Further thoughts & tape comparisons: Luck vs Barkley

I wanted to continue the whole Luck vs Barkley debate today by publishing further tape (see below) courtesy of TMB Draft and also offering a few more thoughts.

I received a lot of different responses this week to my suggestion that Barkley may be the #1 overall eligible prospect for 2012, putting him above Andrew Luck. Most of it was fairly positive, with people embracing the possibility that there may be a challenger to Luck’s waltz to #1. A few argued aggressively against what I’d written, which I suppose was to be expected. Luck is an excellent prospect with the potential to be a very good NFL quarterback. However, I think we’ve got to a point now where people aren’t even breaking down his game any more or looking for counter arguments simply because the assumption is Luck = winning.

That’s not how I feel.

I totally understand that Luck has near perfect throwing mechanics, ideal size/build, more than enough physical strength to make a wide range of passes, faultless character and a pro-bloodline. In many ways he is the perfect prospect. I would never dispute that he does not warrant a very good grade. However, I also don’t think it’s being too desperate to try and look for reasons why another brilliantly talented quarterback may in fact be better equiped for the NFL.

Look at the tape between the two below. The Stanford offense is like a well oiled machine. Luck very rarely has to make more than one read because everything moves like clockwork. The environment around him is so smooth, it puts the emphasis on Luck to simply execute and he’s very capable of doing so. It’s no surprise to me that with more starts and time on the field he’s become more and more comfortable and that shows in the statistics. He completes a high number of passes and if we’re being brutally honest here, a lot of those passes are one-read, fairly simple completions.

He’s an incredibly accurate quarterback when asked to fit passes into tight windows, but the Stanford offense is a lot like a script. Luck is in the starring role, but he’s backed up by a top-notch supporting cast. If Luck nails his lines, then the play works. Practise has essentially made perfect and after an erratic start to his career, he’s at a point now where the lines come as naturally as driving a car.

What seperates Luck from the vast swathes of quarterbacks who also ‘master an offense’ is the long list of perfections I listed earlier. There are very few limitations be it physically, mentally or with pure potential. Yet I see very little improvisation from Luck. How much of his play is pure feel and how much is straight from the script? The only reason I ask is because when he gets to the next level, he’s going to have to improvise on what’ll be a 0-2 win team picking first overall. He may not have the great offensive line, running game and timing offense at Oakland or Cincinnati. He may be flushed out of the pocket and be asked to take a chance.

That’s not to say that like Peyton Manning and the previously awful Indianapolis Colts, an offense can’t be structured to match the quarterbacks talents and built up over time. However, Luck will have to hope like hell he’s not wearing Black and Silver because while a Washington or Denver may offer him a nice platform for possible sustained success, Oakland will swallow him whole and ask him to do too much. That is the situation where I think Barkley may be better served.

When I posted my article this week and discussed a lack of true elusiveness in the pocket for both Luck and Barkley, someone sent me a tweet arguing that Luck’s 453 rushing yards last year showed he was plenty elusive. He even compared Luck to Ben Roethlisberger. I couldn’t disagree more with that comparison. Luck actually runs a lot of designed QB draws or takes off when his one read isn’t open. We need to differentiate between Roethlisberger’s almost unmatched ability to avoid pressure and make plays downfield and Luck’s more structured running playbook. Two very different skills completely.

Both Luck and Barkley are similar in that sense in that neither are really great elusive quarterbacks. They’re very capable on boot legs, but not quite as good when combatting a heavy blitz in the backfield. However, this is where Barkley has the edge and may end up being a better pro in a bad situation. He has shown, in my opinion, a greater ability to go through three or even four progressions before throwing accurately. He’s flashed more plays where you think he’s going to be sacked and he’s ended up tossing a 25-yard gain. He’s not as polished or as efficient as Luck was late in 2010, but on a bad team he may have that bit of flair to make things happen while he learns the system.

I ask again – who makes the more difficult and challenging throws in the tape below?

The two players are both excellent in many of the areas you break down a QB, but when it comes to making reads and having that almost ‘Brett Favre’ esque ability to turn something into nothing, I’m going with MB. Make no mistake that a lot more is being asked of Barkley than Luck. The USC offense will revolve around Barkley and his ability to make consistent plays. Stanford will also rely heavily on Luck, but mainly to piece together the brilliant offensive line, running game and receivers running ever so crisp routes.

I’ve no doubt that if you put either Luck or Barkley in a comfortable position, they will thrive. If they’re in the opposite of a comfortable situation (again, not to pile on, but OAKLAND), then little things like making difficult reads and making plays downfield when things break down could be a difference maker. I’m not arguing that Luck isn’t going to be an elite quarterback. I just won’t rule out Barkley being better. He may well be better.


  1. Hawksfan33

    Good article Rob.

    I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. What I would emplore you to do is to take a look at a Luck vs Barkley vs Landry Jones comparison. I have done so and I have to say that I think Landry Jones is going to be an absolute superstar in the NFL. I know right now the general thought is that the number one QB is either Luck or Barkley, but I truly think that L. Jones is the best of the three and should be the number one overall pick next year.

