Matt Barkley vs Oregon tape review

Matt Barkley’s performances have been consistently good all season, but it’s only after beating Oregon that he appears to be getting the praise he deserves. I wrote a piece during the summer that questioned whether Barkley – rather than Andrew Luck – would be the most talented player eligible for the 2012 draft. When you watch the Oregon tape, you look at the Stanford game and observe Barkley’s performance in defeating Notre Dame, that’s far from a ridiculous suggestion.

Luck is a tremendous player who will deservedly go first overall next April. The hype surrounding his potential, however, is not deserved. Revisionist history will tell you he’s the most highly regarded quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning. In reality, Luck has avoided a lot of the criticism’s and questions Manning faced. It’s assumed that Luck will succeed in any environment, that he’s the perfect prospect. That simply isn’t the case and it’s something we’ll look into over the next week. Barkley has a similar level of potential but has received a greater critique on his physical limitations. I feel like we’re looking at two comparable talents – but Barkley deserves a little more credit than he’s getting and the Luck hype machine maybe needs to take a step back.

A play in the Oregon game stood out as one of the best I’ve ever seen from a college quarterback (fast forward to the 2:01 mark in the video above). Barkley takes a snap under center and then a five-step drop. He pumps to the left and then comes back to the right before dropping in a perfectly weighted pass that dissects two defenders for a big first down completion. Look at the footwork, always moving. Look at the field awareness and poise in the pocket. Look at the perfect touch and accuracy on the pass – it couldn’t be any better. And notice that he does it under pressure – Barkley takes a big hit just as he releases the football. That is an elite play, there are franchise quarterbacks in the NFL who can’t make plays like that.

NFL teams value the back-shoulder throw in a big way these days and Barkley’s pass at 3:40 is a perfect example. Great pump to the right, then quickly floats the ball just behind the receiver and two defensive backs. I think this is an instinct throw more than a specific call – he senses the position of the two defensive backs and puts the pass just short of the group to allow Marqise Lee to adjust and make the completion.

One of the big knocks on Barkley is a lack of pure athleticism, but we see in this video that it’s completely overblown. The offenses in Seattle and Washington require the quarterback to run a lot of boot legs and play action and right off the bat against Oregon we see a quarterback moving out of the pocket, choosing his target and firing to the left sideline. We see further evidence of plus-mobility and the ability to throw accurately on the run at 2:41, 7:39 and also on the third touchdown at 4:02 and fourth score at 6:26. He runs a bootleg at 4:49 for a first down, so we’re talking about a pocket passer with plus mobility which is fine – how else would you describe Aaron Rodgers? Barkley doesn’t need to be Michael Vick.

Look closely at the way he switches between reads because this is something that Luck and Barkley flash on a weekly basis and separates them from others like Landry Jones. At 0:07 he doesn’t like his first option to the right and checks down inside for a short gain but keeps the ball moving. He’s reading the defense pre-snap and diagnosing the play as it develops.

The play at 1:34 is what really excites me about Barkley’s ability to play quickly in the NFL. Essentially, it’s what he’ll be doing every Sunday – seven step drop while reading the field, eyes downfield and to the right to create space underneath for the slot receiver who gets the first down. Barkley shows in this play that on a technical level, that ability to work within a pro-system is already there. Watch the all-22 tape on the replay and you’ll see his head turn from the right to the left before going underneath.

Barkley doesn’t have a great deep ball – his arm strength isn’t at a high level on downfield passes. His placement is generally good in terms of putting air on the ball and putting it in an area for the receiver to make a catch. However, when he’s asked to throw beyond 40-yards the ball’s sometimes under thrown because he hasn’t got the elite arm strength. On Marqise Lee’s opening touchdown at 0:55, Barkley’s going downfield all the way. He locks on to the receiver, waits for him to get separation and throws. A pass towards the end zone and it’s a much easier touchdown completion, the under thrown ball asks more of Lee who manages to adjust and make a play.

