Matt Barkley may be the #1 overall prospect

What if I suggested Matt Barkley could be the best 2012 eligible player in college football? 

Would you assume I’d gone crazy? That may be fair. Would you write this piece off as a token gesture a matter of weeks before the new college football season begins? I haven’t got time for that, honest. Or would you consider for a moment that maybe – just maybe – Matt Barkley might be a marginally better quarterback prospect than Andrew Luck? Is that possible? 

I’ve spent a lot of time watching both quarterbacks and have a really difficult time separating them because in my mind they both have elite potential. Universally the media, fans and dare I say scouts have already anointed Luck the 2012 #1 overall pick in waiting. Stanford may have lost a fine head coach, but they maintain a strong offensive line and top-drawer running game. There are at least three receivers on their roster capable of making plays consistently. Basically, barring a freak and unfortunate injury, Andrew Luck is going to have another great year in 2011. Should that happen as expected, he will be the #1 pick. No doubt about it. 

He may be the most perfectly acceptable quarterback prospect in the history of the game. From the NFL bloodlines, the professional character and personality, the near flawless mechanics, more than satisfactory production and a cluster of wins – there’s barely anything you’d change about the guy. The team that passes on Luck would have to be drafting Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne with the #1 overall pick to avoid the howls of derision. 

I’m not trying to argue here that a team should pass on Luck (they won’t) or that I don’t think he will succeed in the NFL. He has a great shot at making it work as long as he isn’t drafted by an awful franchise like Cincinnati or Oakland. Unfortunately for Luck, both are terrifyingly realistic possibilities. 

But certainly I think the bubble of warranted hype surrounding Luck is so impenetrable, that we dare not consider whether anyone else could be… better. It’s like a taboo among college football observers. To suggest someone is better than Luck is comparable to discussing the finer points of Brett Favre’s impact at Minnesota with Tavaris Jackson.  

If Luck is fortunate enough to land in a better situation than Cincinnati/Oakland, even then he will still struggle to match the success of players who entered the league with much less hype or investment than he. The prospect that someone from the same draft class could end up having more success is not a pipe dream and neither is the possibility that someone could actually be a better football player given an equal or superior circumstance. 

When I watch Matt Barkley I’m often amazed at how little hype he receives in comparison to Luck. From a mechanical and physical point of view, they are very similar. Both appear to be grounded individuals who you’d be happy to have as the ‘face of your franchise’. Both appear to have been systematically trained for the NFL from a young age. Both have a level of athleticism which you don’t often see from quarterbacks with their build. 

Luck was lauded as a successful red-shirt freshman starter – and posted a stat list that read 56% completions, 13 touchdowns and 2575 yards. In seven games he threw for fewer than 200 yards as Stanford leaned on a brilliant running game. He had three games where he threw less than 50%, including a 33% game against California where he went 10/30 for 157 yards and an interception. Stanford lost 34-28. 

Luck started 2010 in a similar fashion, looking far from elite against UCLA in game two (46% completions) and he wasn’t completely polished against Notre Dame a fortnight later. However, as the year developed so did Stanford’s quarterback and by the end of the season he was regularly throwing 80% games and leading his team to victory in the Orange Bowl. It was that level of progress that convinced me Luck warranted the hype – you never expect a player to avoid a learning curve. Once he’d mastered the offense, the pace of the game and his own limitations, he began to play at a level that warranted huge praise. 

Matt Barkley didn’t have a red-shirt year at USC, he started all but one game as a true freshman. In just his second start in college football, he led a game winning drive to beat a tough Ohio State team on the road. He didn’t lose a game as a true freshman until Halloween at Oregon. His two other defeats that year came against Luck’s Stanford and a sickener against Arizona and Nick Foles. 

He had some tough games, as did Luck, but managed a superior completion rate of 60% and threw a similar amount of touchdowns (15). Turnovers were much greater (14 compared to Luck’s four) but Barkley was asked to do a lot more as an instant starter than Luck as a red-shirt. 

As a true-sophomore, Barkley’s game continued to progress at rapid rate. He improved his completion percentage to 63%, made eleven more touchdowns and continued to act as the focal point of the offense. Although he played behind an offensive line containing elite college players such as Matt Kalil and Tyron Smith, he wasn’t aided by the same well-oiled running game Luck enjoys at Stanford. Barkley’s top target was a true freshman receiver called Robert Woods – insanely talented, but learning on the run. 

Barkley’s performance as an immediate two-year starter have been nothing short of incredible. There was no pause for thought at USC and let’s not forget that in between two very succesful years he’d had to cope with controversy in the form of strict NCAA sanctions and a high profile coaching change. Barkley hasn’t just taken that in his stride, he’s sprinting at full pace. 

In what was a beautifully under rated meeting last year, the pair met in a classic encounter that Stanford won thanks to a field goal in the dying embers 37-35. Barkley matched Luck throw-for-throw. Whenever Stanford’s QB asked the question, his opposite number shot back the answer without hesitation. 

When I go back and look at the tape, I end up asking myself a couple of questions. Firstly, if this was a Luck vs Barkley boxing match decided on points – who would’ve won? Secondly, who is making the more complex and challenging throws? Who is facing the most pressure in the pocket? Who is being forced to make clutch plays? 

In both circumstances, the answer was Matt Barkley. Judge for yourself… 



Focus on the second video and Barkley’s tape. Look at the play on 2:51 where he pumps to sell the linebacker and throws a dart into coverage, picking out his target ahead of two defensive backs. Check out the pinpoint accuracy to dissect two defenders for a touchdown at 3:57 and at 8:10. The touch and placement at 4:25 is perfect (the dropped catch is not). The play with his legs at 6:52 flashes his athleticism and the throw across his body at 8:51 proves he can improvise, feel pressure and make a quick judgement. It doesn’t get much more clutch than 3rd and long on the road, down a score and making the completion at 10:08. 

Yet the most impressive play in the whole video – the one that smashes the rest out of the park and why portrays a perfect example of why I rate the guy so highly, is the final play on the video. It’s an incompletion through the hands of Robert Woods. Needing a score to take a late fourth quarter lead Barkley looks to his left and fakes, moves to his second read and doesn’t like it, goes to a third read and again doesn’t release the ball, goes back to his second read and throws an impossibly perfect pass to the back of a crowded end zone splitting coverage and nailing what should’ve been a potential game winning score. 

Should’ve been, but wasn’t. Stanford won the game. 

As I said at the start of the piece, I’m not trying to make a negative case for Andrew Luck. I think you’re talking about two elite quarterback prospects, one is assumed to be the greatest college QB since Peyton Manning and the other gets a decent press, but nowhere near a comparable level of hype. Both have started at a young age and impressed, although Barkley has faced (in my view) a much greater baptism of fire. 

There’s every chance Barkley won’t declare for the 2012 draft knowing he’ll get the opportunity to play in a bowl game next year and compete for a PAC12 title. He’ll also be well aware that the competition to go first overall in 2013 will be weaker – and some players do see being the #1 pick as a worthwhile enough achievement to impact their decision on whether to declare. 

Even so, both are draft eligible next year. A lot can happen in a single season to impact upon grades and opinions but with a few weeks to go until football finally returns, I’m not opposed to the idea that Barkley may be the better player.


  1. tom page

    This is a very interesting article Rob. My initial reaction was no way Barkley is in the same class as Luck, but you make some very compelling points. I thought Barkley had more of an average arm and Luck had a strong arm, but your analysis suggests differently. It will be interesting to see how they play this year, and how they progress through the draft process, if they declare. With Locker this past year, he looked inaccurate during the season, and inaccurate during the buildup to the draft. The scouts will find weaknesses in a player, if they are there. Luck has been the anointed one, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have weaknesses.

    • Luke Peters

      It’s compelling because he shows 1 game but doesn’t discuss the final 5 games of the season when Barkley threw 8 interceptions and only 6 Td’s.

      Barkley pump fakes so much that he’s slow to deliver the ball, throws off his back foot so much, doesn’t have the arm to go downfield (see Oregon) and holds the ball too long.

      Watch every Barkley game, especially any of the final 5 games, against weak opponents and you won’t be impressed.

      He resembles Mark Sanchez and Jimmy Clausen in height, delivery, back foot throws, constant pump fakes (see Sanchez against Pitt in AFCCG pumping and getting drilled for fumble and L).

      Barkley is too inconsistent. Heck, even Hasselbeck had a few great games in 2011 that you could focus on, but I wouldn’t want him leading the Hawks anymore than I’d want Matt Barkley.

      He’s so much hype and so little consistent production.

  2. Thekatman

    Nice write-up…. Your analysis is spot on.

  3. shams

    Great stuff Rob…too bad the ‘hawks have no shot at either one.

