The Super Bowl is over and the off-season is officially underway, and now Buffalo Bills fans can turn their attention to the 2013 NFL Draft. This draft should be intriguing for Bills fans. Returning GM Buddy Nix continues to talk about the need for a quarterback for the future, and that's our topic now, in the first article breaking down the quarterbacks in this year's selection meeting.
This article isn't going to include my rankings. I'll save that for April - I've still got over 200 games to watch, and plenty of work to do in order to put my rankings together. However, I started video review with the quarterbacks this year, as I have every year since 2010, and have pretty solid opinions formed on seven of the top passers: Matt Barkley, Mike Glennon, Landry Jones, Geno Smith, Ryan Nassib, E.J. Manuel and Tyler Wilson. This series will convey my assessments on those prospects, sans grade. We'll go in alphabetical order, starting with USC's Barkley.
Matt Barkley | QB | USC
- 6'2", 230
- Four-year starter (47 games played, 34-13 record)
- Career stats: 1,001/1,562 (64.1% completions), 12,327 yards (7.89 YPA), 116 TD, 48 INT
Barkley has the best leadership qualities in the class. He's the kind of kid you want your daughter to date, and to lead your team. He has a strong faith foundation that keeps him on an even keel (Google "I Am Second" for more information). That foundation was key in his return as the starting quarterback and leader at USC during the downward spiral from Pete Carroll to Lane Kiffin and the NCAA sanctions imposed on the Trojans. Barkley stayed with the team when he could have left without much criticism. He's a good teammate, and leads through a steady confidence, somewhat similar to Eli Manning.
Barkley plays a similar game to Drew Brees. He's best in an offense designed to his strengths, which are reading a complex defense and delivering an accurate throw in the short and intermediate ranges. Barkley played in a pro style offense for all four years, making professional-level reads and progressions. USC plays a lot of horizontal timing, which Barkley has been good at, and he's at his best throwing passes around ten yards downfield, behind and between linebackers. Barkley's accuracy is exceptional, particularly in the mid-ranges. He anticipates breaks well and throws receivers open. He hits inside of the strike zone a lot, which translates to NFL success since professional passing windows are tighter, and close faster.
Barkley is comfortable in the pocket and has very good pocket presence, often stepping up to complete passes while being rushed. He understands how to move in the pocket to get into throwing lanes. He also can manipulate defenders with his eyes and body language. Barkley is short, but sturdy, and despite his injury this season, he's been durable - though he'll have to overcome concerns at this year's Combine in Indianapolis. Barkley sports a 34-13 record as a four-year starter at a major college program, and he won the only bowl USC was eligible for.
Barkley has three notable weaknesses: lack of height, average arm strength and average mobility. Barkley's height will be a concern if he is drafted by a team that won't adjust their system. Sean Payton built his offense around Brees, mitigating his lack of height - and the deal has worked. A team that drafts Barkley can't expect that he's going to run a vertical passing game with deep drops all game. They need to get Barkley throwing to fast-developing routes and provide throwing lanes for him to see.
Like Brees, Barkley doesn't have a huge arm. He isn't going to hit a ton of deep outs or thread passes in deeper patterns. Outdoor games in bad weather conditions will always be a concern for Barkley, much like Brees. Barkley's deep ball accuracy isn't as good as his statistics show. USC's receiving duo, arguably the best in the country, excelled at out-jumping defenders for balls and tracking down deep throws. Barkley likely won't have an NFL-best type of receiving corps.
While Barkley is mobile in the pocket, he's not close to a dual-threat type of quarterback. He's not a huge threat to run, and won't compel teams to spy him.
Arizona and Barkley seem like a match made in heaven. Barkley should be at his best playing for an indoor team, and the quarterback-needy Cardinals play nine dome games a year - potentially more depending on the schedule - and also usually have decent weather in San Francisco. Bruce Arians is an ideal coach to craft an offense around Barkley, as well.
For Buffalo, the match is less appealing. While Doug Marrone plans to run a New Orleans-esque offense, ideally suited for Barkley, the weather in Western New York could prohibit the Bills' offense in certain situations. Or, at least there's potential for this in November, December, and Lord help us all, January. Also, part of Buffalo's issues on offense came from their inability to drive coverage away from the line of scrimmage, which compressed the field for players like C.J. Spiller. Barkley isn't the quarterback to throw defenders deeper.
Overall, Barkley is a very good quarterback prospect that should get drafted in the first round due to leadership, intelligence and accuracy. If he drops, the fall should stem from lack of ideal physical measurements, lack of an elite arm, and potentially lingering concerns over his senior-year injury. I think Barkley has a good chance to become a good starting quarterback, but the odds are smaller in Buffalo.