Drafts that aren’t dominated by quarterbacks are rare. You have to go back to the year 2000 to find one – Chad Pennington was the sole quarterback taken in the first two rounds. He was the 18th overall pick. Next April, we could see a repeat.
Such a suggestion is often accompanied by the following counter: “This is a quarterback’s league these days.” While that is evidently true, the 2000 draft wasn’t a review of the times either. Just twelve months previous five quarterbacks were taken in the top twelve picks, including the first three selections. In 1998 we saw Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf go #1 and #2. Michael Vick was the #1 pick in 2001 while the brilliance of Julius Peppers in 2002 was only good enough to earn the #2 overall pick, sandwiched between David Carr and Joey Harrington – both quarterbacks.
Although the league wasn’t so dominated by the position in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, we were still seeing plenty of quarterbacks drafted at the top of round one. The ‘one-QB‘ draft of 2000 was unique for the times. We’ll definitely see more than one quarterback drafted in the first two rounds in 2013, but we might not see a guy taken in the top ten or fifteen. Let’s look at some of the candidates coming into the year:
Storied USC quarterback but was always likely to face hyper critical analysis by putting a fourth year of tape in the hands of scouts. He’d made tangible progress in three years with the Trojans and peaked at the end of the 2011 season. When you return for a fourth year starting, it’s difficult to keep improving and anything but improvement is open to criticism. Barkley hasn’t matched the heights of 2011 so far, but then neither have the USC Trojans as a team. More on him later.
He entered the year with possible ambitions to be the #1 pick. Thomas is big, strong and athletic – fitting the criteria of a top-15 pick in the last two years. He spent all off-season working on his game, meeting with experienced coaches to take the next step. It hasn’t happened. He’s regressed and looks awkward, already throwing ten interceptions (his total for 2011) and losing four games at Virginia Tech. Thomas has stated he’ll return for the 2013 season but really, he had no choice. Let’s see if he comes back stronger next year.
After a 2011 season where Arkansas pushed the top teams in college football and chased a national title berth, the wheels dramatically came off when Bobby Petrino fell of his motorbike. Soon the Razorbacks were searching for a new coach and the team switched from contender to shambles. Wilson has predictably suffered as a consequence. He missed the 52-0 beat down by Alabama, but called out his team mates after. And just as it looked like things were changing for the better, Arkansas go and lose to Ole Miss on Saturday with Wilson throwing two picks. He’s mobile, he can sling it around – but he doesn’t have ideal height and he gets happy feet sometimes. His throwing motion is also very side arm.
Started the year on fire but has since come back down to earth with crushing defeats to Texas Tech and Kansas State. Crowned the Heisman winner and #1 pick a few weeks ago, people are now second guessing just how good he is. Smith could be a first round pick and probably should be a first round pick considering the likes of Christian Ponder and Brandon Weeden have made it in recent years. He’s playing in an extreme spread that favours the arm ball, he can suffer from patchy form and he has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long. He could get back into top-ten consideration if he starts winning again. But right now his stock is trending down after a blistering start. You can see tape of his performance vs Kansas State at the bottom of this blog post.
Matt Barkley vs Arizona
It’s hard to project what the future holds for Barkley, Wilson and Smith (we know Thomas won’t declare). I could see a situation where a team like Dallas shows genuine interest in Wilson – given the inconsistency of Tony Romo, contract status and Jerry Jones’ love for all things Arkansas. That’s a logical fit. But in round one? Smith is the most likely candidate to go early as more of a modern-day prototype (tall, strong arm, mobility) but he needs to rebound after ugly defeats. And then there’s Barkley.
I sat down to watch Saturday’s USC @ Arizona game already knowing the outcome and expecting worse than I saw. He wasn’t as awful as perhaps some members of the media suggested, but that’s the kind of review you get as a fourth year senior. The game did start badly though and he should’ve had an interception on the first drive twice.
First, he threw straight to a linebacker who kindly tipped the ball into the hands of Marqise Lee. Then he forced a throw down the middle, staring down the route and failing to anticipate the safety cutting it off. It really deserved to be a pick, but the defensive back dropped a gift. Two bad decisions from a quarterback who needs to prove decision making/execution is elite to make up for average physical skills.