  4. Hawksfan33

    Thank you Rob Staton. THANK YOU! I have been saying for months that Luck is not as good as people think he is. Simply put, Luck was a product of the Stanford system. A very strong running game with a great O-line, and a QB that can manage the offense. If people would actually look at Luck’s throws, none of them are what you would call difficult NFL throws. Most of his completions are either wide open or are dump offs in the middle of the field.

    I have quite a few issues with Lucks game. His footwork isn’t great. He has what I would call “heavy feet”, almost like his shoes are a pound a piece. What’s obvious in the tape analysis is that he isn’t very good at getting to his 2nd and 3rd reads. He is afforded the time to stare down his reciever and let the play develop because of his great line giving him time to throw, but after the first option is covered he isn’t decisive enough in where to go with his next read.

    Sorry I got a little deep in the analysis there but I guess I’m just really particular about my potential Seahawk Qb’s

  5. Colin

    I knew that throw at 2:51 was good stuff, as I mentioned in the other article.

    I was really impressed with Barkley in this game, he made some killer throws, and although not as efficent as Luck, certainly took some chances and it paid off.

    Luck was everything as advertised in this game. Solid, efficent, poised, etc. The guy showed why he’ll be the #1 pick next year.

    If Barkley has a solid 2011 campaign and declares, I’d be all for Petey and co. to trade a couple of 1st round picks to get in position for him.

  6. Kip Earlywine

    I hate to say it, but Luck looks a lot like the “point guard” QB our FO says they are after. Every time I watch Luck, I see a very good QB simply taking what’s given to him. Most of his passes are 1 read, or to put it another way, he executes the play as it is drawn up with improvising much and finds success following a blueprint. A few awesome running plays aside, I’ve never really thought that Luck was a “playmaker” at QB. He looks like the kind of guy who simply executes a game plan, and because he’s very accurate and disciplined, with a ton of supporting talent, its made him look like the best QB in a generation.

    Barkley is a very different QB, and watching him check multiple reads, make good decisions under fire, and strong accurate throws, its easy to forget that he was only a true Sophomore doing those things. He started his career the same time Luck did, but I think he’s grown at a much faster rate in terms of polishing NFL skills.

    Honestly, I’m actually expecting Barkley to be the consensus #1 QB next year. He’s more equipped and prepared to walk onto a struggling NFL franchise than Luck is, and I really do think some of Luck’s luster will be lost in 2011 without Harbaugh’s guidance, since he strikes me as a bit of a “coach’s QB.” (Kind of like Matt Hasselbeck to Mike Holmgren).

    • Kip Earlywine

      *without improvising much

      • Rob

        You’ve made some excellent point there Kip. One thing that always struck me with Luck – people often praise his ability to adjust at the LOS and audible, but it’s all very scripted. As you say, he’s done an excellent job executing a precise game plan. Yet he’s rarely pressured because of his OL, he can lean on an excellent running game and he’s talented enough to connect the dots. He is an accurate passer, he is physically capable. He is not, however, a great improviser. In the NFL he’s going to have a situation where everything falls down around him and he has to make a play. That will be a test he hasn’t received at Stanford.

        • Alex

          And of course, we’ll see how he feels when he gets sacked a million times. Does he become a Peyton Manning or a David Carr? We’ll see.

          And nice article.
          One thing that I will say is that I was never truly impressed with Barkley leadership aspect (and I watched the former Pac 10 more than any other conference). There are leaders like Tebow in the NFL now who is a natural leader, but isn’t able to display it because of his skill set and then there are players who have the skillset, but don’t have the innate leadership. From what I’ve seen, Barkley has already taken on the mantle of alpha male (team offense wise) since his Freshmen year yet he never truly embraced the leadership aspect.

          • Hawksfan33

            I agree with your points. I rthink that being thrust into the starting lineup as a freshman really hurt Barkley in terms of leadership. I think that it is really hard to show great leadership when your the 18 year old phenom that just beat out 2-3 Qbs that have been there for 5 years. It’s really a tough situation to be in and I agree that Barkley doesn’t show that innate leadership quality that you see with a Brady or Brees.

          • Bubba Gill

            Matt Barkley didnt leave USC because “that’s my team.” If he had bailed many of the players would have never commited to USC. That’s leadership. In now way at all will he say ” give us the ball, we’re gonna score” but would Tom Brady say that. Look the kid has the arm, skill set, loyalty, and most importantly the desire to win. I would rather see Barkley on the back of a Hawks jersey rather then Lucks.

  7. Alex

    As for the videos.
    Barkley has GREAT footwork, EXCELLENT reading ability (these are his two biggest assets) ok mobility, an NFL average arm, and decent touch. Due to his arm, I happen to think that he fits best in a WCO system. Not too sure I would be comfortable in a Air Coryell Offense run like Rivers and Cutler. I felt there were a few long passes that might have been intercepted in the NFL.

