Luck vs. Barkley: Who fits Seattle best?

by Kip Earlywine

I realize the title of this post may sound overly presumptuous.  Seattle is only 2 games into the 2011 season, and to have a realistic shot at Matt Barkley, they would probably have to win fewer than 6 games (maybe less).  To have a realistic shot at Andrew Luck, they may have to win fewer than 2 games.  Seattle is a bad team, but with only a small sample size to work with, its too early to intellectually give up on the 2011 season, even if some of us already have emotionally.  Its entirely possible the Seahawks could win 6 games, especially if they make a change at QB sooner instead of later.  When its all said and done, its possible that neither player reaches Seattle in such a situation.  Talking about Luck vs. Barkley next April would probably be a waste of time if Seattle is picking 12th overall.

But there is a reason we, and even the national media, have been linking the Seahawks to these two quarterbacks.  Seattle is one of the most QB needy teams in the NFL, and they are also one of the league’s worst teams on paper.  Michael Lombardi recently said that the Seahawks reminded him of an expansion team, a point I struggle to disagree with.   At least right now, Seattle is still “in the hunt” for these two QBs, so for right now, its a worthy discussion about which QB would be the wiser investment.  If Seattle picked #1 overall, or if somehow both QBs reached Seattle’s pick, which one should they choose?

Before I get to the players themselves, I need to discuss what might be the single most under-rated aspect of evaluating any prospect:  how well does he fit the scheme you are implementing?  In fact, I’d argue this is near the top end of importance for any position.  For example, consider how size matters for Seattle’s intentions with press coverage, or on the defensive line, or at wide receiver.  Its a big reason why Seattle has had good results from Red Bryant, seen encouraging signs from Richard Sherman, and had success with Mike Williams.  A big reason for the resurgence of Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock is that their pure pass rush skills fit well with the LEO role.  On the other side of the coin, we needn’t look any further than Tarvaris Jackson’s poor pocket presence to see how two weak areas on a team can compound each other.

Scheme consideration was, in my opinion, the biggest reason why Seattle never even considered Ryan Mallett earlier this year.  A lot of people talked about Mallett’s character concerns, but Seattle hasn’t shown much aversion to character risk types.  Rather, I think they viewed Mallett as a pure pocket QB who built his game off of the big play, and that didn’t jive with what Seattle is looking for: a quarterback who is capable of consistently building long drives while avoiding big risks.  I don’t think they have anything against “the big play,” but based on the way that they devalued Locker and Mallett, I would assume they resist QBs who have “propensity for the big play” at the top of their NFL resume.

Many comments have been made about Seattle’s desire for a “point guard” quarterback.  This has confused a lot of fans as the term is not often used and is easily misunderstood.  Here is a quick explanation:  A point guard in basketball plays the ball distribution role on the team.  If he has an open look at the basket, he’ll take a shot, but more often than not, he’ll pass to a teammate with a more open look.  In the NFL, the “shoot” part of the analogy means the quarterback will take off and run if doing so is uncontested.  The “pass” analogy is more direct, as it also means to pass the ball.  A point guard typically passes more than he shoots, and a point guard QB will typically pass more than he runs.  Examples of point guard quarterbacks currently in the NFL include Josh Freeman and Michael Vick.  I’m just speculating, but, I find it less than coincidental that all this talk about Carroll wanting a point guard quarterback came just a few months after he watched Josh Freeman toast his defense (21/26, 237 yards, 5 TD, no picks).  I’ve noticed that coaches tend to be biased in favor of players who kicked their butts.

Is Matt Barkley a point guard quarterback?