    • John_S

      I agree with you Hawksfan33. I am a big fan of Landry Jones and I think that he’s going to be the best out of the 3 as well.

      I think he’s more mobile then Luck / Barkley and I think he’s more accurate than the two of them as well.

      Some will argue that the OU offense is about WR screens and dinks and dunks. There are those throws, but there are also the downfield throws that shows that he’s able to fit the ball in to tight windows.

      I see him as the better overall prospect and will get that type of attention at the end of the year.

      • Rob

        I’m not completely convinced by Jones. He’s played within the offense IMO, rather than excelled out of it. This is a big year for him.

    • Matt

      i do agree that luck and barkley are very comparable and barkley may just be the better qb …. but landry jones ….lol you guys are nuts this guy hasnt got the mental game guy is turnover happy and not at all consistent …. hes not even the best qb in the big 12 ….. osu qb brandon weeden is far better than jones and maybe comparable to both barkley and luck

  2. Troy

    A very compelling argument. I do think, however, that Harbaugh leaving is going to take a good amount of cushion from Luck’s environment. I expect a lot more weight to be put on his shoulder’s this season, as he adjusts to a new scheme that almost assuredly won’t be as smooth or comfortable for him.

    • Finnian

      I agree. Let’s see how Luck performs without his coach and a system set up for him to succeed. Luck also has the pressure of the world on his shoulders due the media hyping him up.

      Personally, I think MB will be the better pro. He has all the tools of a great QB and hasn’t even teated his full potential yet. One thing I would question of him is his attitude though. It’s a bit lazy and a kind of look at me attitude.

      • sc85sis

        I’m not sure where people get this impression that Barkley is lazy or not a leader. Nothing could be further from the truth. He’s the first true freshman to ever start at USC and thus was only a true sophomore last year. He’s been growing into his role, so his leadership early on was deferred a bit to the older guys. All reports from spring ball and fall camp are that he is now the undisputed leader of the team. He’s a hard worker and a quick learner who played under two different coaching staffs in his first two years (there were many similarities, but terminology, etc. definitely changed when Kiffin came in).

        Matt is known for being a hard worker and a quick study. He also has been the “face of the franchise” during all the sanctions stuff that USC has dealt with, and he’s handled it brilliantly.

  3. Andrew

    I disagree with your claim about Luck’s ability to scramble. First off, how can you know how many reads Luck makes on plays when he doesn’t throw? Even if you somehow track his head movement, that’s an incomplete picture since he’s not supposed to be moving his head on most plays. Most plays with moving pockets that result in a run feature multiple outlets on the playside. He’s also making reads before each snap…

    In an offense as monstrously complex as Stanford’s, there are tons of moving parts to each play, lots of it coming before the snap. I don’t think it’s realistic for anyone working without coach’s tape and a script to track his reads.

    I think Luck is easily one of the most mobile college QBs I’ve ever watched. He’s a phenomenal scrambler. QB mobility is best defined as movement with the purpose to best operate the passing offense–not the ability to run for the most yards. Luck moves in the pocket and runs for first downs as well as any college QB I’ve ever seen, and I grew up watching Michael Vick. He has the sort of mobility that you’d get if you took smooth operators like Peyton Manning or Drew Brees and gave them the running ability of a Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, or Aaron Rodgers. He’s got well above average footspeed for the position. He almost always gets first downs no matter how the play breaks. He takes almost no sacks. The combination of his footspeed, agility, quick release, decision making, and sense of timing/pressure creates near perfect QB mobility for a college QB.

    I think you are also underselling Luck’s remarkable ability operating an NFL style offense to perfection, using it as a mark against him by saying his performance is scripted. Every QB runs an offensive system designed to pick up first downs. Some run NFL style systems with more NFL talent than Stanford posseses (Scott Tolzien, Greg McElroy). If they could all execute as well and as consistently as Luck does, then he wouldn’t be such a special prospect. But they don’t and he is definitely special because of the way he runs his offense each week.

    If Barkley performs any aspect of quarterbacking better than Luck does, I can’t think of it. He’s certainly a good prospect, and whether he ends up having a better NFL career than Luck depends mostly on where each end up–much like it was for Rivers and Manning. That’s always the understanding with QBs at the top of the draft. But Barkley is not a better prospect than Luck and will not be drafted ahead of him. He’s neither cleaner nor more naturally talented.

  4. James

    Look at the recent top NFL QB draft picks: Sam Bradford, Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Matt Ryan, JaMarcus Russell, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Vince Young, Alex Smith… not to mention this year’s Newton, Locker, Gabbert, etc. Luck and Barkley look like better prospects than any of these guys. You have to go back to Carson Palmer for the skill set these two guys have.

    • Daniel

      Sam Bradford has the smarts to equal any quarterback coming into the league and better accuracy than all of those you mentioned. I think Luck and Barkley might be equal prospects to Sam (though I still put Sam ahead), but certainly not better. Sam has always had an underrated arm strength as well, he absolutely ZIPS his short throws and can put the ball on the money the very few times deep passes were called for him. The only reason Luck and Barkley MIGHT have a better skill set coming into the league is because Sam ran a spread and they ran a pro-style, which makes sense, but Sam was smart enough to catch on quickly.

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