    It’s very encouraging that his reading ability is already at where it is. I don’t remember an NFL prospect in recent memory with his reading ability. And I completely agree, that last play of the video is what’s most impressive. He made at least 3 reads. I’m guessing what happened was that his primary option to his left was covered (pumps it), moved to his second read on the right who was covered as well, and then moved to his 3rd option who was opening up.

    Andrew Luck has superior physical attributes, a slightly better arm (slightly above average/Sam Bradford-like), good mechanics, good footwork (though heavy feet), good mobility, average reading ability (I didn’t see a single 2 read play), great accuracy (a notch below Bradford though).
    It’s funny that I didn’t think of this until now, but I think Luck actually might be most similar to a (bulked up 2009 Combine, not the skinny 2008 one) Sam Bradford with slightly inferior accuracy. Andrew Luck doesn’t seem particularly close to any QB in the 07, 08, or 10 class.

  8. Ralphy

    Rob if you like that Barkely video you are going to love the Weeden video! I’m just kidding. What I am wondering is if you were putting together your first mock for 2012 where do you think you would have the Hawks drafting. Walter Football has them at number two and I am sure that we all realize that isn’t going to happen. It seems to me that a lot of the teams potentially drafting in the top 10 could have already chosen their QB of the future. Now that the Hawks have taken care of a number of needs this offseason I wonder what it would take to move up 10 to 15 spots and get one of these guys.

    • Rob

      I think the Seahawks can retain the NFC West crown, which would put them at no higher than #21 overall. If not, I think 8-15 is a fair suggestion. It’s the region they would’ve picked in last year without the title.

      • Ralphy

        So would you give up a package like the Falcons did to move up and get Barkley?

        • Rob

          Absolutely if he continues to progress as a junior.

  9. Scott

    Great article. Luck is so composed that it is hard to be down on him, I am sure he will be a great NFL QB. But Barkley, while looking a bit frantic and frenetic at times, looks to me like he has so much ceiling. If Bark declares, the debate over who is better will follow them both for their entire careers, and very well may define the tenure of the team that passes on one of them. Glad I won’t be that guy.

    If I had to define them, I would do it like this: Luck will never be a high interception total guy, turnovers are something he consciously avoids. Like Kip said, he takes what is there. The pistol stuff won’t see much time in the NFL, any coach who exposed him like that as a pro would be crazy. He seems to be a guy who executes the gameplan to perfection.

    Barkley, he will have more mistakes as a pro, but he isn’t afraid to give his playmakers a chance. That one completion across his body while he was going to the right would give most coaches cardiac issues.
    Put him on a team with a WR corps like the Hawks had in 2008 and watch him implode as he tries to make things happen. Put him on a team with receivers who are matchup problems like the Hawks have now, and watch him use Sidney’s ladder climbing ability and Mikes wingspan. He is definitely more fun to watch than Luck, even when he is failing.

  10. John

    This is a fine challenge to conventional wisdom, and you’re right at every step of the way in that Barkley, to date, has accomplished impressive things and might prove to be the better quarterback than Luck down the road.

    But to me the most telling point in this article is the note about situational development in the league. If Luck goes to Cincinnati, Oakland, Buffalo, etc., he may never develop, despite his talents. Many people seem to think Tim Couch and David Carr might have had good-to-great careers had they developed elsewhere. Would Aaron Rodgers be the same without four years seated behind Favre? Would Brady have been as successful on a non-belichick coached team?

    The opposite side of the coin, and the thing that should be giving us the most hope: PC and JS seem to be building a situation where a young quarterback can develop and even thrive, quickly. It may be that whoever we end up with, be it Barkley, Landry Jones, Weedon, Austin Davis, Nick Foles, Kirk Cousins, Kellen Moore, or…. Josh Portis – could develop into a better pro prospect than even Luck given the proper opportunity and direction. This is an underrated aspect of quarterbacking, and to be sure, the right tools matter, but the more you think about it this way the more confidence it inspires in the current regime. Or maybe I’m just being too optimistic.

  11. enkor702

    I’ve had this thought before & was forced to believe that my brain had gone bad…
    I mean according to popular opinion they aren’t even close when it comes to talent, upside etc.
    But you nailed it the kid can make every throw, he has the mobility, & his poise & command of the offense is underated. On top of that I see a swagger (ala Aaron Rogers, Matty Ice) that Luck just dosen’t seem to carry as much of. Jumping to conclusion Barkley @ the 5-10 range looks like the better pick to me than Luck @ 1…
    I can only hope we find a trade partner…

    • Rob

      I see a lot of Aaron Rodgers in Barkley.

