+Makes incredible pre-snap reads
+Plays in a pro-style offense (admittedly, wears a play wristband)
+Above average throw power
+Above average accuracy
+Beautiful footwork from the 3 step drop
+Light feet in the pocket
+Pretty accurate on the run
-Will lock onto receivers
-The longer he holds the ball, the worse his mechanics become
-Will rush his drops
-Can’t make defenders miss in the pocket
-Makes good reads, but doesn’t always time his throws
-Happy feet in the pocket
-Average poise under pressure
Honestly, I think USC quarterback Matt Barkley is a bit overrated. I’ve studied him intensely, and there are a few flaws with the way he plays the game that really concern me. But, they say that, if you look hard enough, you can find a mistake. That might be what I was doing with Barkley. Maybe I scrutinized him to the point that I’m getting too concerned about some of the most minor issues. Maybe I’m making a big deal out of minor issues. But I still feel like there are red flags here, and I don’t think Matt Barkley is sure fire star in the NFL. He very well could be great, but I don’t think it’s a sure thing.
Barkley has average measurables. He has mediocre but still sufficient height at 6’2, mediocre bulk at 218lbs (230lbs is ideal in my mind; not so big that he is stiff, not so small that he is an injury waiting to happen), and average speed with a 4.74 40 yard dash. However, I’ve always felt that he looks a bit slower than his 40 yard dash on film.
Barkley has terrific stats. He has been starting since his freshman year, gradually improving year by year, having an amazing season as a junior. In 2011, he completed 308 of 446 passes (69.1 %) for 3528 yards to go along with 39 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He was also only sacked 8 times last season, though, I must say, the fact that he got only 14 rushing yards last season in spite of the fact that he was sacked only 8 times is pretty pathetic. Barkley has excellent stats.
Barkley has solid throw power. He puts excellent zip on a majority of his passes, and he throws a beautiful deep ball. The one thing I would like to say is that, from an arm strength standpoint, he is better at throwing balls fast compared to far. From a distance perspective, his throw power is average, but he can hurl the ball at a high velocity. That being said, his deep ball has a beautiful arc, and he can “throw his receivers open” (meaning, throw it at a speed and place where his receivers will get open in pursuit of the ball) as well as any quarterback I have ever seen. However he does occasionally throw a wobbly spiral, which I suspect is a result of him gripping his thumb too low on the football (just a guess, can’t see the exact position of his thumb from a TV screen).
Barkley is pretty accurate. Out of a 3 step drop, his footwork is beautiful, and his clean, consistent release means that he is usually very accurate. Barkley is also pretty accurate during the rare times he throws on the run. His light feet and throw power allow him to “make all the throws” because he can adjust his feet to the outside very quickly when working out of a 3 step drop and make a quick pass (in short, throw to receivers at a pretty sharp angle relative to the line of scrimmage) as well as make long throws over the middle.
As a decision maker, you have to evaluate Barkley in two ways; pre-snap and post-snap. Before plays start, Barkley makes remarkable reads. There is no quarterback in college football who can make pre-snap reads like Barkley. He can recognize coverage schemes, and he knows enough about opposing teams to recognize major mismatches (i.e., a 6’6 tight end versus 6’1 outside linebacker). When I watch Barkley, I see him make pre-snap reads, and I would say that roughly 90% of the time, he ends up throwing to the first receiver he looks at (the guy he thought would be open after reading the defense before the snap). And I would say that, 75% of the time, the first guy he looks at is wide open, and the pass is completed. However, here’s the problem: if the first guy he looks at isn’t open, he completely falls apart. I’ll start off from a decision making standpoint. If that first guy isn’t open immediately, he might force a throw to him even if he is essentially blanketed. Even if he is/will be open, if he is running a route that takes sometime to develop, Barkley will either completely mistime his throw (I’ll get into that later) or lock onto him for a long enough time so that any defender with a brain could read his eyes and jump the route. For example, if Barkley makes a pre-snap read that leads him to believe that a receiver running a comeback route will be open, bad things happen, because it takes a receiver about 4 seconds to complete a comeback route (run 15-20 yards downfield then turn around and run to the sideline at a 45 degree angle), and Barkley will stare at that receiver for 4 seconds until his route is done. If a quarterback stares down a receiver that long, he is doomed. Any defender in zone coverage will shift toward the receiver and a defender may try to jump the route. Barkley’s eyes can single-handedly turn a would be open receiver into a well covered receiver. He is also willing to force throws to his first receiver, because he is pretty unwilling to look at other receivers. His first option has to be blanketed for him to look anywhere else. Before the snap of the football, Barkley is a genius that makes brilliant pre-snap reads, but, after the snap of the football, his decision making is very erratic if his first read isn’t open.
