Next April, when the 2013 NFL Draft rolls around, current University of Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley is a sure bet to not only hear his name called in the first round, but also to be one of the first players selected. His selection by an NFL team with one of the top picks of the draft will not necessarily be because his play in college football warrants it. Instead Barkley’s selection in the 2013 NFL Draft with lend further credence to the notion that when it comes to professional sports drafts, it is more important that a sports franchise think a player is good than that he actually be good.
If NFL teams were to actually decide whether or not to draft Barkley on the merits of his college football career, they might be a bit more hesitant on making him a top draft pick and investing a lot of money in him. There is certainly enough data provided by the three years of college football Barkley so far to give us a pretty good idea of the quarterback he is.
Barkley first entered the ranks of college football in 2009, and he has been the USC primary quarterback since Day 1, having been USC’s primary quarterback for 36 games, contests in which he either attempted the most passes or threw for the most passing yards for USC. Yet, despite the trust shown Barkley in letting him start so many games, he has spent less time showing himself to be an elite quarterback than one would like in an NFL prospect.
According to game log data provided by ESPN.com, in 2009 in 12 games as USC’s primary quarterback, Barkley completed 59.9 percent his passes and gained 7.8 yards per pass attempt, 6.8 adjusted yards per pass attempt, and 13.0 yards per completed. He also compiled a touchdown percentage of 4.3 percent and an interception percentage of 4.0 percent.
As freshman campaigns go, it was not terrible, but the season did show what Barkley needed to work on. He needed to be less of a boom-or-bust quarterback, improve his accuracy, and limit his interceptions.
During his second season of college football, over the course of 13 games as USC’s primary quarterback, Barkley completed 62.6 percent of his passes and gained 7.4 yards per pass attempt, 7.4 adjusted yards per pass attempt, and 11.8 yards per completion. Additionally, Barkley posted a touchdown percentage of 6.9 percent and an interception percentage of 3.2 percent.
Instead of improving overall as a quarterback, Barkley actually regressed as a quarterback in a couple of areas. Although he was able to improve his completion percentage, it was an artificial improvement as he was throwing shorter passes, which are easier to complete. This is reflected in his lower yards per completion average. Still, not even throwing easier passes made Barkley accurate enough to keep from seeing a drop in his yards per pass attempt average.
Fortunately for him, he was able to cut down on his interceptions so that he could still lay claim to a higher adjusted yards per pass attempt average than he posted as a freshman.
As a junior in 2011, Barkley seemingly put it together, having his best season as a college quarterback. In 12 games as USC’s primary quarterback, Barkley completed 69.1 percent of his passes and gained 7.9 yards per pass attempt, 9.0 attempted yards per pass attempt, and 11.5 yards per pass attempt. Furthermore, Barkley posted a touchdown percentage of 8.7 percent and an interception percentage of 1.6 percent.
Once again, we see that some of the reason behind Barkley’s higher completion percentage is partly a reflection of the fact his passes keep getting shorter and shorter. Not all of the credit for Barkley’s completion percentage as a junior can go to his shorter passes, but he has yet to combine a high completion percentage with throwing passes with a high degree of difficulty, which is what one would like to see before anointing a quarterback as elite.
Also, it should be noted that Barkley was not exactly one of the best quarterbacks in college football with his yards per pass attempt average, which was the highest mark we have seen from him in his career. His 7.9 yards per pass attempt average ranked just 32nd out of 115 qualified college quarterbacks last season.
When a quarterback is at his best and is still not one of the best college quarterbacks, one really has to question whether or not he is going to be a good NFL quarterback where the competition he faces will be even more difficult.
In three years of college football, Barkley really has yet to show that he is an elite quarterback and deserving of a team drafting him in the first round of the next NFL Draft. Maybe he will in his senior season, but there is certainly no guarantee of that. Of course, none of that matters since he has already convinced teams he is a good quarterback and they will not find out that he is not until it is too late.