NFL mock drafts are a little like teenage girls; you fall out of favor with a popular one, and it is only a matter of time until the whole clique is down on you. This change of circumstance only occasionally has any bearing on long-term desirability.
And so it is with USC quarterback Matt Barkley.
His slow fade from projected No. 3 selection (behind a few guys named Luck and RG3) if he had come out after his junior season a year ago to potentially a Day 2 guy this April (as ridiculous as this sounds to me) has many origins, fair and not so much. To name a few:
Arm strength. Speed. Sack totals. Accuracy when pressured. Mark Sanchez. Turnovers. Interception totals. Smaller upside. USC’s wildly disappointing season.
All of them have been dissected ad nauseum. Yet when I talk to NFL scouts about said problems, what emerges amounts to a lot of versions of basically the same response: All of that is great. Watch him go early, earlier than any of you think and do pretty well, too.
Why is simple. "Tape don’t lie," as my friend Randy Galloway loves to say almost daily. And what Barkley’s tape screams is "NFL ready now," a quality not to be diminished in this league. He is capable of making every single throw, with a decent enough long ball and really crazy smarts, making him capable of reading and handling NFL defenses now.
Or in other words, all of the things we thought he was a year ago.
It got twisted because of what a train wreck USC’s season became — from national championship aspirations into yet another chapter in Lane Kiffin’s coaching dramedy. It also got twisted because of Sanchez’s struggles in New York.
They are different arguments. They are equally ridiculous.
Barkley deserves to be dropped in the grease for the hot mess that was USC’s season only so much as Kiffin and just about everybody else. This was not the case of an overrated quarterback taking down an otherwise bullet-proof program. This was a quarterback fighting against the dying of the light, more successfully at times than others.
As for the Sanchez comparison, which I have seen a couple of times, this seems unfair to both guys. Sanchez has taken far too much heat for the dysfunction that is the Jets. This is not to say Sanchez is not flawed, and possibly fatally so in terms of being a quarterback capable of leading a team to the Super Bowl. It is simply inaccurate to pretend he is the only or biggest problem with that team. Nor does this have anything to do with Barkley.
It says more about our love of the comparison than anything.
We love grouping people, and the USC NFL quarterbacks of late are not exactly what you want your small comparison group to be. Matt Leinart and Sanchez (to a much smaller degree) have failed on the expectation-to-production continuum. It is easy then to lump Barkley in with them and extrapolate that out to his pro prospects, especially in light of his senior season.
I know the argument is that other quarterbacks in the draft, most notably Geno Smith, have a bigger upside — that what he brings in Year 2, Year 3 and Year 4 has more potential than Barkley. It is the fallacy of upside, that what you might be capable of is that much more impressive than what you are right now.
There is a good balance to be had. Drafting a guy with no room for improvement is not the wisest of decisions, but neither is bringing in a guy without a winnable gap. A lot of coaches have died on the hill of potential, and there is comfort in the guy who can be good now.
It is probably why you see Barkley inching his way back up through the first round because, as the high school girls eventually learn, it is the ones not everybody likes that turn out being the best.