I don’t really like the way Barkley looks playing football, at least from a composure standpoint. He doesn’t look poised. I would say that many of the greatest quarterback busts in NFL history had a great arm and were very smart, but simply played the position like their hair was on fire. They just couldn’t relax and stay composed on the field. They study film, they do their best to prepare for opponents, but, if they see anything they aren’t prepared for, they completely collapse. Guys like Kyle Boller, even Rex Grossman, and, more recently, Blaine Gabbert. Barkley has some of the qualities of this kind of quarterback. One, his dropbacks are extremely rushed, which can result in fumbled snaps. Also, if he holds the ball for more than two seconds, he gets happy feet. He literally starts to bounce in the pocket. He relies heavily on his pre-snap reads, which are usually brilliant, but, if his first read isn’t open, he completely collapses in every form imaginable. Not only does it affect his decision making (not too unusual), but even his mechanics are terrible if his first read isn’t open. If that first receiver isn’t open, he begins to worry about the blitz. He hops around the pocket like a frog. He’ll throw off his back foot even if he isn’t being pressured if he knows he has been holding onto the ball for a long time. He’ll worry about pressure that isn’t there (USC has a tremendous O-line. I can’t imagine what he would look like if his O-line sucked). He feels the urge to get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible. He doesn’t excel in the 4th quarter (see: lack of late game production against Oregon, Minnesota, Stanford). He rushes his throws. To that point, there was one play against Stanford that really stood out to me with regard to timing. His tight end was running an out route. Barkley never took his eyes off him during the play. Barkley really mistimed his throw. Remember, the play was to a tight end. Tight ends can’t cut at 90 degree angles with much quickness. With their tight hips, tight ends take a long time with routes that require a sharp cut. Barkley threw the ball as his target was making his cut. A linebacker who had seen Barkley staring down the tight end jumped the route and intercepted the pass. If Barkley had waited an extra second for his target to finish his cut, he likely would have been open, and the pass would have been completed. But Barkley’s urge to get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible killed him on that play. And the timing between him and his receivers is often poor. Barkley really struggles to time his throws, even to open receivers, simply because of his urge to rush throws. Barkley just doesn’t look relaxed and confident playing quarterback, and I can’t help but say it really scares me.
Barkley doesn’t have much escapability in the pocket. It’s tough to evaluate his escapability, considering he usually gets the ball out of his hands in less than 4 seconds, but he doesn’t seem to have much foot quickness in the pocket or a keen sense of the blitz. He isn’t a very mobile quarterback, and he isn’t going to make defenders miss in the NFL.
Barkley usually has good mechanics. In some ways, I think he has trained himself to develop a terrific muscle memory for almost every throw imaginable. He’s trained himself to use perfect mechanics on virtually any throw, such as a 3 step drop with the ball being thrown to a receiver running an out route on the weakside. He’s mastered many throws in many scenarios. In situations like that, he has mastered his footwork and a quick release. However, his muscle memory relies on his pre-snap reads. The first guy he looks at must be open. If, in the scenario mentioned above, the wide receiver isn’t open, and Barkley is forced to look to another receiver, his mechanics collapse. He’ll stand too tall in the pocket, causing passes to flutter in the air. His won’t stabilize his shoulders, causing passes to sail high. He puts too much of his weight on his back foot, causing inaccuracy, and he won’t follow through very well on his passes. The minute he has to look to another receiver, his mechanics are horrible (see: the interception he threw against Oregon in 2011). At the college level, it rarely affects him, since, 90% of the time, the first receiver he looks at is open, or at least open enough so that he can throw the ball to him and it won’t be intercepted. But…
No quarterback can rely on pre-snap reads and nothing else in the NFL. In the NCAA, defenses don’t disguise their schemes as well in the NFL, plus USC receivers don’t have much difficulty creating separation against opposing defensive backs. Right now, his pre-snap reads are good enough so that he can throw to the guy he though would be open before the play 90% of the time. However, in the NFL, no quarterback can make pre-snap reads so good that they can target the primary receiver 90% of the time and expect to have success. Most quarterbacks would be lucky if their primary receiver was open half the time in the NFL. Even though Matt Barkley has played very well at the college level, I’m not too sure about his NFL success simply because, even at the college level, he falls apart if his first receiver isn’t open.
To prove my point, check out this video. Watching the video, excluding play actions and rollouts (something he is a natural at), I want you to ask yourself how many times his eyes move away from his first receiver and how many times he holds the football for more than 4 seconds before making a throw. Again, exclude play actions and rollouts. I think I saw him move his eyes away from the first receiver about 6 times. He relies too heavily on his first instinct, and it concerns me.
Overall, I’m not sure about Barkley. There are some red flags in his game that really concern me. I might be wrong. I might have looked for aspects of his game to criticize. I might have been too picky when scouting him. But, one way or another, I don’t feel too confident about how he will do in the NFL.
NFL Comparison: Blaine Gabbert, except Gabbert is a bit more athletic, and wasn’t spoiled with an awesome O-line/wide receiving core in college (my explanation for the large disparity in stats). If I’m wrong about Barkley, the most likely scenario is Matt Ryan
Grade: 92 (worthy of a late first round pick)
Projection: 99 (will be a top 3 pick)