Player Profile: Matt Barkley

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USC has started this season strongly with a 4-1 record led by a stout passing attack. Barkley has thrown for over 1, 500 yards already, completing over 70 percent of his passes for 14 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. Over the last two seasons, Barkley has finished with just over 2, 700 yards passing, each year, but it seems apparent that he will exceed that mark this year. The most significant change in Barkley’s game has come in his accuracy and decision making skills. As a rookie, Barkley had a sub 60 percent completion percentage; now he is completing over 70 percent of his passes. By the way, all of this growth has taken place in one of the worst hits to USC recruiting. Barkley has improved greatly despite the benching of players, stripping of wins and trophies, and banishment from bowl season. This is the sign of a good, potentially great, leader in the making.

While Barkley has made some impressive strides over the past few seasons, there is still plenty of room for improvement. USC does not face the toughest opponents in the PAC 12, and this leads to some inflated statistics. The way to overcome these distortions on paper is to place particular significance on performance in big games. One of the most recent examples of this came in the Arizona State game. Against a solid, but not overly dominant opponent, Barkley failed to bring his team back and win the game. This was a completely winnable game, and the offensive collapse has to fall on Barkley’s shoulders. This is not the most damning evidence, as some are making it out to be, but it does separate Barkley from the likes of an Andrew Luck.

Matt Barkley is the latest in a long line of USC quarterbacks who will be drafted in the first round. I think there is no question at this point that Barkley will be taken in the first half of the first round, and most likely top 10. The question becomes what kind of USC pro Barkley will be; more like Carson Palmer, or closer to Matt Leinart? The consensus at this point is that Barkley will likely end up somewhere in between, like a Mark Sanchez. While it is still early in Sanchez’s career, it is clear that the Jets do not trust him enough to win games on his own. Sanchez may have gone to two AFC championships, but he road there on the backs of a solid run game and an aggressive defense. It looks like Barkley may be a similar type of player early in his career.

While I tend to agree with the comparison of Barkley to Sanchez, I believe that Barkley has higher upside and a greater likelihood of success. One of the biggest differences between Sanchez and Barkley is a greater body of work and tape to evaluate from. When graduating from USC, Mark Sanchez had only started for one season and was selling his USC stock just before that programs collapse. There was very little tape of Sanchez struggling or making difficult throws, because USC destroyed every opponent they faced. Coupling this misleading film with a weak quarterback class led to Sanchez being selected fifth overall in 2009. Barkley, on the other hand, has played since his freshman year, and has shown steady progression.

Despite the differences I highlight, I believe Barkley needs to be brought up in a system similar to Sanchez. Matt Barkley is not Peyton Manning, or Cam Newton at this point in his career. Barkley cannot be asked to come in and handle 40-60 throws a game. He does not have a big enough frame to handle the beating that will accompany this workload. Ideal locations would be run first teams such as San Francisco, Minnesota, or Miami. These quarterback needy teams have the potential to be picking the top 10 and feature strong running games to take the focus off the quarterback. This would take the pressure off of Barkley while at the same time giving him the exposure to help him grow. It is still too early to tell where Matt Barkley will end up, but it’s never to early to speculate.