NCF Nation: Matt Hasselbeck

When something seemingly loud happens, we can't help but stare. The momentum of attention, which of course can be monetized by the media, creates a hungry void that is filled with endless analysis. The end-result is a suffusion of broad statements of "This proves this!"

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Kirby Lee/US PresswireThe Eagles drafted USC QB Matt Barkley with the 98th pick in the fourth round of the 2013 draft.
So we have USC quarterback Matt Barkley. It seems now we all should have seen Barkley's precipitous slide in the NFL draft coming. He would have been a top-10 pick in the 2012 draft, not the 98th overall selection he ended up being on Saturday, if he'd only been smart enough not to return to USC for his senior season.

I get it. Hindsight rocks. We'd all be rich, infinitely happy people if we could do a rewind and relive the past, knowing what we know after going through it once before.

With the benefit of hindsight, it's fair to say now that Barkley made a huge mistake. How huge? This is from Sports Illustrated's Peter King:
P.S.: Wondering what that extra year of school cost Barkley? He went 98th overall. Let's say he'd have been the eighth pick a year ago -- that's where Ryan Tannehill went. It's all speculation, of course. But the consensus was he'd have been a top 10 pick. Tannehill's deal: four years, $12.7 million. The 98th pick last year, Ravens center Gino Gradkowski, signed for four years and $2.58 million. Turns out it was a $10.1 million year of school for Matt Barkley.

Ouch.

You business school guys can pencil that out for us over a lifetime. Forget Barkley's second contract. You can't make up a $10.1 million hit.

So, yeah, bad call. Barkley undoubtedly will become a cautionary tale for future players who are debating whether to stay in school or enter the draft early. More than a few folks will insist that if there's a consensus first-round grade for a third-year player, returning merely to make a run at being the first overall pick or a top-10 pick is not a good idea.

Support for that notion comes from the evaluative distance between the end of the regular season and the actual draft. So much happens between December and April that a player, particularly one with great athletic measurables, can dramatically influence the affections of NFL scouts and GMs.

Still, let's look at the Barkley who stood in front of a Christmas tree in December 2011 and smoothly announced his return to USC.

  • There was seemingly no question at that point he would be, at best, the third QB chosen behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Further, you'd think that some of his supposed red flags -- arm strength and foot quickness -- would have revealed themselves at the NFL combine and during workouts, so it's even questionable that he would have won out over Tannehill.
  • Go back to your December 2011 self. Who was the best college QB in the nation? There was Barkley and then a whole bunch of "Who?" and "Neh." Phil Steele's ranking of QBs after Barkley in advance of the season: 2.Tyler Wilson, Arkansas; 3. Landry Jones, Oklahoma; 4. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech; 5. Tyler Bray, Tennessee.
  • Ergo, his rating as the top overall QB entering 2012, based on three years as a starter, seemed absolutely secure.
  • Then there were the Trojans around him: 18 starters back from a team that went 10-2 and won at Oregon. That included four starters on the offensive line to protect him and the best tandem of college receivers in recent memory: Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.

There were only two potential red flags at the time: 1. Injury; 2. The unknown. Both ended up contributing to Barkley's slip.

"The unknown" includes that old scouting adage that a guy can have "too much film." If a guy duplicates his great play from a previous season, scouts will wonder why he didn't dramatically improve. And woe unto him whose numbers drop.

But the now-marginalized reasons for Barkley's return also were sound:

  • Win the Heisman Trophy.
  • Win the national title.
  • Enjoy another year of college as USC's QB, which is a nice thing to carry around the idyllic campus, before taking on real world stresses of playing a game for a living.
  • Become the first QB taken in the 2013 draft, which is typically in the higher reaches of the top-10.

At the time Barkley made his decision to stick around, there were few naysayers about his and his team's prospects. That everything went so completely rear-end-over-tea-kettle still boggles the mind if you aren't one of those people who pretends you saw it all coming a year ago.


All this said, with a few exceptions, my long-held belief on this is a player should enter the draft as soon as possible. "Stay in school!" sounds nice, but a guy can always go back to school.

That position, however, is not all about merely jumping into the draft when your stock is seemingly high. It's also about age. It's better to start earning a (substantial) paycheck at, say, 21 than 22, if it is available to you. The career clock doesn't tick very long in the NFL, and an extra couple of million can help later in life.

Consider two Pac-12 players who had less fanfare this draft cycle but are probably nearly as disappointed as Barkley: Oregon RB Kenjon Barner and Stanford OLB Chase Thomas.

Both opted to return for their senior seasons in order to improve their NFL draft prospects. It appears neither did, with Barner going in the sixth round and Thomas going undrafted. My hunch is they would have done better last spring.

