Is Matt Barkley’s Draft Stock Dropping?

Matt Barkley’s recent pro day gives us an opportunity to premier a new series of articles on NFL DR: prospect analysis.

Originally thought to be the top quarterback in the 2013 draft class heading into his senior year at USC, Barkley’s early injury created a media storm over the past months. Is Barkley healthy enough? Will his arm rebound? Was he really ever that good? How will he play after a year off the field?

Now all of these questions are translating into controversy over what Barkley’s draft stock is heading into April’s draft. The funny thing in the media these past couple days is how many people considered his pro day appearance Wednesday afternoon as being solid but unspectacular, and following up said comments with criticism that his performance will likely hurt his stock for the draft.

A good place to start is with the positives. The USC pro day definitely displayed a couple different items: Barkley is healthy and he’s a talented quarterback. While some of Barkley’s passes unarguably wobbled from a strong wind Wednesday afternoon, he still completed 55 of 60 passes (with a couple drops by receivers) and was remarkably accurate on deep passes in only his first public throwing since the should injury last fall.

We’ve all seen Barkley play at USC (albeit almost a full season ago), and he definitely was an impact performer for the Trojans in his junior season. He easily could have been a first-round pick in last year’s draft if he didn’t return to play another year for the Trojans.

Now the bad news.

There are many pundits out there who don’t rank Barkley as even one of the top three quarterbacks in the draft, and some who further push him out of the top five.

One of those is Greg Cosell, the NFL Films guru. In a lengthy piece published on Yahoo! Sports, Cosell breaks down the top quarterbacks in the draft–pointing out several deficiencies in Barkley when compared to other quarterbacks. The most jarring of these is size–Barkley is shorter than the like of Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon and Tennessee Alum Tyler Bray. Barkley is also less athletic than many other prospects and displays a remarkably weaker arm.

Overall, Cosell favors not just West Virginia’s Geno Smith over Barkley. He also favors Manuel, Glennon, Bray and Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib–which pushes Barkley out of his top five. His biggest factors for this ranking are arm strength, size, athleticism, pocket movement and anticipation–all important factors to success at the professional level.

Cosell even goes as far as saying Mark Sanchez was a much better prospect coming out of USC than Barkley is this year–and we all know how Sanchez has gone downhill in New York–and to call Barkley as having at best a future of a “middling starter” in the NFL.

You can hear more evaluation by Cosell on this podcast with Yahoo! Sports. It’s got tons of information concerning this year’s quarterback crop.

Others were similarly unimpressed by Barkley’s “solid if not spectacular” pro day, including Los Angeles Times writer Sam Farmer. While Barkley likely didn’t damage his stock with a poor performance, the eye-opening performance some were hoping for wasn’t there on Wednesday. Farmer went as far as to claim receiver Robert Woods had a much better performance and stands to benefit at Barkley’s expense.

The most touched upon subject of the pro day by far was Barkley’s arm strength. USA Today’s Robin Norwood, and Sports Illustrated’s Jim Trotter expressed dissatisfaction with wobbly passes and deep throws that, while accurate, seemed to hang in the air for too long. Trotter and Norwood claim that many NFL scouts share the same opinion of Barkley’s arm.

All of this aside, many believe Barkley will still be at least a late first-round pick–Adam Schefter said as much on Sportscenter yesterday and NFL Network’s Mike Mayock expressed the same belief.

Brock Huard, an ESPN Insider and former college/professional quarterback, claimed that Barkley has all the tools necessary to be a first-round quarterback and goes as far as to claim the Geno Smith hysteria is overblown in an Insider piece.

There are five factors Huard takes into account here: throws down-field, third-down passing, red zone productivity, movement passing and durability.

Huard cites his deep pass success as being comparable to both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III–both top-five picks last year–in their last two years at the NCAA level. The USC pro-style offense is something that Huard states will make the transition to the professional level, especially in make-or-break situations, easier for Barkley than other collegiate quarterbacks. With an at-best average rushing attack in his time at USC, Barkley was relied upon to be the playmaker in the red zone–and Huard claims he’s among the best in the history of the collegiate level at getting it done near the goal line.

Huard also cites his high success rate in rollouts as being a something that will benefit him in a professional setting, as was seen with Jake Plummer and Jay Cutler in their days with the Broncos and is employed by several coaches with a fondness for bootlegs.

One of the biggest advantages Huard cites as being in Barkley’s favor is his temperament at quarterback in comparison to other USC alums. Barkley is the first quarterback in USC history to start as a freshman (without red-shirting), he didn’t play with Pete Carroll’s dominant defenses, and that unlike many of the previous USC quarterbacks Huard claims Barkley is a true leader–all factors that he believes makes Barkley the best guy to break the USC quarterback curse of the past decade.

You can believe what you want here–Huard claims much of the insulting evaluation of Barkley is due to misinformation among NFL scouts and coaches leading up to the draft–but it has become clear that Huard is part of a small minority who believes Barkley has what it takes to succeed in the NFL.

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