Matt Barkley (QB, USC) has been the focus of attention by football scouts and sports media talking-heads since his days as a Junior at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California. Following Barkley’s 2007 season with the Monarchs, he became the most decorated high school football player in the Country. Barkley won the 2007 Gatorade National Player and Male Athlete of the Year awards as well as the Glenn Davis award (given to the best high school football player in Southern California). In addition, he won the first ever Joe Montana Award, given to the best high school quarterback, and jumped to the top of every major prospect scouting list. Needless to say, life was good for Matt.
Speculation swirled around Barkley and a potential commit to UCLA, but on Juanary 28, 2008, the heavily recruited right arm verbally committed to USC and continued his family’s legacy as a “Trojan”.
The following year, in his senior season of high school ball, Barkley failed to match the numbers and performance that he had become known for in his previous three seasons. And while he did rally late in the year and salvage what could have been nothing short of a disasterous final campaign, he was dropped down to the 10th best high school prospect in the Country by Rivals.com. ESPN.com maintained his #1 ranking, but it became obvious to some that Barkley might be, dare I say, “overrated”. It should be noted that Barkley was elevated to the 5th best prospect by Rivals.com after his performance in the Under Armour All-American Game. (For those interested, the following players were ranked 1-4 in Barkley’s recruiting class: 1) Bryce Brown (RB, Eagles); 2) Ruben Randle (WR, Giants); 3) DJ Fluker (OL, USC); 4) Sheldon Richardson (DT, Missouri).
Barkley stepped onto USC’s campus as a rockstar freshman in 2009. Out was Mark Sanchez, recently selected in the first round by the New York Jets, and the starting QB position for USC was wide-open. Many, including Mek Kiper (who boldly predicted that Matt Barkley would be the #1 overall pick when he turns pro), assumed that Barkley would be “the guy”. Pete Carroll confirmed what many thought, and named Barkley USC’s first-ever true freshman to start opening day at QB. Expectations were high, but the hype around Barkley was even higher.
The last four years have been well-documented. Barkley’s career at USC has provided a lot of highlights on football Saturdays. His stats have been nothing short of astronomical. Over 12,000 career yards? 113 TDs? The average fan will look at those numbers and say, “WOW!”. But as any competent scout knows, a player’s true talent can’t be evaluated by the numbers. Yes, stats are part of the overall scouting pie chart, but the danger of placing too much weight into statistical success or failure is on display with Matt Barkley. His numbers suggest that he is a franchise QB, a player that should easily be the first pick in the Draft, and a guy that team’s will be fighting over come April. His film, however, shows something very different.
First, let’s take a look at who Matt Barkley has had around him during his four years as the starting QB at USC. In the time that Matt Barkley has called the signals for the Trojans, 14 players have been drafted from his offense: Five WRs, three RBs, three TEs, and three O-Linemen. To put that in perspective, Geno Smith (QB, WVU), has been the West Virginia starting QB for one fewer season than Barkley, and how many offensive teammates has he seen get selected in April? Only one (Selvish Capers, OT). Not one offensive skill player during Geno Smith’s tenure as a starting QB has been drafted. Now, that will certainly change this year, as WVU has several talented players that will go early in April. But the point? Geno Smith has leapfrogged Matt Barkley in many Draft circles because they are starting to realize that he (Smith) has a bigger, stronger, more talented arm that has made lesser-skilled players better as a result. Whereas, Barkley? He has consistently been the beneficiary of dymanic athletes making plays after the catch.
Second, Barkley doesn’t have a big enough arm to project well as starting QB in the NFL. But, then, how could he have been such a sought-after high school recruit? I took a look back to see what some of the bigger high school scouting outlets said about Matt Barkley when he was coming out of high school. Scout.com (2009) stated the following about Barkley:
“A dropback passer with good mobility inside of the pocket, Barkley has a big time arm. He can hit the deep out as well as anyone in the country while showing exceptional touch on short and intermediate routes. His mechanics are outstanding, and he shows great poise and leadership under pressure. He is a big quarterback that has the frame and toughness to make an early contribution on the next level. The total package.” – Scott Kennedy, Scout.com
What jumps off the page at me is that Barkley is still the same QB he was in 2009. Meaning, he hasn’t developed or taken that “next step” that I assume people like Mel Kiper thought he would. Is Barkley a prospect with decent mobility? Yes. Does he have some nice touch on short and intermediate routes? Sure. Does he display good, solid mechanics? Yep. But is he a “big” QB? Not any more. He hasn’t grown much. He’s not a big QB by NFL standards, and at 6’2 (and I wouldn’t be surprised if he measures in smaller than that), he barely hits the minimum height that a team will want from a QB prospect. And what about his deep ball? For me, it’s lacking. He consistently misses when he goes downfield. And going downfield for Barkley is a rarity, as USC throws more screens to their WRs than any other program in the Country.
Beyond that, Barkley lacks the strength behind his throws that he will need to succeed in the NFL. His passes lack the velocity required to squeeze the ball into tight NFL windows. And while he may have hit the deep out better than any high school prospect in 2009, he certainly fails to display the velocity needed to hit the deep out in the NFL. Keep in mind something that will absolutely be a relevant factor for Barkley in the NFL: There is a somewhat good chance that he will go to an NFL franchise that doesn’t have the same level of skill at the WR position as that which he has enjoyed the last two years with Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. Woods and Lee are both first-round talents. If Barkley was drafted by, say, the Bills? I’d argue that while Stevie Johnson is a nice player, the combination of Woods and Lee is superior to that which Barkley would be throwing to in said hypothetical situation. Does Barkley have the type of arm to throw his WRs “open” when coverage is tighter than what he’s faced at USC? My answer: No.
Barkley’s career at USC has mirrored his days as a blue-chip high school recruit. Barkley does a great job building a ton of hype after his first three years starting, and when it comes time to start projecting his jump to the next level, he looks very pedestrian. This year has arguably been Barkley’s least impressive as a collegiate QB, and with the 2013 NFL Draft being loaded with some elite pass rushers and interior defensive linemen, the once touted lock to be the first pick overall may find himself struggling to crack the top-32 come April.