Both now have an additional year of wear-and-tear on the bodies without getting paid, which is particularly an issue for Barner because running backs see their productivity drop substantially at 30. Barner just turned 24.

Ultimately, a disappointing draft doesn't make or break an NFL career. Ask Tom Brady. I think just about every conversation I had with former Seattle Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck circled back to his annoyance at being picked in the sixth round, watching QBs he felt were inferior to him get picked before him.

Barkley, who has seemingly led a charmed life at quarterback, might get a boost from having a chip on his shoulder (a Chip Kelly one, at that). Maybe "Angry Matt" will turn out better than "Breezy Matt."

The NFL draft is often confounding. It is laden with risk and reward on both sides of the process. Barkley took on a defensible risk and things didn't go as he hoped. That's notable, but it's also an annual occurrence.

As for Barkley, you'd think that at some point in his life he will encounter a greater adversity than being picked in the fourth round of the NFL draft.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

AP Photo
Despite Matt Barkley's young age, USC Coach Pete Carroll says his QB is a special talent -- an 'outlier.' .

LOS ANGELES -- Matt Barkley stood near midfield, surrounded by television cameras and tape recorders and breathless questions, a toothy, matinee-idol grin stretched across his face. He seemed completely comfortable, devoid of the nervousness one would expect from an 18-year-old making his "hello world" moment on the big stage that is annually reserved for the USC quarterback.

Over the next hour or so he would be asked about 47 times if he had been nervous before his first start. Each time he patiently said no.

"This was what I was made to do," Barkley explained, sounding more humble than pompous, if that can be believed.

He then slowly walked -- floated really -- toward the tunnel at the Coliseum, a scrum of backpedaling photographers clicking away in front of him.

"Matt Barkley!" the Trojans fans bellowed at him without accompanying words or phrases -- the name was enough -- as the next Big Thing ambled into the tunnel and onto the college football landscape.

Still, it didn't make sense. How could he not be nervous? Sure, he'd just completed 15 of 19 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions and no bad plays in a 56-3 bludgeoning of San Jose State.

And, sure, San Jose State at home isn't anything like, say, a visit to Ohio State's Horseshoe.

But everybody gets nervous before a game, particularly a first game, even more so for a guy jumping from high school to USC. Even his teammates, linebacker Chris Galippo, a new starter, and Taylor Mays, a two-time All-American, didn't buy it.

"He says that but I think he's lying," Mays said.

Said Galippo, "Barkley is lying. He had to be nervous."

Pete Carroll gets Barkley, though, even if some players and all reporters do not.

Carroll tries to be patient while explaining, but he's not sure if the hoi polloi can truly understand.

Did getting the San Jose State game under his belt help Matt Barkley prepare for next weekend's blockbuster at Ohio State?

No.

"You're looking for typical things," Carroll said. "This is not a typical kid."

Carroll calls Barkley an "outlier," a term he adopted after reading Malcolm Gladwell's book titled the same. Gladwell describes outliers as people who "for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August."

Carroll said he started believing that Barkley was beyond-the-pale special five days into spring practices.

"He shouldn't have been doing the things we saw him doing compared to the things we've seen before," Carroll said.

The "things" before being Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, John David Booty and Mark Sanchez.

(Read full post)

 
  Photos by Getty Images and US PRESSWIRE
  Is quarterback Mark Sanchez ready to make an impact in the NFL?

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

The last image many USC fans have of Mark Sanchez is the bizarre news conference in which Trojans coach Pete Carroll told reporters that Sanchez was wrong to enter the NFL draft a year early.

"The facts are so strong against this decision," Carroll said at the time. "After analyzing all the information, the truth is there -- he should've stayed for another year."

Carroll cited a 62-percent failure rate for quarterbacks who entered the NFL draft as underclassmen. He said that Sanchez would have made a lot more money in the 2010 draft.

He also said Sanchez was projected to go in the second round, which we all now strongly suspect isn't going to happen: Sanchez almost certainly will be picked in the top half of the first round and could even go in the top-five.

So is Sanchez ready to take the reins of an NFL offense? Is he more Ben Roethlisberger or Alex Smith, two quarterbacks of recent note -- and divergent success -- who declared for the draft after their junior seasons?

The Pac-10 blog enlisted the help of Scouts Inc., NFL draft guru Steve Muench to debate the subject.

