Pac-12: Robert Griffin III

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.

Don't discount Matt Barkley on deep throws

March, 27, 2013
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Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesHe doesn't have the strongest arm, but Matt Barkley has similar numbers to Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III when it comes downfield throws.
USC Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley was a projected top-five pick if he had entered the 2012 NFL draft. The third-ranked QB in the 2012 draft class behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, Barkley decided to return for his senior season.

There are several reasons Barkley’s draft stock has supposedly dropped: arm strength, lack of athleticism, struggles when pressured. However, what do the numbers say about these perceived deficiencies?

Arm Strength
Since the start of the 2011 season, Barkley threw 24 touchdowns and only two interceptions on passes 20 yards or longer (in 120 attempts). When Barkley missed his receivers on those deep passes, he was four times more likely to overthrow his target than underthrow.

In fact, Barkley put up comparable numbers to what Luck and Griffin III did on passes of 20 yards or longer in their final two seasons.

And, Barkley’s completion percentage actually improved on throws of this distance from 2011 (39.7 percent) to 2012 (42.3).

Athleticism
Barkley may not be able to outrun defenders, but he has shown the ability to throw on the move. When outside the pocket, Barkley completed more than 65 percent of his passes with 23 touchdowns -- including 16 touchdowns on designed rollouts -- and just three interceptions.

Passing Under Pressure
Scouts have pointed to Barkley’s struggles with pressure in his face. The numbers show that Barkley consistently has been able to read defenses and hit his hot read when opponents send extra pass rushers. Barkley threw 44 touchdowns and just six interceptions when opposing defenses blitzed.

Additionally, Stats & Information’s video tracking data has Barkley completing 41.3 percent of his passes when under duress in 2012, slightly above the average for all quarterbacks tracked (40.5 percent).

Even Barkley admits he tried to do too much in 2012, but USC’s offensive struggles went well beyond its quarterback play.

The Trojans' offensive line struggled after the departure of left tackle Matt Kalil to the NFL and the injury to center Khalid Holmes early in the season. Barkley was sacked six more times in 2012 (14) than 2011 despite playing one fewer game.

USC’s receivers dropped 27 balls in 2012, including eight on passes of 20 yards or longer. In 2011, USC had just 14 drops, four of which were on deep throws.

Also, USC’s running game struggled to gain first downs in key running situations, converting a first down on 11 of 21 third-down rushes with 2 yards or fewer to go. The Trojans’ 52.4 third-down conversion percentage in those situations ranked 103rd in FBS.

USC averaged 7.6 rushes per touchdown in the red zone -- only six FBS teams had a lower red zone rushing touchdown percentage last season.

Matt Barkley going to Gruden Camp

February, 15, 2013
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Jon Gruden’s QB Camp is back -- Spider 2 wide banana! -- and former USC quarterback Matt Barkley is among the players who will be put through the ringer by Gruden.

The series will begin April 4.

Nine of the top quarterbacks in this spring's NFL draft are scheduled to participate:
Last year, Gruden mentored Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill and others, arguably the most successful class of rookie quarterbacks in NFL history.

The series will also include a trio of non-quarterbacks: Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M); South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore; and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o.

Each prospect will visit Gruden’s office in Tampa, Fla., -- dubbed the Fired Football Coaches Association (FFCA) -- for a film session. Most of the players will also participate in an on-field workout.

Air dates and times for the entire series will be finalized in the coming weeks.

Instant QB impact at Arizona?

January, 29, 2013
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Arizona's biggest question heading into 2013 is at quarterback. Not only are the Wildcats replacing Matt Scott, who earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors and was sixth in the nation with 343.8 yards of total offense per game, but the options on hand this spring are decidedly unproven.

There's 2012 backup B.J. Denker, a JC transfer who was a late addition last summer. And there's Jesse Scroggins, another JC transfer who had academic issues at USC after signing in 2010.

Both have some skills. Neither, however, would be considered a sure-thing, particularly when you consider how valuable Scott was in 2012.