  12. Brian

    Oakland seems due for a big slide this season. I don’t see how they will avoid a dropoff after losing Cable, Gallery, Miller and Asomugha. Apart from the talent loss that team has to be demoralized. (Well, except for the guys they overpaid.)

    Two of three of Buffalo, Oakland and Cincinnati will likely be worse than us this year.

    Trading up would be great, but I have a hard time believing that anyone other than the Bills would ever trade away a consensus franchise QB. And with the rookie pay scale changing, even the Bills would seem unlikely to trade away the rights to draft Barkley.

    But I could easily be wrong. I once thought Jimmy Clausen would be a safer pick than Jake Locker.

  13. Jmpasq

    Theres a lot to like about Barkley but I think he may be shorter then his listed 6’2″ which may effect his draft stock. I think there would be a lot more discussion about him being the better prospect if there wasnt those height concerns. Watching and making tape on these QB’s im amazed by the mobility of these guys in this class. Luck, Barkley and Tannenhill are all outstanding outside the pocket and thats not even discussing guys like WV’s Geno Smith and Tulsa’s GJ Kinne. Great job with the Blog by the way

    • Misfit74

      I’m also concerned about Barkley’s ability (inability) to drive the ball as well as either Luck or Landry Jones. Does Barkley have enough arm to be an elite NFL prospect?

  14. Bubba Gill

    I have “sprung” on Barkley for a year or so. The kid can just flat out play his position. If and when he becomes a Seahawk, this franchise will skyrocket. He was hand-picked from Carroll at USC and knowing Carroll’s philosophy, he is the future of the franchise. Look for us to give up the next few years’ first round picks to get this guy. If any of you knew Peyton Manning was going as good as he is now, wouldn’t you of traded two first round picks and 4 other random draft picks to get him. Barkley is the real deal. I know Carroll will get him in next years draft. Thanks for the astounding article Rob.

  15. sc85sis

    The biggest issue with Matt is that he sometimes tries to force throws and ends up with a pick. He also has faded somewhat towards the end of the season both years (something he pointed out himself in a recent interview). He’s also borderline “short” for a prototypical NFL QB, though I don’t think that’s a deal killer.

    He definitely has the physical skills. If he continues to advance in his decision making this year (and next – if he comes back), I think he’s got a good shot to be successful at the next level. He certainly has the character and leadership qualities you’d want for a franchise QB. Throughout all this sanction stuff, he’s acted as the face of the players, and he’s handled it really well.

  16. diehard82

    Excellent article. I expect Luck and Barkley to be like Manning and Rivers. Take your pick, can’t miss.
    Rob, a lot of your attention has been on QB and justifiably so. However, do you have any thoughts on 3-tech prospects. When I look at the Seahawks roster, I still see a big opportunity for upgrade at 3-tech. FO said they’d build through the trenches and did so in a big way with the O-line last April. I’m looking for a top pick on D-line this year. Branch looks to be solid against the run but I don’t see the premier pass rusher that could really make our D click. If the Hawks play as well this year as I think they will, we’ll be drafting in the bottom half of Round 1, like last year, and I doubt we’ll have a shot at Luck or Barkley, but may be able to trade up in the 7-10 range for a 3-tech who is being pushed down by the quality QB’s going early. Brandon Thompson from Clemson has caught my eye. Looks like a Warren Sapp clone, both size and playing style, although I don’t know how long his arms are.

    • Rob

      Thanks for the kind words diehard82,

      Certainly I’ll look at other positions and agree we’ve done the QB debate to death during the off season. In terms of 3-technique’s it’s not a great class at the position. There aren’t any Dareus, Suh, McCoy, Liuget level players. There are one or two sleeper later round guys I like but at the top end of round one, you aren’t going to find the next big pass rushing DT. Thompson is a bit inconsistent and only had one sack last year. He also played on a line with the best every down pass rusher in college football last year. I like Jared Crick at Nebraska but he’s more of an orthodox 5-technique. We’ll cover defensive lineman a lot soon. Bruce Irvin is still my favorite DL prospect.

  17. Saxon

    Robert Staton: Legend in the making.

    Brilliant article. Superbly argued. There is not much that I love more than seeing the conventional wisdom carpet bombed with superior logic. Kudos!

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