He does have a mechanical issue – he transfers his weight to the back foot throwing downfield and loses velocity because of it. At the same time, he probably leans back in order to get air on the ball. Several quarterbacks don’t have the elite arm and make downfield completions by exploiting single coverage and putting the ball in an area for the receiver to make a play. Barkley has shown consistently that he’s capable of that – and while the pass was under thrown it was as high percentage as a downfield pass can be. He isn’t going to be competing in an offense where he’s required to throw 5-6 deep passes per-game to a Mike Wallace type receiver, and I’m satisfied that he will make deep completions at the next level working within a ball-control offense like we see at USC.

The pass at 5:14 highlights a similar problem where a stronger pass could lead to an easy touchdown. However, the accuracy and placement on that ball makes the most of what arm strength Barkley does have and puts the ball into an area for the receiver to make a play. He finds way to be effective downfield, even if he’s more Matt Ryan and Carson Palmer throwing the deep ball than Jay Cutler or Matt Stafford.

The outside slant at 1:55 is a staple play that Landry Jones uses at Oklahoma, Barkley shows here that he’s capable of executing that pass with the same level of zip and arm strength. He throws a very good fade, as evidenced in the Robert Woods touchdown 2:20. He’s usually aware of the situation as it develops- he senses at 6:05 he needs to throw low to avoid any chance of a turnover and make a smart completion on a small field. The completion sets up the fourth touchdown on a similar play.

For a player who makes great decisions most of the time, there were also two poor ones here. The first comes on a fumbled snap in the red zone at 4:15, collects the ball and then tries to force a pass down the middle and should’ve been intercepted. He needs to appreciate the situation – fall on the ball, take the third down and try again. It’s not worth turning the ball over there trying to force a play. The second error leads to the interception. Barkley argued that Robert Woods was held – he was – and that’s what led to the turnover. No flag is thrown, but why throw the ball to Woods in that situation? He needs to recognise there that even if there is a foul, the receiver is in no position to make a play. It was careless and avoidable, even if it should’ve been a penalty.

The pass at 8:31 is a further example of a beautifully weighted pass down the middle for a first down.

People talk about the high volume of screen passes and short completions in the USC offense, but that’s football not just in college football but increasingly in the NFL too. Barkley is going to be tasked with managing a ball-control offense that will include a lot of short stuff and high percentage passes. What separates him from a player like Jimmy Clausen who relied a lot on high percentage completions is the evidence we see every week of making several plays that demand more from the quarterback. He’s making difficult pro-throws regularly, he’s throwing on an intermediate level and beyond. Neither Luck or Barkley are running a Robert Griffin III/Baylor style downfield offense and that won’t be the case at the next level either.

On the technical front, Barkley plays on a different level to the vast majority of college quarterbacks. His ability to operate in something akin to a pro-style offense, execute and look as polished as this is beyond impressive. Let’s not forget that this is an Oregon team that made Andrew Luck appear very ordinary last week – and Barkley didn’t have the benefit of a home-field advantage. There’s no doubt in my mind that Barkley could be the top prospect eligible for 2012, that he can have a quick impact in the NFL and enjoy a prosperous career in the pro’s. Will he declare? Arguments can be made on both sides of the debate, but there’s no doubt at all – he’s ready for the NFL.

Thanks to JMPasq for supplying us with the tape


  1. Brandon Adams

    Carroll’s desired offense seems more vertical than pure ball-control – hard to see him preferring Barkley over Luck or Griffin.

  2. Rob

    I agree and disagree. He clearly wants a vertical aspect because he’s targeted players that can drive the ball downfield. At the same time, he’s stressed the importance on controlling possession, running the ball and limiting turnovers. Barkley can get the ball downfield, but he’s much more technical than a guy like Tarvaris Jackson and won’t make anywhere near as many mistakes that lead to turn overs. Unless his philosophy has shifted completely since USC, we also have to remember that Carroll recruited and started the guy as a freshman – so if he doesn’t draft him it would surely be a talent issue rather than fit. Every team who needs a quarterback next April needs to have Barkley in the #1 or #2 position on their draft board – he should transcend scheme.