Not really.  He’s more of a pocket passer who runs occasionally.  He plays with “heavy legs” as I call it, meaning that he doesn’t look explosive or lightweight on his dropback and isn’t explosive when he takes off.  Barkley may very well run a 4.8 forty in a straight line, but I think that number covers up what looks like decent but not elite athleticism.  That said, Barkley isn’t completely glued to the pocket: he’s had 79 rush attempts in his first two seasons, or about three a game.  He’s a far cry from Ryan Mallett last year in this regard.  Barkley could succeed in the passing portion of the point guard role in that he’s perfectly capable of checking multiple reads and leading long, sustained drives.  He’s also excellent at executing play action and is above average on bootlegs- two areas of importance for a Pete Carroll quarterback.  Matt Barkley has a big play component to his game, but its not the first thing off the tongue when discussing him.  The first thing people mention when talking about Barkley is generally that he’s a very efficient, well rounded, NFL ready quarterback.

Maybe I should refrain from making an NFL comparison for either of these quarterbacks.  Comparisons to successful NFL quarterbacks lead to unfair and sometimes inaccurate expectations.  Need I remind anyone that Bill Walsh compared Rick Mirer to Joe Montana?  On the other hand, looking at comparable quarterbacks in the NFL is a good tool for determining the kind of system a prospect would be best in, so I decided to look over a list of successful quarterbacks to see if any of them strongly resembled Matt Barkley’s game.  Going in, I had a hunch he’d resemble Aaron Rodgers, but as it turns out, not really.  My instincts pointed at Rodgers, a fellow 6’2″ quarterback with an excellent ability to read defenses and all the arm/release goodness to get it done, but the comparison does come up short in one way, and that is that Rodgers plays with significantly more mobility.  After repeating this exercise for several other quarterbacks, I did find one player who looked eerily similar, even down to the little details.  Ironically,  it turned out to be a blindingly obvious comparison that I should have made much sooner.  Check these two out, side by side:

That’s right, Carson Palmer.  If it wasn’t such a dead on comparison, I’d feel ashamed for using it just for how lazy it appears on the surface.   Palmer ran a 4.63 forty time at his pro day, but never became a threat running the ball.  Palmer also has that same “tired legs” dropback, and isn’t an explosive rusher.  Both have nearly identical looking mechanics, pump fakes, and decisive natures.  Both check multiple reads with impressive speed.   I’d probably give Palmer a slight edge in athleticism, but its close, and Palmer was never known as a dual threat quarterback at any time in the NFL.  The biggest difference between the two is size, Palmer has got about two or three inches of height and 15 pounds on Barkley.  Barkley’s size is certainly NFL adequate though.

While its clear that Barkley does not fit the typical point guard quarterback mold, he looks like the mirror image of a quarterback Seattle just spent months hoping to trade for.  And then, obviously, you have the connection Barkley and Carroll share from USC.  Barkley is not a perfect fit, but is he on the radar?  You bet your ass.

Is Andrew Luck a point guard quarterback?

The answer is a surprisingly emphatic “yes.”  Luck has rushed the ball 116 times the last two seasons, and if you’ve ever sat down and watched Andrew Luck play a full game, its obvious that mobility is a huge part of what makes him so effective.  In 2010, he out-rushed Jake Locker in fewer than half the rush attempts, for an outstanding 8.4 yards per carry average.  That high average speaks not just of Luck’s running ability, but to the intelligent timing of when he decides to run.

Luck also completed 70.1% of his passes in 2010, which is astronomically high for having played in a pro style offense.  Andrew Luck is probably the best pro-style college quarterback we’ve seen at grinding out long drives in many years.  Like every good point guard quarterback, Luck excels at spreading the football, although he did show a strong preference for targeting Doug Baldwin.  Conveniently, Baldwin is already a Seahawk and playing himself into the slot receiver role.

Andrew Luck is constantly mentioned in the same breath as Peyton Manning.  While its a great honor to be compared to arguably the greatest quarterback on Earth, I always felt it was a pretty weak comparison when putting on the tape.  Manning has always been a fairly pure pocket passing quarterback.  A much closer analogy would be a right-handed Steve Young.  Young currently holds the best career passer rating among non-active quarterbacks, and is 2nd all time for rushing yards by a quarterback.  Luck has been known for long, impressive runs, including a 58 yard touchdown run last year.  Perhaps the most famous play Steve Young ever made was this run against the Vikings.  Young was also a guy that didn’t run too much, he only ran when running the ball was the most sensible thing to do.  In my opinion, Steve Young is the greatest point guard quarterback of all time, and Luck bears a strong resemblance to him.

