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Breaking down Matt Barkley vs Stanford (2011)

USC Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley is the consensus top draft-eligible quarterback in the 2013 class, and an early favorite to be the No. 1 overall selection. Over the next few weeks I’ll be charting some of his games from 2011, focusing on the ones against top competition. I’ll kick things off with the Trojans overtime battle against Stanford. You can download the excel sheet of Barkley’s detailed stats and notes on each drop-back here.

Here are a few notes on the game and what stood out about his performance:

Barkley is the consensus No. 1 QB, but far from the next Andrew Luck

Downfield Accuracy
This is the one major weakness in Barkley’s game. Despite having two elite weapons at his disposal in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, Barkley completed just three of 12 passes thrown 15 or more yards down the field in this game. And of the nine incompletions, only two were catchable, giving him a downfield accuracy percentage of just 41.7%. For the sake of comparison, in the two Virginia Tech games which I’ve charted so far, Logan Thomas has a downfield accuracy percentage of 85.7% (12 of 14).

While every quarterback is entitled to a bad game every so often, this has been a trend throughout Barkley’s career. As I continue to chart more games, I expect his 5-12 performance in downfield accuracy to be among the worst, but I also don’t expect to find any perfect 8-for-8 games, as Logan Thomas did against Miami.

Dealing with Pressure
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of Barkley’s game is his ability to handle pressure. In this game Barkley completed 13 of 19 passes under pressure, and often did so by buying himself an extra second or two by moving around within the pocket. He does an exceptional job keeping his eyes down the field, even as the pocket is collapsing around him. On one of his most impressive plays from the game, Barkley is forced out of the pocket and hits an open receiver on the run on a comeback route near the sideline. It was one of just two throws he made outside the pocket, excluding designed rollouts.

Quick Release
What Barkley lacks in raw talent (arm strength, athleticism), he makes up for in fundamentals. One of the reasons he handles pressure so well is due to the speed at which he gets rid of the football. We’ve seen plenty of lead-footed quarterbacks rank among the most difficult to sack over the years (Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner, for example) and their success hinged on their quick release. This skill should allow Barkley to make a relatively smooth transition to the NFL compared to a quarterback with an elongated throwing motion. Every rookie quarterback is slow to react to NFL defenses at first, but the ones who can get rid of the ball quickly will survive.

This play offers a good example of how quickly Barkey can get rid of the football. While it isn’t a typical play for Barkley, as he rolls out to his right, it does show his ability to hang on until the last second before firing a quick strike just before getting hit.

Final Thoughts
Had Barkley entered the 2012 draft, he would have been the most polished quarterback after Andrew Luck, and he will likely be among the most NFL-ready prospects (at any position) in 2013. That said, he has some clear limitations. At this point, I don’t hesitate to give Barkley a 1st-round grade, but he’s a solid notch below Andrew Luck and even Robert Griffin. I view Barkley as a Matt Hasselbeck or Chad Pennington-type quarterback – a guy who will likely be given the dreaded “game manager” label, but one who is perfectly capable of stepping up in clutch moments and carrying his team to victory. While he’ll probably be a top-10 pick, at this point I’m leaning toward giving him a mid-1st-round grade entering his senior year.

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