Ironically, he did throw a pick on the next play and it wasn’t his fault. Barkley throws a little dump off on 3rd and 24 which was tipped into the air by Lee and juggled then caught by the linebacker. It should’ve been caught and it’s funny how the game works sometimes.
Barkley is good at moving on from mistakes though. On the next possession he took a play fake, felt the pressure and side stepped the rusher before setting and throwing a dart for a key first down. He’s not a big time athlete who will run away from a big pass rusher, but his footwork is elite. Robert Woods was penalised for pass interference on the call, putting USC at 1st and 30. Barkley went straight back to the pass, launching a bomb down the left hand side to Lee for huge yardage. He got enough height on the ball to let the route develop (the ball came out very quickly) and it was perfect accuracy, right into the hands of the receiver.
Yet having got close to the red zone, USC crumbled. They got a bit quirky (Lane Kiffin does that way too often) and having reached 4th and 2, they go for it and miss on a play action pass to the tight end. Barkley had the full back on a checkdown for the first down but perhaps correctly went for the open guy in the end zone. His execution was again poor and he needs to hit that big target.
He made up for it with two quick scores shortly after – the first touchdown was a simple dump off on a play action to the tight end. On Barkley’s second touchdown he sits in the pocket, waits for Lee to get open and throws it comfortably over the middle. Lee had enough separation to break off a big YAC run for a 49-yard touchdown. The safety takes a terrible angle which allows the receiver to run it in.
Arizona couldn’t cover Lee in the first half. He had 256 yards, 90 coming after the catch. Barkley did a good job finding his #1 receiver, but it was simple pitch and catch for the most part.
His first throw of the second half was Barkley at his best – quick drop back, good read and a strike to Robert Woods on a medium slant. He hit Lee on a similar play shortly after for a touchdown, with a big YAC run – taking his production to 299 yards for the day at the time. But then on the next drive he missed a wide open Robert Woods on a deep pass. The defensive back tripped allowing Woods a radius of 20 yards free space. Barkley has to make that completion and push the score to 35-13. Arizona scored on their next drive to make it 28-20 and after a USC fumble, quickly that was closed to 28-26. The rest, as they say, is history. USC’s defense couldn’t get a stop and the offense looked uncharacteristically panicked.
Here’s the issue – this was a winnable game. What’s more, it was a winnable game with more than one big mistake by Barkley. When you watch the whole thing you see the defense struggling, the fumble by a running back and the bad play calling from Kiffin. Scouts are going to gloss over that – I guarantee it. They’ll look at two ugly picks, a bad loss and a receiver getting 300+ yards on the day. The negatives are obvious, and the positives justified by Marqise Lee’s incredible day.
Suddenly the voice in the war room pipes up. “This guy isn’t physically good enough. He’s just over 6-2, he’s not big or athletic. He’s a timing passer. He had great receivers.” A lot of that isn’t unfair, but it doesn’t do justice to what Barkley is good at. This was an off-day, but people don’t expect you to have off-days as a fourth year senior. They expect you to throw touchdowns, win Heisman’s and National Title’s.
Some coaches will be able to see beyond that, but scouts are looking for 1.) big 2.) strong arm 3.) athletic. Luck, Griffin III, Tannehill, Newton, Gabbert, Locker. What do they all have in common? And how does Barkley compare?
This is why I cannot call Barkley a top-15 shoe-in. As much as I rate his poise, accuracy, ability in the pocket and yes – appreciation he will have an off-day every once in a while – I don’t think he necessarily fits what the NFL is looking for right now. He won’t get beyond the #20-25 range, but he could certainly fall there. Tyler Wilson and Geno Smith could end up in that range too. But suddenly we’re talking about guys further down the list. And that’s why I think this could be a slightly different draft than previous years. Could it be we have to wait until beyond the top-15 to see a quarterback drafted? It could happen.
On the other hand, maybe I’ll be proven wrong? It’s still October and we have a long way to go in this process. But it’s worth considering a draft that could be dominated not by quarterbacks, but by elite pass rushers and defensive lineman.
Geno Smith game tape vs Kansas State: