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How Matt Barkley Can Become the Top Rookie QB in 2013

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How Matt Barkley Can Become the Top Rookie QB in 2013
USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Matt Barkley should not be confused with Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, each top draft picks who later went on to set new benchmarks for rookie quarterback play.

A fourth-round pick by the Eagles in April, Barkley may not even be the primary backup in Philadelphia to start 2013.

However, such realities do not mean Barkley can't become the top rookie quarterback from this year's class. 

For a team in transition, and with no clear No. 1 quarterback for now or the future, Barkley has a real opportunity to eventually put his mark on Philadelphia's 2013 season. And even if he doesn't start the season as the top quarterback, any slip up during Chip Kelly's first year could mean a quick switch to Barkley as the starter.

According to Len Pasquarelli of the National Football Post, Barkley has been "fairly impressive" during offseason workouts, and there remains NFL talent evaluators who think the former USC star will be the top quarterback from the 2013 class.

Barkley doesn't figure to face stiff competition—at least on the Luck/Griffin III scale—from his fellow rookies.

Only three quarterbacks (EJ Manuel, Geno Smith and Mike Glennon) were selected before Barkley, who went at No. 98 overall. In all, only 11 quarterbacks were taken—with eight coming in the fourth round or later. 

A first-round pick of the Buffalo Bills, Manuel should be given every opportunity to start right away. However, he'll battle veteran Kevin Kolb for the job and he might need a strong training camp to be the Week 1 starter. 

Smith, a second-rounder for the New York Jets, will compete with pricey quarterback Mark Sanchez, while Glennon, a third-round pick, is firmly entrenched behind Josh Freeman with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In Oakland, fourth-rounder Tyler Wilson might have a chance to win playing time down the road for the Raiders

The case for Barkley as the top rookie quarterback in 2013 actually begins with his own competition in Philadelphia. 

Veteran Michael Vick was brought back on a one-year deal, and he figures to have a slight edge to be the starter ahead of training camp.

However, Vick has struggled with injuries (including a concussion to end last season) and avoiding turnovers, which add up to a shaky hold at best as a starting quarterback in Philadelphia.

Accuracy has also been a problem for Vick, who possesses a career 56.3 completion percentage. In a Kelly offense that is built upon quick, accurate decision-making, Vick's passing skill set isn't a great fit. 

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Second-year quarterback Nick Foles is also back after starting six games for Andy Reid's Eagles in 2012. A former third-round pick, Foles showed flashes of being a starting-caliber quarterback during his stint as the starter. 

But Foles wasn't drafted by Kelly, and bringing back Vick might suggest that the new Eagles brass isn't high on Foles being capable of leading the show long-term. He certainly didn't do enough during his brief starting stint to convince the staff of letting Vick walk or avoiding a quarterback in the draft.

Barkley doesn't enter the NFL with the aid of being a high draft pick, but he does have the fact that he was the only quarterback brought to Philadelphia by the current head coach. Even in an open competition, that helps his cause.

In the still unlikely event that Barkley does win the starting job right away, he'd immediately jump to the top of rookie quarterbacks in terms of production possibility. In a fast-pace offense predicated on running the football, and with several playmakers at both running back (LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown) and receiver (DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin), Barkley would seem to have all the necessary pieces in place for a surprising rookie season. 

Accurate and with football smarts, Barkley could thrive for Kelly's offense.

But even if Barkley doesn't storm the starting gates with his accuracy and poise during training camp, he figures to eventually have an opportunity to start for the transitioning Eagles later in the season.

Philadelphia is coming off a four-win season, and even the excitement of Kelly's arrival can't be expected to immediately turn the Eagles into legitimate playoff contenders. In the tough NFC East, it's entirely possible that Philadelphia struggles in Year 1. 

If that turns out to be the case, there's no reason why Barkley shouldn't get a chance to start games in 2013. 

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Recent history shows that rookie quarterbacks can make a big difference early in their careers. In a lost-year scenario, the Eagles would be foolish to delay the future with nothing more than stop-gap options. 

Barkley, for all his weaknesses as a quarterback, spent four years running an up-tempo offense at a major college program. He has experience, polish and moxie. He dealt with spotlight and controversy. 

Kelly also has intimate knowledge of what he brings to the table after coaching against him every year at Oregon. 

Barkley shouldn't be expected to produce 11 wins for an otherwise average roster (like Luck), or tally video game numbers on a suddenly explosive offense (like Griffin III). He may not even win a starting job in Week 1 like Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill were able to do in 2012.

However, this rookie class is obviously much different than the year prior, and Barkley's situation with the Eagles is a favorable one.  

During a draft where finding a franchise quarterback proved to be a difficult one for NFL teams, Barkley—a fourth-round pick who fell into a logjam of quarterbacks in Philadelphia—should have as good an opportunity as any to be the top rookie at his position. 

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