It's one thing to be 0-6; it's another thing for the Miami Dolphins to be playing like they're coached by Rick Moranis. Yet, that's exactly where this team is at right now, playing just well enough to not lose by more than three touchdowns each week. I kept telling myself earlier this season that 2011 would not become a rehash of the 2007 season, and I was right--this season is worse.
I don't have to tell you how miserable life is for Dolphins fans right now, though, as I am sure everyone here feels like they are getting their skull bashed in with a Bocci ball whenever the Dolphins take the field. Worst of all, there's no quick fix when your team officially gives up on its head coach (and anyone who doesn't believe this Dolphins team has given up clearly didn't watch their fourth quarter against the Broncos last Sunday. We're in the "quit" stage, everyone). A new head coach and quarterback are the pillars a franchise needs in place before it can even think about a full-blown rebuild, and though the list of possible candidates for the Dolphins' head coach job is insanely broad right now, the list of franchise quarterbacks who will be available next April is a pretty defined list: Andrew Luck and then everyone else.
Since Luck and No.6 Stanford will take on USC this Saturday, it makes sense to do a post on the other blue-chip quarterback who will play in that game.
Matt Barkley, QB USC
Ew ... a USC quarterback
You bet! Matt Barkley is the latest product of a school that has brought you such quarterback titans as Sean Salisbury, Rodney Peete, Todd Marinovich, Rob Johnson, Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez, which means it would probably be appropriate to place a skull and crossbones next to Barkley's name on every draft board that goes up between now and next April. However, Barkley did something that none of those other Trojan quarterbacks could do: arrive in Southern Cal and take over the starting reins as a freshman. He's been the starter since the beginning of the 2009 season, and aside from a few games missed due to minor injuries, has put up very solid numbers his first two seasons despite the recent drop-off in talent at USC. At this point, Barkley has two things to work with in the Trojans offense: an elite blindside tackle (Matt Kalil) and an outstanding wideout (Robert Woods). That's it. Still, Barkley has survived at USC because of his ability to comprehend and dominate a pro-style offense.
Watching Barkley go to work under center for the Trojans brings to mind the demeanor and poise of quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Joe Montana and Tom Brady--guys who just look comfortable, confident and in total control of the game. Barkley obviously isn't anywhere near the level of any of those legends, but he has the tools to follow in their footsteps as a master manipulator in the pocket. Barkley's footwork is also noteworthy, as is his ability to sell play action and fool defenses with pump fakes and off looks. Put it this way: Matt Barkley is just below Andrew Luck in terms of intelligence and mental approach to the game, which is hardly a bad place to be right now.
What's up with his 'glaring' weaknesses?
The big knock on Barkley throughout the 2011 season has been his supposed lack of height and arm strength. Now, the problem with being a part of the 2012 QB class is that guys like Landry Jones and Robert Griffin III have unreal arm strength, and Andrew Luck has a very strong arm, as well. Barkley has a nice, strong arm that comes complete with a quick release, but he doesn't possess the Howitzer arm that will typically turn the heads of NFL scouts. Try not to write off Barkley as a candidate for the Dolphins' QB spot simply because he can't throw the ball through the goal posts while on his knees at the 50-yard line, though. He can make all the throws, and has the ability to drive the ball downfield with very good zip. Barkley is also very accurate both inside and outside of the pocket, and can make some plays with his legs. However, despite the mobility perk, Barkley is most at home dicing up defenses while standing tall in the pocket.
I know you guys, though; you're hung up on Barkley's height (6'2") and lack of elite arm strength, aren't you? Well, consider this analysis that was written by none other than ESPN's Mel Kiper:
"A smart, accurate passer with good athletic ability. Has completed 68 percent of his passes this season. His arm strength is good enough, and his release is quick."
"Good enough" arm strength isn't too bad, right? Well, it was certainly good enough for the Packers, because the above quote was Kiper's analysis of California quarterback Aaron Rodgers in March 2005. As you probably know, Rodgers has ballistic arm strength and probably the quickest release in the game right now, which goes to show that it's sometimes a bad idea to disregard a quarterback prospect based on arm strength alone. Kiper's Big Board analysis of Barkley each week typically focuses on his adequate, but not elite, arm strength, but he's also quick to note that Barkley is a very polished prospect. And though here are obviously very few Aaron Rodgers-type QBs running around out there, I'd hate to pass on a guy with similar attributes right now.
Bottom line, if the guy can make all the throws and drive the ball downfield, he can play. Barkley's arm is more than adequate, and his mental makeup and grasp of the game is outstanding. Rodgers was listed at 6'1 1/2" in that Kiper write-up, so keep that in mind, as well.
How does he stack up against the "best of the rest" in this QB class?
I am probably higher on Barkley than most people right now, but it's likely the experts will start to come around on him within the next few weeks, thanks to the nine touchdowns he's thrown in his last three games (including an absolute torching of Notre Dame last Saturday) and a very solid completion percentage of 68.0. As previously mentioned, Barkley will get to flex some muscle against Stanford on Saturday night, and could possibly cement his status as the No.2 quarterback in this upcoming class if he can put on a show against the Cardinals. Landry Jones has better height (6'4") and a blitzkrieg arm, but the Oklahoma signal caller looked flat-out confounded against Texas Tech last Saturday, and it's safe to say he's going to see defenses much better than Texas Tech's between now and January. Griffin III, meanwhile, has raced up draft boards like Secretariat at the '73 Kentucky Derby, thanks to the ungodly numbers he's put up this season (22 touchdowns, two interceptions, 1,950 yards passing and a completion percentage of 78 percent). The Baylor standout has the tools to be an excellent quarterback in the NFL, but it's unlikely he'll be able to come in and start right away at the next level. Barkley, however, has the smarts and pro-offense familiarity to come in and pick the game up right off the bat ... just like he did at USC two years ago.
Verdict: We'll soon have a very good idea of whether or not Barkley is the guy for the Dolphins (if we don't have the No.1 pick, that is), but I have a feeling Barkley's draft stock will rise to the point where he and Griffin III will be the go-to quarterback prospect to any team that isn't able to draft Andrew Luck.