I am not postponing my dream of playing in the NFL just so that I can have one more year of college life....I am staying because I want to finish what I started.
This was Matt Barkley at his press conference last January announcing that he would return for his senior season at the University of Southern California (via ESPN).
For many, this decision didn't make a great deal of sense. Barkley was then considered right up there with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III as the three top overall players in the draft class. Had he decided to enter the draft and forgo his senior season, there is no reason to believe that Barkley wouldn't have been a top 10 pick.
The blonde-haired Californian had been on a seamless path to the National Football League for quite some time. He played at a football powerhouse in Southern California in high school, Mater Dei, which has produced some of the most talented collegiate players on the West Coast for some years now.
According to Rivals.com, Barkley was the No. 5 overall recruit nationally and the top quarterback in a 2009 class that produced Trent Richardson, Patrick Peterson and Manti Te'o, among many others. He was only surpassed on that list by four current NFL players, including three recent first-round picks.
Barkley possessed a dazzling 3.9 GPA in high school and was seen as the next golden boy to play under center for a quarterback-rich Southern California program. He spurned offers from Florida State (recruited by Jimbo Fisher himself) and Stanford, among other top collegiate programs, to remain at home.
Barkley started from day one after Mark Sanchez graduated to the professional ranks as the fifth player taken in the 2009 NFL draft by the New York Jets. He was going to have a chance to prove his worth out of the gate.
The talented young quarterback, much to no one's surprise, played well but had growing pains as a true freshman starter following in the footsteps of Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Sanchez. He threw 15 touchdowns compared to 14 interceptions and led the Trojans to a 9-4 record, including a win over Boston College in the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco.
The natural progression for Barkley was going to be Heisman contention and a national championship. That's when things went awry.
In June of 2010 the NCAA placed USC's football team on four-year probation, which included a two-year ban from postseason play for giving improper benefits to former running back Reggie Bush (via ESPN).
Barkley and some of the other top Trojan' players could have easily transferred. After all, Pete Carroll had moved on to the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks and a loss of dozens of scholarships over the next few seasons would ultimately hurt the program's ability to succeed on a national stage in Barkley's final two or three seasons with the school.
Instead, Barkley decided to play it out and remain faithful to the contract that he had signed just a year and a half earlier.
Upon hearing about the postseason ban, Barkley responded (via ESPN):
We're doing a great job as a team of sticking together. Even our morning workout this morning was one of the best we've had. Guys were hyped up. We kind of took it as a challenge. We're excited. It does stink to not be able possibly to play in a bowl game, but at the same time I came here to get a degree from one of the best universities in the country and to win football games.
While there was little doubt that Barkley wanted to win a championship and bring Southern California back to the pinnacle, he showed a great deal of loyalty and maturity to stick by the program during its darkest days.
In hindsight, three years later, we can question this decision all we want. We can say that he acted too selflessly and even displayed loyalty to a fault. What we can't say is that he acted the part of an ordinary wide-eyed college athletic with only his aspirations in mind.
Barkley responded on the field by throwing for 26 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. He finished third in the PAC 10 in quarterback rating behind only Andrew Luck and Darron Thomas and right ahead of 2012 third-round pick Nick Foles (via CFB Stats)
For Barkley, it was the start of a two-year stretch where he would be overshadowed by Luck. The primary reason for this was Barkley's inability to defeat Luck and the Cardinal as well as Stanford's ability to vie for a BCS Bowl Game each season.
Ultimately, this situation would play out on a national stage with Luck receiving the awards and attention of the press, while Barkley sat back and had great year after great year.
In 2011, Barkley led the still probation-stricken Trojans to a 10-2 record a No. 6 ranking in the final AP poll. He finished that season sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting, while putting up the most touchdowns and best TD/INT ratio in the conference.
Still, Stanford finished that season 11-2 and earned a Fiesta Bowl invite. It was the end of the Barkley/Luck rivalry, at least on a college level. Both men were set to go pro.
As you already know that did not happen.
While Luck turned his crimson jersey in for the horse shoe, Barkley remained at USC in order to finish what he had started: Earning a big-game bowl berth and possibly finding himself one of just a select few quarterbacks in the history of the program to earn a national championship.
At the point Barkley decided to return to school for a fourth season, he was a darling of the scouting community. Comparisons between Luck and Barkley continued until the latter announced his decision to forgo the 2012 NFL draft.
Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk filed the following report after Barkley announced his intention to return to school last January:
The player who figures to benefit the most from Barkley’s return is Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, who is expected to enter the draft and now appears to be the clear-cut No. 2 quarterback behind Stanford’s Andrew Luck.
And Barkley now becomes the early favorite as the No. 1 overall pick in 2013.
This opinion was widespread in nature. As late as January of 2012, Barkley was considered right up there with Luck as the No. 1 player in the draft, even ahead of RGII.
Even months before his decision the venerable Russell Lande had indicated "Matt Barkley's draft stock soaring after big games."
Despite concerns that Barkley was a similar prospect to Jimmy Clausen when the 2011 season began, scouts are now of the opinion that he is a better prospect than the former Notre Dame quarterback. Barkley will be a first-round pick if he comes out for the draft.
I will get to the Clausen comparison in a second, but for Lande to go out there and call Barkley a "first-round pick" five months before the 2012 NFL draft, we had to take notice.
Even our very own Matt Miller had given Barkley a top five grade in a majority of the categories that define a franchise quarterback and top five pick. While Miller was one of the first experts to jump off the Barkley bandwagon during his 2011 campaign, this goes to show you exactly how the scouting community viewed Barkley.
At the very least, he was considered a mid first-round pick by some of the most respected individuals within the scouting community.
Southern California began the 2012 season as the No. 1-ranked team in the nation. It had the talent and experience to go through the year undefeated and earn trip to the title game just five months later.
Barkley's senior season couldn't have started out any better. He threw for 10 touchdowns and just one interception in USC's first two games, which resulted in the Trojans outscoring Hawaii and Syracuse by a combined 91-39 point total.
The talented quarterback was then set to take on a Stanford team that he had not defeated in three previous meetings. The difference here was that Luck was starting for the Indianapolis Colts and Stanford seemed to be in rebuilding mode, while Barkley's Trojans were No. 1 in the land.
Attempting to prove critics wrong and finally pull of a much-needed win against the rival Cardinal, Barkley fell flat on his face. He threw two interceptions compared to zero touchdowns in a 21-14 loss to the then No. 21-ranked Cardinal.
For Barkley, it was the start of him being placed into the microscope of the scouting community. The naysayers, and there were many of them, finally came out of the woodwork.
Rob Rang of CBS Sports filed the following report immediately after USC's upset loss to Stanford:
The loss also makes Barkley 0-4 against Stanford for his career, a significant concern for NFL scouts because of the fact that the Cardinal are one of the few Pac-12 teams to play a lot of physical press coverage—precisely the type of coverage Barkley (and his receivers) will be expected to be able to beat in the NFL.
USC went on to win four consecutive games with Barkley throwing 12 touchdowns compared to three interceptions. Still, it wasn't enough for scouts and skeptics. He wasn't doing enough to prove that he was worth the No. 1 overall pick. Instead, Barkley was existing in mediocrity out in the West Coast while the likes of Geno Smith were tearing it up back east.
Barkley's next two games, both losses, against Arizona and Oregon, seemed to put an end to any Heisman talk and derailed any thought of USC grabbing a conference title. The senior quarterback threw four interceptions in those two outings, and again the skeptics were out in full force.
Immediately following the upset loss to Arizona, a game that saw Barkley throw for nearly 500 yards and three scores to go along with the two picks, ESPN ran the following story:
I also question whether he has enough arm strength to stretch the field at the next level. He's good getting the ball out quickly and in rhythm and will find a fit in a West Coast offense, but Barkley doesn't look like a good fit for a vertical passing game. All of that factors into his slide down the board and is part of the reason I don't believe Barkley is on the same elite level as some recent prospects.
Did we not see this before Barkley's fourth-to-last collegiate game? After all, we had 40-plus games worth of tape on the quarterback. What changed in the matter of just one week?
Before the 2012 college football season began, all you heard about the 2013 NFL draft class was Matt Barkley this and Matt Barkley that. It's time to set those myths to bed once and for all. America, Matt Barkley is not your No. 1 overall quarterback.
Even when Miller graded Barkley out relatively high in specific categories, all prior to the 2012 season, he went on record indicating that the Southern California product wasn't a first-round prospect in other categories (see link above).
There was and is a lot to like about Barkley's game, but his shortcomings are in areas of the game that tend to dictate struggles at the next level.