1. How much of an impact should Mark Sanchez' experience have on the evaluation process?

Steve Muench: Experience is key when it comes to evaluating top-tier prospects such as Sanchez. Sound investments in the first round can be the difference between going to the playoffs or finishing in the bottom of your division. As a result, organizations want to compile as much information as possible in order to make the right decisions. The bigger body of work they have to break down, the better. USC head coach Pete Carroll made waves when he said he felt that Sanchez should stay in school, but the truth is Carroll offered his admittedly talented quarterback sound advice. After all, eight of the last 11 underclassmen quarterbacks taken in the first round are either failing to live up to expectations or are complete busts. Not an encouraging trend. Now obviously you can't base a decision solely on experience and Sanchez' natural ability as well as intangibles make him an early first-round value as far as I am concerned. That said, I think that Matt Stafford being a three-year starter gives him an edge over Sanchez.

Ted Miller: It should have a lot of impact -- impact in Sanchez's favor. No other quarterback in this draft has spent the past four years running a sophisticated pro-style offense playing against an NFL defense -- the unit Sanchez faced every day in practice. Let's recall that the Trojans' 2008 defense, one of the best collections of talent in the history of college football, lost three first-round picks and a fourth player taken in the second round the previous spring. Moreover, Sanchez has been in the spotlight since he was named Parade All-American Prep Player of the Year in 2004. He's shown poise and charisma under the brightest media glare in college sports and he's already demonstrated he can work a room full of reporters with the best of them. So when you talk about experience, it's not just about 16 starts. It's about the total package.

2. Where's the best fit for Sanchez -- a team that's going to give him a rookie-year test or a team that's going to let him sit the bench?

Miller: Hey, it's always great for a guy to get to be mentored for two years by a future Hall of Famer before ascending to the front of the huddle. But that's not the reality. Sanchez is an ambitious competitor. He'll want to play now. And he's up to the job. For one, Sanchez is smart. He'll know his place. He'll ingratiate himself with veterans and win their trust, knowing it doesn't happen during a single minicamp. He also takes instruction, see how he without complaint worked within the Trojans' conservative system in 2008 that leaned heavily on an impenetrable defense. Further, he's mentally and physically tough. Sanchez already has shown an ability to shake off mistakes and bounce back from poor performances, as well as an ability to play through injuries. If a coach holds up the keys to the offense and asks Sanchez if he's ready, let there be no doubt what his answer will be.

Muench: I think it's critical that Sanchez land on a team that doesn't need him to step into the starting role Day 1. He certainly has all the physical tools to contribute early on and he is a charismatic leader who I think can win the hearts and minds of the players in the huddle. But the NFL is bottom-line business. He'll have to win for his teammates to keep their faith in him and the NFL is a whole different animal when it comes to reading defenses. The speed and size of NFL defenders effectively shrinks the field and forces quarterbacks to throw into tighter spaces. Just as important, complicated blitz packages and coverages and quicker pass rushers will force him to get rid of the ball. He'll have to make sound decisions much quicker than he did at USC, even if the Trojan defense was arguably the most talented in the nation last year. He's going to need time to adjust. In addition, a team that drafts him with the intent of starting him his rookie year more than likely won't be able to put him in a position to succeed because they will have too many needs outside of quarterback.

3. In 2010, will Sanchez look back on this decision with any regrets? Would another solid year at USC have made him the No.1 overall pick in the draft regardless of what Texas' Colt McCoy and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford did?

Muench: I can't seem to find my crystal ball here but I think that Sanchez will end up with the Seattle Seahawks and play behind Matt Hasselbeck for a year, possibly two. Giving him that time to get comfortable with his new offense/teammates/coaches and adjust to the speed of the NFL game will put him in position to succeed and I think he develops into an excellent NFL quarterback in that kind of environment. However, I think he struggles if he somehow ends up on the New York Jets' roster, which seems unlikely at this point but can't be ruled out. The Jets play in a big market, they play in a tough conference and they need a starter right away. If Sanchez struggles early, the media there will most likely skewer him. Remember a couple Jets' players were quick to place blame on future Hall of Famer Brett Favre for their demise last year. How is a former Parade All-American and star USC quarterback going to handle that kind of criticism, learn the offense on the fly and get his teammates to believe in him? Again, I think Sanchez has a bright future but that's a lot to ask of anyone, certainly someone who started just 16 games in college.

Miller: Maybe, but not going No. 1 this year means he doesn't have to go to Detroit, and how is that not a good thing? Look: It's impossible to look at a USC offense that welcomes back nine other starters and not wonder what that crew would look like with Sanchez running the show. It's conceivable that the Trojans' 2009 offense would approximate the Trojans' 2008 defense. And that could have buoyed his draft status ahead of every other quarterback. But another year at USC also would mean another year of not getting paid and another year in which
something terrible could happen that damages, shortens or ends a career. Sanchez's potential regrets probably hang more on where he ends up than over his decision not to return to USC for his senior year.

SPONSORED HEADLINES