Fourth Round, 98th Pick
Perhaps no player entered the college football season with higher expectations than USC quarterback Matt Barkley. After leading his Trojans to a 10-2 record in 2011, he chose to return to school for a shot at a national title despite being projected as a likely top 10 pick. Unfortunately, Barkley experienced new struggles as a senior and may have hurt himself in the eyes of NFL evaluators.
So, is Barkley a legitimate franchise quarterback prospect? Or is he more along the lines of a Jimmy Clausen or Brian Brohm? Let's take a closer look.
The first word that comes to mind when watching Matt Barkley is "polished."
It is hard not to be impressed by his clean mechanics and smooth delivery. For a college quarterback, he has been exposed to a wide variety of pro-style concepts. Additionally, he shows an advanced ability to manipulate coverage using his eyes and body position. Flashing precision, excellent anticipation and a good understanding of timing, Barkley will be able to excel in offenses that can emphasize his mental capacity. Intangibly, there is not much more you can ask for, as he is a proven leader on and off the field.
While Barkley has earned the reputation as a solid game manager, he is too erratic at times with his decision making and accuracy. He is often guilty of trying to do too much and will test traffic more than he should. Furthermore, physical limitations (athleticism, arm strength, size) may take him off some boards.
Though I believe Barkley to be an adequate physical specimen, he is not going to hurt you with his legs, nor is he going scare defenses with his arm talent. He may have been able to rely on his talented receivers in college, but at the next level he will have to quickly adjust to the speed and athleticism of defenders.
Ever-present in professional football are certain physical benchmarks. Simply put, the NFL is a man’s league. Physical limitations can be exposed early, often due to the speed of opponents and smart game-planning. While players such as Russell Wilson have a way of breaking down these stereotypes and broadening our perspective, there are time-tested rules of thumb for every position.
The first issue many will identify when taking a look at Barkley is his height. His NFL Combine measurements (6'2 1/2" 227 lbs), however, surprisingly reveal he is one of the bigger starting quarterback prospects in this class.
Also coming under fire is Matt Barkley’s athleticism. Let me be clear on one point: The quarterback position is no place to hide a below-average athlete. In the NFL, signal-callers are asked not only to make quick decisions, but also extend plays when they have to. Though Barkley may not be a threat to hurt defenses with his feet when he breaks the pocket, I would classify him as an adequate athlete capable of getting by at the next level.
While many are divided on Matt Barkley’s on-field performance, it is tough to find anyone who is not impressed by him as an individual. A very down-to-earth guy, he is likely to win over head coaches and general managers with his maturity. In the locker room and on the field, Barkley is everything you want from an NFL quarterback.
Equally impressive are Barkley’s intelligence and football IQ. From what I have gathered by listening to and reading interviews, he absolutely gives off the “film junkie” vibe. It is clear that he is an Xs and Os guy, and I think it is fair to label him as a student of the game.
In addition to a variety of accolades relating to his performance, Matt Barkley has also received multiple awards for his service to the community. USC’s first ever three-time captain exhibits leadership on and off the field. The likable, charismatic Southern California native figures to earn points in NFL circles due to his intangibles and character.
More so than the vast majority of college programs, USC incorporates many elements of a pro-style offense. During his tenure as a Trojan quarterback, Matt Barkley was given a lot of control, as he often called plays at the line of scrimmage. With experience under center and in shotgun formations, Barkley was exposed to a large amount of pro concepts. Additionally, his ability to effectively run an up-tempo, no-huddle offense gives him an NFL-ready look
The hot-button issue when discussing Matt Barkley’s NFL future has always been arm strength. It seems like anywhere you go, somebody wants to knock his arm. What I noticed on tape, however, surprised me a bit. While Barkley will certainly leave some passes short, I do not think that is always a result of below-average arm strength.
I will not sit here and tell you that Barkley has a cannon, but 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.
That all said, there are absolutely times that the ball will jump out of Matt Barkley’s hand. In fact, after taking a closer look, I came away pleasantly surprised by the velocity on his short to intermediate throws. While he may look uncomfortable at times throwing outside the numbers, he shows the ability to really rip it down the middle of the field. Furthermore, Barkley has made a few “wow” passes, especially on deep post and crossing routes.
Nobody will confuse him with Joe Flacco or Cam Newton, but he shows the capability to drill passes 50-60 yards downfield.
Matt Barkley flashes exceptional touch and accuracy, though he is not without his inconsistencies.
Among his most impressive qualities, Barkley displays excellent anticipation, often placing passes in the optimal spot. He also exhibits a good understanding of timing and rhythm in the passing game.
Barkley shows the ability to throw accurately at every level of the field. He may throw a wobbly ball occasionally, but the important thing is that it gets there. While he shines throwing short to intermediate passes, I gradually became more impressed by his deep accuracy and anticipation.