It's possible then that coach Rich Rodriguez might consider a third, youthful option, and it turns out that he's received a commitment from a quarterback that Sports Illustrated believes might have an "instant impact": Anu Solomon.

SI ranks Solomon No. 1 among incoming freshmen QBs in terms of potential "instant impact":
Solomon was a four-year starter at Bishop Gorman. Over that span, the Gaels went 57-3 and won four state championships. Solomon passed for 10,112 yards and 138 touchdowns to just 17 interceptions throughout his career, and he participated in nationally televised showcases against high school powerhouses from California, Florida, Arizona, New Jersey and Maryland. He told Rivals.com analyst Dallas Jackson in October, "The coaches have told me that they want me to come in and compete for the starting job."

Arizona fans are rightfully excited about Solomon, who seems like a nice fit for Rodriguez's spread-option offense.

But the Pac-12 blog would like to insert a "Be Careful What You Wish For." The Wildcats might be better off if Solomon ends up redshirting. At the very least, it would be better for Solomon to see spot action rather than take over the starting job.

Why? Well, the history of true freshman QBs is pretty spotty, other than Jamelle Holieway, who won a national championship as a true freshman at Oklahoma in 1985. And, of course, Holieway's best season was his first for the Sooners.

Few true freshmen QBs start from Day 1, and most are forced into action, rather than winning the job outright. Holieway only stepped in due to an injury to Troy Aikman. Same with Peyton Manning at Tennessee. Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen and Georgia's Matt Stafford all became the starters when more senior players faltered.

Chad Henne went 9-2 as a true freshman leading Michigan in 2004, but he was surrounded by a lot of talent. We can all agree Robert Griffin III became a spectacular player, but Baylor went 4-7 with him as a true freshman QB.

The best recent example of a true freshman QB in the Pac-12 is USC's Matt Barkley in 2009. He was the first true freshman to start at QB for a top-five team since Michigan's Rick Leach in 1975. That USC team finished 9-4, losing three of its final four regular season games. The Trojans had lost seven games the preceding six seasons. Barkley threw 14 interceptions and 15 TD passes.

We've seen a number of freshmen QBs play really well of late. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, and in the Pac-12 Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley posted outstanding seasons this past fall, with Mariota winning first-team All-Pac-12. And, of course, there's Andrew Luck. He turned out OK.

But they all were redshirt freshmen when they became starters.

It's also notable that a lot of true freshmen QBs, such as Barkley, enroll early and participate in spring practices. That gives them a significant advantage in terms of getting use to the speed and complexity of the college game.

Solomon won't report until fall camp.

Solomon might indeed become a revelation for the Wildcats next fall. He could win the job, play admirably and three years later become an All-American.

But history suggests he won't be immediately ready, and that the best course is patience. It seems like at least a year of seasoning really helps create a tastier quarterback.

Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl keys

December, 27, 2012
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Here are three keys for tonight's Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl:

1. Johnathan Franklin versus Lache Seastrunk: Baylor's defense is bad, but it's better against the run than the pass. When we type "better," we mean less terrible. The Bears give up 189 yards rushing per game -- 4.74 yards per rush -- which ranks 89th in the nation. Franklin, who averages 6.3 yards per carry, needs 300 yards to hit the 2,000-yard mark this season. He probably won't get that, but he could cross the two bills mark. Meanwhile, Seastrunk's emergence in the final portion of the season was a key to the Bears' late surge. If he outrushes Franklin, the Bears probably are going to win.

2. Attack on defense: One of the great secrets this season was that Baylor QB Nick Florence was darned near as good as Robert Griffin III was during his Heisman Trophy campaign in 2011. He's a good runner and scrambler and was sacked only 1.42 times per game. He also only threw two interceptions over the final five games, both coming in the upset win over Kansas State. The Bruins ranked seventh in the nation with 3.31 sacks per game, and outside linebacker Anthony Barr is one of the nation's dominant pass-rushers. The first step is pressuring Florence. The second is hoping that pressure causes him to misfire. Against a spectacular offense that scores quickly, UCLA should be willing to take some chances to potentially create big plays.