Following the losses to Arizona and Oregon, Barkley led a downtrodden USC team to a uninspired win against Arizona State—a game that saw him throw three interceptions.
Within a matter of a week, a career that began as promising as any in recent history came crumbling down when Barkley was hit by linebacker Anthony Barr of the cross-town rival UCLA Bruins. Barkley injured his shoulder in what was his final college play.
Barkley would end up missing USC's rivarly game with then No. 1 ranked Notre Dame, a matchup that also came on homecoming night. He would also be forced to sit out their bowl game.
Immediately after the injury, questions arose to whether Barkley would be able to participate in the NFL Scouting Combine some three months later.
As it turns out, the Southern California product ended up missing the Senior Bowl and combine. This only hurt his stock more, as scouts wanted to get a better look at what he brought to the table in terms of generic assets.
Barkley's fall from grace was now in full effect.
Where the 2012 NFL draft class was filled with premier talent at the quarterback position, this past draft, as evidenced by the lack of quarterbacks selected in the first two days, was relatively weak at that position.
Some of this had to do with Barkley's lack of performance as a senior and inability to strut his stuff in postseason events. That being said, a larger reason why quarterbacks fell this past weekend was due to the fact that teams actually selected them where they were valued on the big board.
Outside of Luck and RGIII last April, quarterbacks fell off the board much higher than respected experts had them ranked.
|2||Robert Griffin III||Redskins||2||2|
Miller was a bit lower on the second and third quarterbacks selected in the 2012 draft, but as you can see, neither Miami or Cleveland received a tremendous amount of value with its first-round selections. For Tannehill, it was all about projection. He was extremely raw coming out of Texas A&M, but us in the scouting community saw a ton of upside.
Either way, common sense seems to indicate that Barkley would have been the third quarterback off the board and would have gone in the top 10.
Teams looking to hit lightning in a bottle and contend in the not-so-distant future looked at Cam Newton and Andy Dalton from the 2011 NFL draft and came to the premature conclusion that reaching for a quarterback, in essence throwing away their big board, was the best way to go.
This past season saw Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson have a tremendous amount of success. Neither were first-round picks, but led their teams to the playoffs in their first seasons as starting quarterbacks. As it relates to Kaepernick, he led San Francisco to the Super Bowl after just nine career starts. Meanwhile, 2011 first-round picks Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert struggled through disastrous sophomore campaigns.
The ultimate conclusion that most teams drew here was that playing the big board to a T, instead of reaching for quarterbacks might be the best way to go.
This is exactly what happened in 2013.
Outside of the Bills' perceived reach of Manuel, who I had a first-round grade on, it appears that teams played their big boards close to the vest. They decided to go with positions that represented more value and were deeper than quarterback. They went with value at other need positions, rather than reaching for a quarterback that wasn't ready to make an immediate impact.
Interestingly enough, both the first two quarterbacks selected are considered more athletic than the traditional dropback passer that came to define a decently athletic Matt Barkley.
Once Barkley did slip to the top of the third day it took a former college rival, Chip Kelly, formerly of the Oregon Ducks, to trade up and snag him. Even then, the Philadelphia Eagles selected Barkley to compete for the third-string quarterback position in camp, not for the starting job with Michael Vick and Nick Foles.
It seemed as if front offices of quarterback-needy franchises took a look at the success we have seen from the athletic young signal callers over the last few seasons and made the decision to go in that direction. Both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were much more athletic than any quarterback selected outside of the first round this past weekend.
In the end, Barkley became a victim of circumstance. In a season that he should have been taking snaps under center in the NFL, Barkley struggled in the spotlight of the national media for the top-ranked Trojans. He was injured late in the season and unable to perform in any postseason events. In addition, he enters the NFL when teams seem to be going away from the traditional pocket-passer.
That being said, the microscope needed to be placed under Barkley's chin for us all to come to the realization that we was nothing more than a mid-round quarterback prospect playing in the bright lights of Los Angeles.
It would have come to pass whether he returned to Southern California for his senior season or not. Now it's time for him to prove us all wrong.
Vincent Frank is an NFL featured columnist here at Bleacher Report. Vincent is the head sports editor over at eDraft, co-host of Draft Sports Radio, which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. ET, and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus.
Go ahead and give him a follow on Twitter @VincentFrankNFL.
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