    Luck isn’t anymore suitable to a vertical attack than Barkley in my eyes. He has a stronger arm, but only marginally stronger. I could see a situation where Griffin is high on their board and his skill set compares favorably to players like Colin Kaepernick who they graded highly. Griffin is a far superior passer to Kaepernick though, but CK will make more plays with his legs.

  3. Kip Earlywine

    All the arguments for Barkley staying seem at odds with reality to me. Whereas most quarterbacks remain mum on the subject, Barkley has openly said that he views college only as a stepping stone for the pros. Which is a nice way of saying “Once I’m ready, I’m out of here.” Barkley doesn’t at all strike me as the Jake Locker type who’s invested in being a campus hero.

    The only way I could see him returning is if the NFL draft committee gave him a 2nd round grade, and his agent then failed to talk sense into Barkley by disagreeing with it. I seriously doubt either of those things happen. Barkley has more to lose than to gain by returning to school at this point.

    Money is also a factor. Sure, Barkley would have a good shot at going #1 in 2013, but that’s no longer a big difference in earnings from going 5th or 10th now. That difference in earnings would more than be made up for by hitting his first free agent pay day a year earlier (again, unless his agent is a retard, he will be made aware of this). If I’m Matt Barkley, the only compelling reason to stay is the ego-boost I’d get from being a #1 overall pick. I don’t think that matters much to Barkley, not as much as getting his NFL career started asap.

  4. Kip Earlywine

    By the way, did the reply to comment function break at some point? All the comments seem to be in their own section now.

  5. erik


    I think that even if PC/JS offered up 2 first and a second it won’t be enough to get the 2nd or 3rd pick require to get Barkley. I also think we are going to have to give up a young talent like Baldwin, Tate, or Sherman to the trading team. I think at this point the pro-Barkley amongst us need to hope Minn, Car, or Jacksonville land that second pick. I really fear the Brown’s and their two picks. I think we should pay particular attention to Peter King this offseason because his daughter works for the Seahawks and he seems to have some insight in PC/JS, or maybe thats just me. I think I’m still gonna root for the Hawks to play well and lose the rest of this season. It’ll be a minor miracle if we pick in the top 10.

  6. Colin

    Here is something to chew on guys, to keep the hope up for getting Barkley. Teams don’t always follow the projected draft slots. Kansas City was supposed to take Aaron Curry before us, remember? They took Tyson Jackson.

    Washington was supposed to take Russell Okung at #4 in the 2010 draft. Then they selected Trent Williams.

    Granted, I think any QB needy to team would be foolish to let Barkley go in favor of an RGIII or Jones. But it sure could happen…

  7. darnell

    That’s true, there’s always some curveballs. Von Miller,Marcel Dareus,Patrick Peterson and Ryan Kerrigan were all drafted by at the time QB needy teams. You never know what is gonna happen. Turned out those teams made nice picks.

  8. Alex


    Unfortunetly, we can’t play well and lose. The rest of the teams on our schedule except for SF suck. If we lose, it’s because we genuinely suck (in which case, QB isn’t the only issue we have to worry about). If we lose to St. Louis, Arizona, or Washington, there are no excuses, we suck. Can you imagine us losing to the St Louis team that we just beat? Do you realize how bad our level of play have to be?

  9. Kip Earlywine

    ^ (lol)

  10. Rob

    FAO Kip and everyone,

    I’ve switched the layout on the comments. Yesterday I noticed a comment tree with so many branches, there wasn’t even enough room for one word per-line. I’ve removed the reply tree for now and will review how this works. It’s more of a forum set up now in that you’ll see a long list of messages, but I’d recommend simply writing (RE: Kip) and maybe copying quotes in speech marks to argue specific points. We’ll give this a trial run.

  11. sc85sis

    If Barkley stays at USC, I don’t think it’ll be because of ego and the search for personal glory; it’ll be because of wanting a chance to help the team achieve something they’ve been unable to the last two years – go to a bowl game and possibly even a BCS championship. Matt has lead the team through all the NCAA mess, and he and Matt Kalil have reportedly discussed with each other the option of coming back to finish things off with the team.