3. Turnovers: It's a good bet that whoever wins the turnover battle wins the game, because with two prolific offenses scoring a lot of points, every possession is critical. Baylor's season turned around when it started protecting the football -- it won the turnover battle 13-3 over the final five games. UCLA committed six of its 25 turnovers in one game, its horrid 43-17 loss at California.

Three Pac-12 QBs on O'Brien watch list

July, 18, 2012
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Three Pac-12 quarterbacks are on the 34-man watch list for the Davey O'Brien Award, which is given annually to the nation's top quarterback.

You can see the entire list here.

And here are the Pac-12 QBs on the list.
Barkley was a semifinalist for last year's O'Brien award, which was won by Baylor's Robert Griffin III.

By the way, there's also this from the committee:
Beginning Sept. 4 fans are invited to cast their vote as often as once daily at www.VoteOBrien.org. The Fan Vote is combined with the result from the Selection Committee and totals are cleared after each voting round. More information to come in August.

Vote for the best game of 2011

July, 10, 2012
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Best college football game in 2011? The correct answer is Stanford's 56-48 triple-overtime win over USC.

But, as shocking as this surely is to all of us, it appears some benighted folks hold opinions that, gulp, differ from mine.

I know: Absurd!

And here's your chance to vote on the best game in 2011!

From our friends at ESPNU:
ESPNU is celebrating the 25 best college football games of the 2011 season and needs your help. Below are the five games that an expert panel deemed to be the most exciting. They will all air in their entirety on July 15-16, but the order is up to you. Mouse over the photos below to refresh your memory and then click the images to set your rankings. Games ranked No. 5 through No. 3 will air on July 15 and the top two games will air on July 16.


Here's how I would vote:
  1. Stanford-USC: If you saw this game -- and were being objective -- you would vote it No. 1. Two elite teams led by super-elite QBs playing at an extremely high level. The only knock on it was it ended with a fumble.
  2. Michigan State 37, Wisconsin 31: Two good teams, epic fourth quarter with a great finish. Well, not if you root for Wisky, which got its revenge in an also incredibly entertaining Big Ten title game.
  3. Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31: A spectacular Wolverines comeback in the Big House against a middling team.
  4. Baylor 50, TCU 48: A hello world moment for Robert Griffin III, but this was just a basic barnburner. We get about six of these a year in the Pac-12.
  5. USC 38, Oregon 35: This was a good game -- and revealing of the Trojans' return to the nation's elite -- but the Ducks were banged up and missed a chip shot field goal to tie in regulation.

Thoughts?

I mean other than, "Ted, you Awesome Rocker, you nailed it again! Here's a check for $1,000! Just for being awesome!"

Vote for the 2012 ESPYS!

June, 28, 2012
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Former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is one of the five ESPYS nominees for Male College Athlete of the Year, and you can vote for him here.

Heck, you can vote for someone else, if you wish. Luck is up against former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, who beat Luck out for the Heisman Trophy, as well as Jack Connolly (Minnesota Duluth hockey), Anthony Davis (Kentucky basketball), and Mike Zunino (Flordia baseball).

And there are many other categories where you can provide your vote.

As P. Diddy/Puff Daddy told us, "Vote or die."
Making love with his ego, Ziggy sucked up into his mind.
I always gagged on the silver spoon.

Four from Pac-12 on Kiper's first Big Board

May, 10, 2012
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Both ESPN draft gurus, Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, believe the Pac-12 will produce the top overall pick in the NFL draft for a second consecutive year next spring. They, however, don't agree on who it will be.

McShay probably surprised some last week when he ranked Utah DT Star Lotulelei No. 1. Kiper came back this week and ranked USC QB Matt Barkley No. 1.

Kiper on Barkley:
Would have battled Robert Griffin III to be No. 2 QB taken had he been in the 2012 draft. Will have very good competition to be the No. 1 QB taken in 2013. Strong, but not a huge arm; very good accuracy, poise, leadership skills and a ton of experience. Improvement each year, expanding his skill-set.

Kiper has four Pac-12 players, including Barkley, in his top 25. He has USC WR Robert Woods at No. 7, Lotulelei at No. 9 and California receiver Keenan Allen at No. 18.

