Thanks again to the excellent Draft Breakdown for providing game tape that goes beyond highlights. Today we have a close look at USC quarterback Matt Barkley, a player many consider to be one of the top rated NFL prospects in college football. He’ll be a true junior in 2011 having started as a freshman, but it’s unclear whether he’ll declare for next year’s draft. In 2012 sanctions will be lifted on USC allowing them to participate in a BCS Bowl and that could be tempting enough for Barkley to return for a fourth year.
There’s also the possibility of becoming the #1 pick in 2013, an honour which will almost certainly go to Andrew Luck next year. I suspect Landry Jones will declare as a redshirt junior having already had success with Oklahoma in two bowl games. It’s a very different situation for Barkley, but he’s worth reviewing nonetheless.
The snap judgement you make is that he’s a pure pocket passer, but actually he’s deceptively agile. We see at the 4:02 mark that he’s more than capable of making plays with his feet when the situation arises and the second touchdown pass at 5:37 is Aaron Rodgers-esque, a pump fake before slipping away from pressure, then hitting his target on the numbers. The plays at 6:48 and 6:58 are two more examples of what Barkley is capable of in this area.
On other occasions you’re left a little bit frustrated that he doesn’t extent the play. The sack and fumble after 35 seconds showed the perfect opportunity to step into the pocket yet he remains glued to the spot almost waiting to be hit. In that instance you want to see some appreciation for the pressure and adjustment, whether it’s a quick throw or at least trying to get out of the pocket to create a passing lane. We saw improvements in his footwork as a sophomore and it’s fair to expect that to continue as a junior. If he can become consistently good in this area you’re talking about a big-time pro-prospect because the other qualities he has are borderline elite.
Barkley excels with the quick pass and accuracy. Mechanically there’s no issues with his throwing motion and he’s well versed taking the snap from under center, taking a five step drop and delivering the ball on the money. The throw at 1:02 is the kind of thing that people rave about Andrew Luck, an efficient drop back and throw on the target in a crowd for the first down. You see further evidence of this at 4:46 and you have to love the way he looks off the safety to make the completion.
He needs to put more velocity in the mid/deep range throws and unlike some prospects I think he’s got the frame and mechanics to improve in this area. The pass at 1:14 could’ve done with a little more zip, but you can’t fault the placement over two defenders and it should’ve been caught. It’s the same situation at 2:24, good placement but you’d like the ball to hit the target a little quicker. A bit of work in the weight room will do wonders and he can add muscle without seeing an adverse effect on his accuracy.
Even so, the deep ball isn’t something we’ll ever rave about with Barkley but as long as it’s accurate and not under-thrown I don’t have an issue. Andrew Luck doesn’t have a cannon arm, but he rarely under throws his receiver. Christian Ponder on the other hand will try and throw to a distance he isn’t capable of and lobs it up for grabs. The completion at 2:40 is more Luck than Ponder, because although the ball doesn’t zip through the air like a Ryan Mallett pass there’s only one player who has any chance of catching the ball – the receiver. Barkley executes the play-action well and places the ball perfectly.
The touchdown pass afterwards flashes the decision making qualities he has, initially acknowledging his first option wasn’t on, moving to a secondary option before returning to the initial read in a split second when the pass re-opened. It’s a good, accurate throw to the back of the end zone.
Barkley suffers a little bit with an issue Luck had as a redshirt freshman and also at the start of the 2010 season in that he forces passes. This is probably to be expected with young guys still learning their game. Luck made major strides during last season but for the occasional stop-start performance (including the first half of the Orange Bowl) and I suspect Barkley will enjoy the same kind of improvement here.
The fade pass at 5:04 is perfect and should’ve been caught – it’s the third of five bad drops on the tape following an inch perfect throw. You also have to be impressed with the way he visibly progresses through his reads. Again, you’re talking about easy comparisons to Luck in that area.
Whenever I’ve watched Barkley I’ve been impressed and I maintain that he has #1 pick potential if he continues to improve as a junior and possibly during a fourth year with Southern Cal. Although he may not have the cannon arm, he’s pretty much the complete package in every other respect. Teams are going to want this guy to be the face of their franchise for the next +10 years. With USC off the national radar due to the sanctions, he’s unlikely to generate the same mass exposure that Luck enjoyed last season, but it’ll be fascinating to see how the pair perform and if they do both declare, how they’ll challenge each other at the top of the draft.
As things stand today I would project Andrew Luck to be a sure-fire #1 pick, but if he does declare Barkley would be the close second and who knows – he may end up having the better career.