As noted in an excellent fieldgulls article by Dan Kelly, Pete Carroll’s book Win Forever mentions how the current Seahawks coach had a formative moment with Bill Walsh back when Carroll was the 49ers defensive coordinator.  Walsh was out of coaching at this time, but was apparently still closely connected to the 49ers organization.  Pete Carroll sought Walsh out, trying to soak up any insights he could offer.  One of the things Carroll recalled about that time was this:

“We talked a lot about the quarterback position. Coach Walsh was one of the great quarterback gurus in the history of the game, and he convinced me that everything a coach does in designing his offense should be about making it easy for his quarterback, because his job is so difficult. He believed that everything should be be structured with the quarterback in mind.”

This pretty much goes to the heart of what Seattle truly wants at quarterback.  They aren’t looking for a Peyton Manning type who can carry the fortunes of a franchise all by himself.  Rather, they are looking for the kind of guy who can walk into a system and have immediate and strong success due to strong synergies with his supporting cast.

A guy like Steve Young, who just happened to be the quarterback of the 49ers during Carroll’s tenure there.

Andrew Luck isn’t just a fantastic quarterback prospect, he’s a perfect fit for what the Seahawks are looking for at quarterback.  I look at Matt Barkley and I see a guy who is going to be a very good, championship level player in the NFL.  But I look at Andrew Luck, and look at how he fits this team, and the word “special” comes to mind.  If Seattle was just some faceless team without any major preferences and could build around either guy, I’d probably take Barkley by a nose (although the remainder of the season could change that opinion).  But considering the rather strict preferences Pete Carroll has for quarterbacks, its hard to ignore just how perfectly Andrew Luck fits them.  If Seattle picks 1st overall, I doubt they’d pass on Luck for Barkley or anyone else.  In the end, we should be very excited should Seattle be privileged enough to land either one.


  1. Ryan

    Schemes come and go (bye bye Holmgren; bye bye Greg Knapp; bye bye Jeremy Bates; hello Darrell Bevell). We should focus on the quarterback (Luck, Barkley, or whomever) we feel is the best, and build the scheme around his skills. Complimentary parts of a team can be picked up more easily in trades and lower rounds of the draft.

    You should design your offense around your QB, not pick a lesser QB just because he doesn’t fit the system you currently have. Hypothetical: In ’98, should the Colts have avoided Peyton Manning because he didn’t fit their offense? Of course not. A franchise QB will be there for a long time, and you can build your pieces around him.

    • Ryan

      I don’t want to come across as negative about your piece. I really appreciate the analysis, and your work on evaluating these prospects. I also agree Luck seems better IMHO. I’m more opposed to the way this franchise has ignored the position for so many years.

      Thanks again for your work!

    • Kip Earlywine

      No drafted quarterback is a sure thing. Only 40% of first round quarterbacks ever make a pro bowl. Taking a 1st round QB is the best bet a team can make, but its still a tough bet. Since the odds are so low, teams would be wise to take any measures they can to help their quarterback succeed or remove obstacles which could impair them. Scheme fit shouldn’t be a dealbreaker, but between two similarly talented quarterbacks, scheme is a very important consideration.

      Teams do sometimes leapfrog QBs due to preference. San Diego actually wanted Philip Rivers more than Eli Manning to begin with, and only briefly drafted Manning as a means to pocket extra draft capital. The Titans drafted Jake Locker because he fit their mold better than Blaine Gabbert did, despite the fact that Gabbert was almost universally considered a superior overall prospect.

      If I were a GM, I’d just take the best QB possible and make it work, but that doesn’t mean that scheme fit isn’t very important. Just look at how scheme fit impacted QBs like Michael Vick, Jeff Garcia, and Kurt Warner.

