How Does Matt Barkley Project as an NFL Quarterback?

Wes StueveContributor IIIMarch 6, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans warms up before the game against the California Golden Bears at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 22, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Before the 2012 season, many pegged Matt Barkley as the likely No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Things have since changed.

The USC quarterback was a top recruit out of high school and started all four years for the school. It was a huge deal last year when Barkley announced he would return for his senior year. The move doesn't seem to be turning out well.

Barkley has fallen for a variety of reasons, but how does he project in the NFL? Can he still be a starting quarterback?

Many are debating that exact issue. Some think Barkley is a legitimate franchise quarterback. Others feel he is nothing more than a backup. 

Some think Barkley is a franchise quarterback. Some think he is a second-round pick. Others are even more extreme and say later. NFL Films' Greg Cosell has Barkley as a fourth-round value:

The book is out on that one, obviously. One thing that seems clear is that Barkley will need some pieces around him. His play on the field shows why. 


Arm Strength

This is by far the biggest complaint about Barkley's skill set. Like Cosell said, Barkley struggles to drive the ball on intermediate and deep passes. 

This is perfect example of Barkley's lack of arm strength. He attempts to fit the ball into a tight gap along the sideline and is intercepted when he can't. NFL quarterbacks have to fit the ball into tight gaps, and an inability to do so hinders the offense's ability to play downfield and score.

On this play, Barkley is attempting a fairly simple pass across the middle of the field about 40 yards away. Robert Woods has one-on-one coverage, which is a huge advantage in the wideout's favor. However, Barkley's ball loses velocity as it gets closer, and, more importantly, it is off target. Both Barkley's velocity and ball placement suffer when he tries to drive the ball downfield.

Before, Barkley had to fit the ball into a tight gap. This time he didn't, and he still lacked the arm to make the play happen. 


Decision Making

Barkley is often praised as a smart quarterback who makes good decisions. Why, then, did he throw 15 interceptions as a senior? 

Because when he's under pressure, Barkley forces passes, often resulting in negative plays.

Take this play. Barkley is under pressure from two rushers and forces a pass—again lacking velocity—into the midst of three defenders. The ball floats toward its target and is unsurprisingly intercepted. These types of plays can cripple an offense. 



With these negative traits, Barkley is clearly limited in what he can do on the football field. He lacks the arm strength to make big plays downfield, and when he's under pressure, he has the bad habit of throwing interceptions.

Does that sound like a starting quarterback?

It doesn't, but Barkley can start in the right situation. He simply needs talent around him. Barkley's intelligence and accuracy are both desirable traits if his flaws don't prove impossible to overcome. 

First, Barkley will need a strong run game so defenses can give him some room to throw the ball. If defenses respect the rushing attack, Barkley will get some opportunities to throw more vertically.

Next, he will need wideouts who are dynamic with the ball in their hands. Barkley's inability to throw downfield means that his receivers will have to gain yards after they catch the ball, not before. 

Finally, Barkley needs an offensive line. When he doesn't have time to throw, Barkley loses his composure and forces passes. He is not the type of quarterback who can work through pressure and still make plays.

Obviously, these are great things for any quarterback to have. But this shows what Barkley is: He's not the type of player who makes an offense run. He's the type who manages it.

And in the right situation, that could be good enough.