Part of being a quarterback coming into the NFL Draft process is having every bit of film and workout dissected ad nauseum. It's a wise practice, given the amount of money and resources that a pro team invests in a youngster and how debilitating it can be to a franchise if that youngster doesn't work out. Still, sometimes the practice of scouting a rookie quarterback can become "paralysis by over-analysis".
When you look at former USC quarterback Matt Barkley, this could be the case. Heading into his junior season (2011), the Trojans, though handicapped by NCAA sanctions, were still a highly-regarded team. Even with the sanctions in place, USC finished 10-2 that season and things were definitely looking up for 2012. They entered 2012 with a No.1 ranking and Barkley was an early frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy.
But it all came crashing down with a resounding thud. After a decent start, the team finished a disappointing 7-6, capped with an uninspired performance in the Sun Bowl on New Year's Eve. It didn't help that Barkley separated his shoulder on November 17th against UCLA which led to a loss against Notre Dame and then another one in the Sun Bowl. No National Championship, no bowl victory, no Heisman Trophy.
To make matters worse, the criticism came hot and heavy on Barkley in a few short weeks leading up to the NFL Draft. The Southern California guy was once viewed as a shoe-in for the No.1 overall pick, but the body of work in his senior season and his unimpressive Pro Day led to a bunch of questions. There is now talk that he might slip into the second round.
It doesn't help that Barkley hails from a school that is known for cranking out underwhelming quarterback prospects. Fair or not, Barkley gets lumped into a group that consists of Mark Sanchez, Matt Leinart, Rob Johnson and even Carson Palmer.
Barkley is this year's Andy Dalton, and last time I checked Dalton worked out OK for Cincinnati. So Barkley doesn't have great size, his arm strength isn't ideal and he's not mobile. He's the most ready quarterback to step into a pro huddle, much like someone from TCU two years ago.
Not only did Barkley start all four seasons at USC; he started all four seasons at prestigious Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Cal.) High School, too.
"If you need someone to step in immediately," said one quarterbacks coach who attended Barkley's workout, "he's your man. He's mature, he's experienced and he played in a pro system for four years. He handled himself so well at 'SC, and when things didn't go right he never pointed a finger.
Judge nailed it with Barkley being "pro ready". Not only does he have ample experience in a pro system, ran by two current/former NFL head coaches in Pete Carroll and Lane Kiffin, but he also has a great head on his shoulders. Aside from being a leader that the entire Trojans team looked up to, Barkley also led a great lifestyle off of the football field - one that included many of the same missions trips and goodwill gestures that we hear associated with Tim Tebow.
There are some questions that surround Barkley, but there may be a lot more to him than meets the eye. After all, we are talking about the Pac-12's career leader in touchdown passes. If Barkley and NFL executives need someone to look to as an example for a heady, confident quarterback that has had early success, it's Andy Dalton.
After coming under some of the same scrutiny that we're hearing about Barkley (size, arm strength), Dalton has silenced most of them by leading the Bengals to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. He still has a ways to go, but he has the Bengals in the mix and they're looking to take the next step by making some postseason noise again this year.
The lesson? Sometimes tape and workouts don't show you everything you need to know about a prospect. Another lesson? The team that drafts Barkley will want to give him a good receiving target (Robert Woods, maybe?), as well as a solid defense to lean on early in his career. It's done wonders for Dalton.