    Rumor has it that Matt initially planned on staying three years and then leaving for the draft. That was before the sanctions came down, however. At this point I just have no idea whether he’ll stay or go. I don’t think he does either.

  12. JC

    RE: Brandon and Rob

    Don’t all teams, in theory, need to use the vertical passing game in order to keep the safeties back? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think the Hawks have gone to it as a feature in their scheme.

  13. John_S

    ROB – Great writeup as usual. I love your work and you deserve more credit than you are given.

    To Barkley, he has been amazing this year excelling in the short to intermediate routes. His command of the offense and playbook has been exceptional. How does he compare to Hasselbeck?

    Some people may see that as a downgrade for Barkley but I see it as a compliment. Matt’s been an above average QB with some exceptional years sprinkled in and has been a top 3 reason why the Seahawks had a decade of success.

  14. Rob

    Thanks John, really appreciate your kind words.

    I think it’s a very good comparison from a technical point of view. Matt Hasselbeck was a very intelligent quarterback who understood the game – he may not have been the most physically brilliant quarterback in his career, but he manipulated defenses and managed his offense at a high level. Unfortunately for Matt, he started later in his career and his peak coincided with several other players in Seattle coming towards the end of their careers – otherwise I suspect he would’ve been healthier and probably would’ve had a better conclusion to his time in Seattle.

    Barkley has a lot of the qualities Hasselbeck has and also some of the physical weaknesses. What Barkley does have though is time on his side and if he landed in Seattle for example, he’d be joining a team where the peaks can co-exist.

  15. Rob

    JC – I think that’s fair to say. You can’t hope to survive purely on high percentage passes, but you likewise don’t need the big cannon to keep a defense honest. It’s about accuracy, manipulation and good decision making – all of which Barkley excels. We’ve seen enough evidence this season that he can be a productive downfield passer.

  16. Attyla the Hawk


    You might be surprised at who may be willing to deal for a QB.

    As it stands today, 3 of the top 5 picks have invested heavily at the QB position and don’t appear to feel about their QBOTF as Carolina did about Clausen.

    Indy could be in a tough spot. While from a GM standpoint it makes sense to roll over the QB spot — Peyton is an icon for that franchise and that city. And health willing, he clearly has not lost the ability to reach the championship level. Indy could just as easily stockpile 5-10 draft picks in the next 2 years to help Peyton go out Elway style and still be in a position to secure a franchise talent in the next 2-3 years with the picks they’d receive.

    At any rate, there are a large number of teams that appear they will pick very high (Minnesota, Carolina, St. Louis, Jacksonville) that will be willing to listen to deals. Miami’s recent surge really increases that likelihood a great deal.

    It’s an interesting time to keep watch on draft order. But it’s a very real likelihood that one or more draft positions near the top of the draft could be had for the right price.

  17. Daniel

    I completely disagree, Kip. Barkley has openly stated that he came to USC to win a National Championship and a Heisman. This is a kid who grew up a USC fan and even at 8 years old, he wanted to star for this team (there is actually a video of this online). He is completely mum on this subject. Every time he is asked about it, he says “I don’t have to make that decision right now” and that he’ll look at every single aspect of it with his family. Money is not a factor at all in this case, as his family is already very wealthy. He and Matt Kalil are seriously taking into consideration how good USC can be next year if they both return, and you know they’re both giving it a legit thought when Kalil says “we’re either both back or both gone.” You’re way off on how Barkley feels about his USC family. There is the obvious arguments for him to leave as well, as he already knows his draft stock is at its highest right now, and he certainly does want to get his NFL career started; but you make him sound like some kid who only came to college to ready himself for the NFL, which he is not. He has been a passionate USC fan as a kid and grew up in a USC family.

  18. Colin

    Well Daniel I’m going to disagree and play devils advocate. I think Barkley isn’t likely to stay because he knows what a great opportunity he has right now. He’s on the record saying he came to USC specifically to prepare himself for a job- in other words, the NFL. I don’t think he is going to pass this up, especially if guys like Kalil are leaving.

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