In today’s passing-oriented league, it is important to be able to throw accurately on the move. Matt Barkley displays the ability to throw with precision and accuracy while rolling to his right.
Barkley has his erratic moments, however, sometimes completely missing his spot. With the loss of his blindside protector Matt Kalil, he faced more pressure than ever, and his completion percentage dropped from 69.1 percent in 2011 to 63.2 percent this past season. It was impossible to tell who was at fault at times, but many passes fell incomplete as a result of miscommunication between Barkley and his receivers.
Among the first things teams will notice when they pop in Matt Barkley’s tape is his clean mechanics. From his footwork to his delivery, it appears he has an edge on the vast majority of NFL hopefuls in this department.
While he may not be especially fleet of foot, Barkley is quick and fluid in his drop. His throwing mechanics seem to be very much in order, as he displays a compact, over-the-top throwing motion and quick release. His delivery is very smooth and appears to be second nature to him.
One concern that does exist, however, is the fact that the ball often flutters out of Barkley’s hand. Whether or not adjusting his grip could solve this problem, I cannot claim to know for sure.
Despite what many think, Matt Barkley is not a statue. He displays presence, appearing comfortable climbing the pocket and extending plays. Though he is limited somewhat by his lack of athleticism, maneuverability is an underrated aspect of his game.
Matt Barkley is a quick decision maker, but he also shows the composure to extend plays and find the open man if the play breaks down. When he needs to, Barkley will show the toughness to step into a hit to make a throw.
Unfortunately, as I will later illustrate in greater detail, Barkley makes some bonehead decisions when he is wrapped up. In the future, he will need to do a better job of limiting turnovers by taking sacks or throwing the ball away.
As I have alluded to at several points in this scouting report, Matt Barkley is not the most mobile quarterback. While he may be quick and fluid in his drop, possessing efficient footwork in the pocket, Barkley simply is not a threat to pick up yards with his feet.
Matt Barkley is a bit of a house cat. That is not a knock necessarily, but it is clear he prefers not to cross the line of scrimmage. In fact, in the last two years, his longest run went for just 12 yards.
As I mentioned when talking about Barkley’s pocket presence, he does show the capability to occasionally extend plays. Also, he seems to fare pretty well with a moving pocket, not appearing overly sluggish or unnatural on the move.
How Does He Attack Defenses?
Matt Barkley is a traditional drop-back passer who can really attack defenses off of play action. Anyone can sell a fake, but Barkley’s ability to manipulate coverage with his eyes and body position put him ahead of the curve. Additionally, he displays good vision, seeing the field well at every level and finding check-down options.
Matt Barkley seems to be a very solid red-zone quarterback. On the shortened field, physical limitations can be hidden, giving way to the ability to throw accurate fade routes and back shoulder passes.
It is hard to tell sometimes whether Barkley does not fully anticipate contact in coverage or if he is simply looking for a flag. Either way, his tendency to throw in the direction of contact could be more of an advantage at the next level (with illegal contact rules) than a concern.
Often, Matt Barkley is guilty of trying to do too much. He will test traffic and attempt to force passes into impossibly tight windows.
To illustrate this, we return again to his 2012 matchup with conference rival Oregon.
On this play, he finds himself under duress off of play-action. The Ducks’ blitzing cornerback, Terrance Mitchell, comes in unblocked, forcing Barkley to make a quick decision.
After stepping up in the pocket, Matt Barkley finds himself wrapped up with the ball still in his hand. While I think Matt would be the first to tell you that the ball should have been thrown away, especially on 1st & 10, he instead tries to salvage the play.
Barkley winds up forcing the throw into heavy traffic. Due to the pressure, he is unable to detect the linebacker, Kiko Alonso, dropping into coverage. The result of this poor decision was an Alonso interception that prevented the Trojans from cutting into their 17-point deficit.
Usually Matt Barkley exhibits better judgment, but in 2012 it looked like he was pressing more behind an average offensive line. Regardless of his protection, Barkley must eliminate these errors.
Future Role/Scheme Versatility
While his background in a pro-style offense may appeal to quarterback needy teams, perceived physical limitations could restrict the amount of systems Matt Barkley will be seen as a fit in. A west coast offense that emphasizes Barkley’s quick release, anticipation and intelligence is likely the best fit. Due to a wide array of NFL quarterback skills, however, I would not completely limit him to a WCO.
After studying carefully, I have concluded that Matt Barkley is worthy of a late first- or early second-round grade. However, one must adjust his or her perception of draft position in accordance with demand. Due to the high premium placed on quarterbacks, it appears as if Barkley could go much earlier than his grade would indicate.
While it is certainly possible that he slides on draft day, I could just as easily see him coming off the board in the later portion of the top ten.
Draft Projection: Top 10 - Early Second Round