2010, Barkley took a major step forward, improving his completion percentage nearly four full percentage points while throwing 26 touchdowns to only 12 interceptions. 

Due to penalties handed down by the NCAA, USC was unable to participate in a bowl game despite going 8-5. 

In 2011, Barkley shined, completing 69 percent of his passes for 3,528 yards with a ridiculous 39 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. 

There is a distinct possibility he would have been taken No. 3 overall by the Cleveland Browns behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in the 2012 draft, but he decided to return to USC for his senior season. 

With left tackle Matt Kalil gone, the Trojans' offensive line struggled, which didn't benefit Barkley. However, Marquise Lee and Robert Woods provided an explosive one-two punch at wide receiver. 

Heading into the season with the No. 1 ranking, Barkley and his club simply couldn't live up to expectations. 

They were physically beat down by the Stanford Cardinal, and the defense was embarrassed against the Arizona Wildcats and Oregon Ducks. 

Barkley dinged his throwing shoulder in the Stanford game but played through it until he was driven to the ground in the rivalry game against UCLA—another USC defeat. 

He was forced to sit out the final regular season game against Notre Dame and did not play in the bowl game against Georgia Tech. 

What it all means for Barkley

Barkley has been compared to all these USC quarterback busts. Some of the comparisons are warranted, but many are not or plainly don't matter.

Palmer, and particularly Leinart and Sanchez, were pretty golden boy-ish during their time with the Trojans. Everyone knows that. They were anointed from their success at the high-profile prep ranks in California and were productive under the bright lights of Hollywood for a marquee program. Nothing was made too difficult for them, especially with the all the skill-position talent.

That's just how it goes at USC. 

From that angle, it's easy to draw comparisons to Barkley's tenure with the Trojans. 

He came from the big-name high school with plenty of accolades and was one of the most coveted quarterback prospects in the country. 

He experienced immense success on good USC teams.

But did their golden boy status ultimately ruin Palmer, Leinart and Sanchez in the NFL? 

I just can't buy that. 

Here's why. 

Sure, Palmer, Leinart and Sanchez were carefully placed in a hype and talent-filled bubble while in college, something that may have ill-prepared them for the professional ranks, but many other occurrences played much more significant roles in their disappointing NFL careers. 

Many "protected", golden boy quarterbacks from major collegiate programs that play home games in warm-weather cities have gone on to thrive at the next level. 

Palmer was en route to being one of the best signal-callers in the game prior to his knee injury against the Steelers, although other flaws in his game were eventually exposed. 

Leinart's inadequate arm, awkward situation in Arizona and coaching turnover didn't help him. Also, did he really want it? I'm not so sure. 

Sanchez, with another year of seasoning, likely would have been much more prepared to take on everything that comes with being a quarterback in the NFL. 

He only started 15 games in college. 

Barkley doesn't have Palmer's arm, but he appears to be more dedicated than Leinart, and due to his vast experience, is undeniably more ready to make the leap than Sanchez was in 2009. 

To me, from a mental standpoint, Barkley is the most NFL-ready quarterback in the 2013 class. His arm strength probably falls somewhere between Leinart and Sanchez, but he exhibited pinpoint accuracy all over the field and played smart as a collegian. 

As a complete prospect, he equates closest to Palmer, which a few years ago would have been a ringing endorsement.

Just like any NFL prospect, Matt Barkley could bust, but it won't have anything to do with the three USC quarterbacks who failed to meet expectations before him.


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