Matt Barkley’s performances have been consistently good all season, but it’s only after beating Oregon that he appears to be getting the praise he deserves. I wrote a piece during the summer that questioned whether Barkley – rather than Andrew Luck – would be the most talented player eligible for the 2012 draft. When you watch the Oregon tape, you look at the Stanford game and observe Barkley’s performance in defeating Notre Dame, that’s far from a ridiculous suggestion.
Luck is a tremendous player who will deservedly go first overall next April. The hype surrounding his potential, however, is not deserved. Revisionist history will tell you he’s the most highly regarded quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning. In reality, Luck has avoided a lot of the criticism’s and questions Manning faced. It’s assumed that Luck will succeed in any environment, that he’s the perfect prospect. That simply isn’t the case and it’s something we’ll look into over the next week. Barkley has a similar level of potential but has received a greater critique on his physical limitations. I feel like we’re looking at two comparable talents – but Barkley deserves a little more credit than he’s getting and the Luck hype machine maybe needs to take a step back.
A play in the Oregon game stood out as one of the best I’ve ever seen from a college quarterback (fast forward to the 2:01 mark in the video above). Barkley takes a snap under center and then a five-step drop. He pumps to the left and then comes back to the right before dropping in a perfectly weighted pass that dissects two defenders for a big first down completion. Look at the footwork, always moving. Look at the field awareness and poise in the pocket. Look at the perfect touch and accuracy on the pass – it couldn’t be any better. And notice that he does it under pressure – Barkley takes a big hit just as he releases the football. That is an elite play, there are franchise quarterbacks in the NFL who can’t make plays like that.
NFL teams value the back-shoulder throw in a big way these days and Barkley’s pass at 3:40 is a perfect example. Great pump to the right, then quickly floats the ball just behind the receiver and two defensive backs. I think this is an instinct throw more than a specific call – he senses the position of the two defensive backs and puts the pass just short of the group to allow Marqise Lee to adjust and make the completion.
One of the big knocks on Barkley is a lack of pure athleticism, but we see in this video that it’s completely overblown. The offenses in Seattle and Washington require the quarterback to run a lot of boot legs and play action and right off the bat against Oregon we see a quarterback moving out of the pocket, choosing his target and firing to the left sideline. We see further evidence of plus-mobility and the ability to throw accurately on the run at 2:41, 7:39 and also on the third touchdown at 4:02 and fourth score at 6:26. He runs a bootleg at 4:49 for a first down, so we’re talking about a pocket passer with plus mobility which is fine – how else would you describe Aaron Rodgers? Barkley doesn’t need to be Michael Vick.
Look closely at the way he switches between reads because this is something that Luck and Barkley flash on a weekly basis and separates them from others like Landry Jones. At 0:07 he doesn’t like his first option to the right and checks down inside for a short gain but keeps the ball moving. He’s reading the defense pre-snap and diagnosing the play as it develops.
The play at 1:34 is what really excites me about Barkley’s ability to play quickly in the NFL. Essentially, it’s what he’ll be doing every Sunday – seven step drop while reading the field, eyes downfield and to the right to create space underneath for the slot receiver who gets the first down. Barkley shows in this play that on a technical level, that ability to work within a pro-system is already there. Watch the all-22 tape on the replay and you’ll see his head turn from the right to the left before going underneath.
Barkley doesn’t have a great deep ball – his arm strength isn’t at a high level on downfield passes. His placement is generally good in terms of putting air on the ball and putting it in an area for the receiver to make a catch. However, when he’s asked to throw beyond 40-yards the ball’s sometimes under thrown because he hasn’t got the elite arm strength. On Marqise Lee’s opening touchdown at 0:55, Barkley’s going downfield all the way. He locks on to the receiver, waits for him to get separation and throws. A pass towards the end zone and it’s a much easier touchdown completion, the under thrown ball asks more of Lee who manages to adjust and make a play.
He does have a mechanical issue - he transfers his weight to the back foot throwing downfield and loses velocity because of it. At the same time, he probably leans back in order to get air on the ball. Several quarterbacks don’t have the elite arm and make downfield completions by exploiting single coverage and putting the ball in an area for the receiver to make a play. Barkley has shown consistently that he’s capable of that – and while the pass was under thrown it was as high percentage as a downfield pass can be. He isn’t going to be competing in an offense where he’s required to throw 5-6 deep passes per-game to a Mike Wallace type receiver, and I’m satisfied that he will make deep completions at the next level working within a ball-control offense like we see at USC.
The pass at 5:14 highlights a similar problem where a stronger pass could lead to an easy touchdown. However, the accuracy and placement on that ball makes the most of what arm strength Barkley does have and puts the ball into an area for the receiver to make a play. He finds way to be effective downfield, even if he’s more Matt Ryan and Carson Palmer throwing the deep ball than Jay Cutler or Matt Stafford.
The outside slant at 1:55 is a staple play that Landry Jones uses at Oklahoma, Barkley shows here that he’s capable of executing that pass with the same level of zip and arm strength. He throws a very good fade, as evidenced in the Robert Woods touchdown 2:20. He’s usually aware of the situation as it develops- he senses at 6:05 he needs to throw low to avoid any chance of a turnover and make a smart completion on a small field. The completion sets up the fourth touchdown on a similar play.
For a player who makes great decisions most of the time, there were also two poor ones here. The first comes on a fumbled snap in the red zone at 4:15, collects the ball and then tries to force a pass down the middle and should’ve been intercepted. He needs to appreciate the situation – fall on the ball, take the third down and try again. It’s not worth turning the ball over there trying to force a play. The second error leads to the interception. Barkley argued that Robert Woods was held – he was – and that’s what led to the turnover. No flag is thrown, but why throw the ball to Woods in that situation? He needs to recognise there that even if there is a foul, the receiver is in no position to make a play. It was careless and avoidable, even if it should’ve been a penalty.
The pass at 8:31 is a further example of a beautifully weighted pass down the middle for a first down.
People talk about the high volume of screen passes and short completions in the USC offense, but that’s football not just in college football but increasingly in the NFL too. Barkley is going to be tasked with managing a ball-control offense that will include a lot of short stuff and high percentage passes. What separates him from a player like Jimmy Clausen who relied a lot on high percentage completions is the evidence we see every week of making several plays that demand more from the quarterback. He’s making difficult pro-throws regularly, he’s throwing on an intermediate level and beyond. Neither Luck or Barkley are running a Robert Griffin III/Baylor style downfield offense and that won’t be the case at the next level either.
On the technical front, Barkley plays on a different level to the vast majority of college quarterbacks. His ability to operate in something akin to a pro-style offense, execute and look as polished as this is beyond impressive. Let’s not forget that this is an Oregon team that made Andrew Luck appear very ordinary last week - and Barkley didn’t have the benefit of a home-field advantage. There’s no doubt in my mind that Barkley could be the top prospect eligible for 2012, that he can have a quick impact in the NFL and enjoy a prosperous career in the pro’s. Will he declare? Arguments can be made on both sides of the debate, but there’s no doubt at all – he’s ready for the NFL.
Thanks to JMPasq for supplying us with the tape