  2. Scott

    Kip, good work. I have been watching both guys, but I feel enormously guilty for coveting them, since I dread all the tanking talk. And I hate the possibility that Indy fans just might get a 2nd franchise guy in a row.

  3. PatrickH

    If the Seahawks miss out on Luck and Barkley, which of the second-tier QB prospects best fit the pointguard profile as you described it? I guess Landry Jones would be a poor fit?

    Josh Portis also seems to be capable of developing into a pointguard QB, if he can get rid of the wild throws that he had in the second pre-season game.

    • Kip Earlywine

      Ryan Tannehill is a classic point guard QB, he runs like a WR and is comfy checking multiple reads. Believe me, Tannehill is a guy we’ll be talking about a lot in the future. He may not have 1st round talent, but he’s got a lot of innate talent, and he’s a great fit.

      I’m a big fan of Josh Portis. His athleticism, pocket presence, leadership, ability to check reads, and arm strength are all very impressive. It needs to be seen if his poor accuracy was just nerves or a bigger issue. He kind of reminds me of Michael Vick when he was with the Falcons: back when he was a guy that botched a lot of throws but when he was “on” he looked almost unstoppable.

    • Kip Earlywine

      Regarding Landry Jones, I’m not as down on him as Rob is, but I grow more convinced by the day that Seattle won’t show any more interest in Jones than they did for Ryan Mallett. I’m actually planning a post on that very topic in the next few days.

      • Rugby Lock

        Great work Kip!! Keep it up!

        • Kip Earlywine

          Thanks! : )

  4. Swamp_Fox

    Awesome work, Kip. Love the comparison to Palmer (is the arm strength comparable? Slight edge to Palmer, but still..)

    Wouldn’t have put those two together but as Orwell said: “To see what’s in front of one’s nose takes a constant struggle.”

    Hard to pick the Top 3 worst teams at this early stage in the season, but if I had to predict I would say SEA, KC, JAX are the early favorites.

    • Kip Earlywine

      On paper, Palmer comes out just ahead in pretty much every area: size, speed/athleticism, arm, but Barkley is pretty close in all those areas.

      If I was forced to name one edge Barkley has over Palmer, it would be that Barkley strikes me as an even more aggressive, fast paced player. I’m not saying that Barkley is another Philip Rivers, but Rivers has a similarly aggressive style and its a big reason he led the NFL in YPA last year. Barkley likes to get the ball out quickly most snaps, and he generally looks very good while doing it.

  5. Vin

    I was wondering when/if someone would start making comparisons between the 2. Great stuff Kip!! Although I am more in favor of drafting Barkley (assuming we are in the position to pick between the 2) I would be perfectly happy with Luck. How awesome would that be to draft Luck and have the Luck to Baldwin connection for the next several years……and sweeping the 49ers every year from 2013-beyond. One can dream………

  6. Misfit74

    Landry Jones


  7. Misfit74

    I will add that when you get your QB of the future, you adapt to what HE can do. Not adapt him to what your OC likes to do. Build around your cornerstone QB. Hopefully, we get one next NFL Draft.

  8. Rich

    Does he compare at all to his idol, John Elway? I’m not complaining. I’d take the second coming of Steven Young. 🙂

  9. Rich

    Does he compare at all to his idol, John Elway? I’m not complaining. I’d take the second coming of Steven Young.

  10. Chris Haller

    If Robert Griffin III continues this kind of run, with the incredible completion percentage, big play ability, and track star speed, when does he become the true “point guard quarterback” that Pete wants? I know it’s a little off topic from the post, but I see a much better, far more refined Josh Portis when I watch film on RG3. The Seahawks defense seems to be good enough to keep them in most games this year, especially at Quest. I don’t see how were going to pick high enough for Barkley or Luck. I see RG3 as Carrol’s perfect compromise if either of those two aren’t available.

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