Playing at one of the best universities in this country in terms of football tradition and program prestige, the starting quarterback job at University of Southern California brings many things to those who bear the title: Elite talents abound on both sides of the ball. Some of the best coaches in the country. Treatment as though you suit up for an NFL team. Heisman trophy consideration.
And nowadays, major question marks about your ability to play in the NFL.
Despite playing for a program at the pillar of the college football scene, Matt Barkley may not be a lock to go in the Top 10 like his fellow USC alumni Mark Sanchez, Matt Leinart, and Carson Palmer. And, unsurprisingly, it’s common place to actually lump Matt Barkley into those current NFL quarterbacks who never lived up to their Top 10 selection.
Fans and NFL teams alike are afraid of repeated history. Because of Matt Barkley’s limitations as a quarterback and track record of the USC program make it easy to say he’ll fail. But don’t be mistaken: Barkley still has the NFL ability to be a future franchise quarterback.
Matt Barkley leaves USC as the school’s only three time captain and the leader in touchdown passes, overall one of the most statistically successful USC players of all time. But when it comes to NFL Draft season, stats are quickly discarded when it comes to deciding whether a quarterback can be a franchise quarterback.
Each NFL draft quarterback prospect is unique. Some need certain systems to have NFL success (Andy Dalton). Some need the right coaching staff and head coach style to ease into the NFL (Ryan Tannehill). Some need experienced talent around them (Christian Ponder), while others need time to sit and learn (Aaron Rodgers). For Barkley, he needs an offensive system that will protect him in quick passing situations with west-coast styled receivers that can win in the short area.
Matt Barkley does not have a big arm or great mobility. He doesn’t have elite foot speed to make plays outside of the pocket that aren’t designed, and he lacks elite short area quickness to elude interior pressure without near-perfect footwork. And his accuracy in the 15-20 yard range isn’t perfect, sometimes thanks to rushed throws while others just poorly placed.
But mentally, he’s exactly what NFL teams are looking for. He’s got loads of experience changing protections and route combinations based on pre-snap reads. Despite struggling thanks to a porous offensive line this year, he was able to adjust by using hot routes, adjusting protections, and utilizing some depth in the running game. His arm strength doesn’t limit him from throwing vertically when he has time to set up in the pocket. His footwork initially allows him to stay balanced and able to adjust his throw point.
He’ll also have to answer should injury concerns on his March 27th Pro Day after suffering a right shoulder sprain before his bowl game that kept him out of his bowl game, Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine, and his initial Pro Day date. While it’s likely that he’ll “impress” in that throwing session, scouts are more interesting in seeing if his release is still fluid, if there are any potentially concerning issues in the future, and if his velocity suffers at all.
On film, Barkley’s limitations athletically and arm strength wise can be overcome by giving him ample protection, a more west-coast based offense, and the ability to use his tremendous football IQ to have success.
However, as with all quarterbacks, teams want to get inside of a quarterback prospect before they invest their future in him. It’s a key part of the process, as you learn about a quarterback’s true work-athletic, room for development, drive to be the best in the NFL, and the focus to lead a franchise to the Super Bowl. For NFL teams, it may be difficult at first to draft another Southern California-raised quarterback in the first round, based on recent history.
Using to Jason Cole of Yahoo!’s research , 21 quarterbacks raised in Southern California (Barkley went to Mater Dei high school in SoCal) have been drafted in the top four rounds since 1984, including 9 in the first round. The best of the first rounders? Alex Smith, currently on his second team after seven years in the league.
The laid-back attitude reputation of these Southern California quarterbacks has seemingly lead to major NFL draft busts. Jimmy Clausen played scared in practices in the NFL, and the Panthers organization was willing to move on after just one year of seeing Clausen in their facility. Mark Sanchez craving the limelight despite struggles with the Jets has already cost GM Mike Tannenbaum his job. Matt Leinart seemingly never developed at the pro level in Arizona, and he’s barely hanging on in the NFL.
Is Matt Barkley similar to these former Southern California quarterbacks? That’s the question NFL team’s will need to answer. He did assume a major leadership role and remained tough through difficult times at USC after they were hit with sanctions and a poor offensive line this past season. He’s a very religious individual who does mission trips in the off-season and has many positive off-field activities. And from all that I’ve heard from those who have spoken with him, he’s a genuine, well-spoken, well-versed quarterback who exudes all of the signs of being able to lead a franchise on and off the field.
Comparing Matt Barkley to the past USC quarterbacks is easy. It’s the cheap way out when evaluating a USC quarterback, and I’m sure many fans and maybe even a few NFL scouts will dismiss him quickly because of where he played football and some of the limitations he has.
Matt Barkley isn’t the “golden boy” quarterback prospect that he was hyped to be as a freshman. But this is the pros. It’s less about what you did and who you were and more about what you will do and who you will be for an NFL franchise. It may take some pieces around him, and it may take some time for him to work his way into the NFL. But Matt Barkley has the tools and mental make-up to be a franchise quarterback. And it’d be a major surprise if some team did not give him that chance in round one.