Matt Barkley’s decision to skip the 2012 NFL Draft was a disappointment for NFL teams but a huge boon to the draft stock of a few prospects.
Most any team that finds itself at the top of the NFL draft has a variety of needs. While Barkley’s return to USC might takes him off the table for those teams, they will still look to fill a need somewhere.
Whether it’s another quarterback or a different position altogether, these teams will bump up a few lower-ranked players to fill Barkley’s spot on their draft boards.
If he wasn’t already, this year’s Heisman Trophy winner is now clearly the No. 2 quarterback in the draft behind Andrew Luck. Pending any unexpected developments between now and April, Griffin and Luck have distanced themselves as the top two passing prospects in the 2012 NFL draft.
Much like Cam Newton last year (though the two are very different players), Robert Griffin III has the elite athletic ability to bring his college style of play with him to the NFL. His running gives an electric jolt to his game, but don’t sell Griffin short as a passer.
He ranks second in FBS in pass efficiency rating and led all of college football this season in yards per pass attempt, averaging 10.8 yards every time he put the ball in the air.
Though there really isn’t any passer quite like Griffin in the NFL right now, his ceiling as an NFL quarterback would be something like Michael Vick’s 2010 season. He’s accurate and efficient but has track star speed (literally) to burn defenses that sit back against him.
There are plenty of teams in need of a quarterback, and if he chooses to come out, Landry Jones now looks much more attractive. With Barkley’s return to college, Jones moves up right behind Andrew Luck for teams that decide to pass on RGIII for a more traditional, drop-back passer.
Jones finished his regular season with solid numbers (4,302 yards and 28 touchdowns), but his production dropped off notably when he lost his favorite target, All-American receiver Ryan Broyles. Even with young receivers like Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds developing into threats on the outside, Jones might not be able to replicate his production without Broyles next season.
Jones is still grading out well with draft evaluators, but his inability to adjust after losing Broyles is a cause for concern.
There is still some debate over whether Jones will decide to come out, but I’d bet that Barkley’s decision, along with Broyles’ departure, will push Jones to pounce on this opportunity.
Armed with the knowledge that Matt Barkley will be available in the draft next season, some quarterback-needy teams might choose to wait on a passer and develop the rest of their offense instead. What better building block than a massive offensive tackle to keep your QB’s jersey clean?
Riley Reiff has had a solid year at Iowa, coming out of a program with a tradition of producing great offensive linemen. Most of the teams that need a quarterback could probably use some beef along the front line, and prospects don’t get much beefier than the 6’6”, 300-pound Reiff.
With Barkley off the table for this year, the Miami Dolphins might jump at the chance to solidify their line and pair Reiff with All-Pro tackle Jake Long.
If a team is looking for a quarterback, odds are it could probably use a receiver as well. With Barkley out of the mix, a few teams will have to squeeze another season out of some less than stellar passers. Alshon Jeffrey would be a perfect fit for any of those teams.
Jeffrey’s numbers this season aren’t particularly impressive. After racking up over 1,500 receiving yards last season, he’s dropped to just 614 so far this year.
While it’s a bit unnerving to see such a precipitous drop in production, most of that can be attributed to South Carolina’s poor quarterback play. With Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw at the helm, the Gamecocks rank 96th in the country in passing offense.
Jeffrey has played with bad quarterbacks throughout his college career, and he’s shown an uncanny ability to adjust to poorly thrown balls in the air. His catch radius has drawn comparisons to Calvin Johnson, which makes him a perfect fit for a team with an inaccurate quarterback.
Nobody is helped more by Matt Barkley’s decision to return to USC than Ryan Tannehill. A fringe first-rounder, Tannehill could very well become the Christian Ponder of this season’s draft.
Tannehill’s production dropped off a bit this season. A slight decline in passer rating and completion percentage along with an uptick in interceptions has taken some of the shine off of his breakout year in 2010. His penchant for late-game turnovers is concerning, but it shouldn’t limit his potential to succeed at the next level.
Still Tannehill has NFL-caliber size and athletic ability and if a quarterback-needy team gets shut out on Luck, Griffin and Jones, he very well might work his way up to the middle of the first round.