He writes this about Lotulelei:
Demands a double-team, clogging up the middle of the field. A great sense for how to disrupt the run game, with power to bull rush and penetrate. Explodes off the ball, with great upper body strength.

He also has an interesting comment about Allen:
Would have been a great safety, too. Strong hands, catches the ball with ease. Sets up defenders, sees the field well, settling in creases against zones. Not a total burner, but can sell short routes and break deep. Great run-after-catch skills.

Video: Andrew Luck, RG3 in 5 years

April, 23, 2012
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Bill Polian discusses what people will be saying about Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in five years.
The general consensus is that Matt Kalil is going to be the No. 3 pick in the NFL draft behind Stanford's Andrew Luck (presumptive No. 1) and Baylor's Robert Griffin III.

That means he's earmarked for Minnesota, where the Vikings, who surrendered 49 sacks last year, are trying to find help for second-year quarterback Christian Ponder.

Steve Muench and Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. breakdown Kalil and what he presumably brings to the Vikings .
Writes Muench:

There's no such thing as a sure thing, but Kalil projects as a starter from day one and is one of the safer picks in this draft, thanks in part to his bloodlines. His father, Frank, played offensive line in the USFL, and his brother Ryan Kalil plays for the Carolina Panthers and is one of the best centers in the NFL.

In the accompanying video, McShay charts the pros and cons (not many) in Kalil's game.

Says McShay:
"His game's not perfect. He's got to improve his core strength and you see that every once in a while when he's working against bull rushers ... this isn't an everyday occurrence, but it's something that happens every once in a while. If he gets stronger, he'll improve that weakness. The rest of his game, you have to love."

As flattering as the prospect may seem, David DeCastro knows ESPN isn't coming out to Stanford's pro day just to broadcast him running offensive-line drills. He knows the score. He knows most of the attention will be trained on quarterback Andrew Luck.

But don't be surprised if the burly offensive guard gets more face time than any other Stanford player. Besides doing his individual workouts, he'll also be making a temporary move to center to snap for Luck.

You can watch the Cardinal's pro day at 11 a.m. Pacific/2 p.m. Eastern on ESPN3. Besides Luck and DeCastro, offensive tackle Jonathan Martin and tight end Coby Fleener will also be featured. Luck, DeCastro and Fleener are expected to be the first players taken at their positions, and Martin is projected anywhere between the second and fourth offensive tackle on the board.

"It's pretty crazy, because we couldn't even get a game televised a couple of years ago," DeCastro said. "That pretty much sums it up. Now they are televising our pro day. Crazy. The program has come a long way. If we can get it televised every year, that would be great."

A lot of eyes will be on Luck, who didn't throw at last month's NFL combine. He's expected to be the No. 1 pick of the Indianapolis Colts in next month's NFL draft. Yesterday, Baylor's Robert Griffin III held his pro day in Waco, Texas. While some think there is a chance the Colts could roll the dice with Griffin, he's widely regarded as No. 2 quarterback behind Luck.

[+] EnlargeStanford's Andrew Luck and David DeCastro
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAll eyes will be on Andrew Luck, left, during Stanford's pro day, which means David DeCastro, right, will get plenty of looks too.
Here's an interesting take from ESPN's Mel Kiper Insider on quarterbacks not throwing at the combine.
Last year, as you recall, Cam Newton's pro day was quite a big deal, because the top quarterbacks no longer throw at the combine, instead waiting for a more familiar setting, with targets they are used to working with. I don't mind that process. If you're considered this good, why not take advantage of the comfort level you've earned as you go through the process. These guys get nit-picked more than ever, so it's hard to blame them for taking control of something as significant as many consider these pro days.

But today isn't going to be all about Luck. It's the payoff for many of the players who helped grow the program.

"That's got to be one of the things I'm most proud of in my time at Stanford is helping turn the program around from a 1-11 season the year before I got there to two straight BCS games," Fleener said. "It's one of those things where it took a lot of work from the guys in the offseason and the coaches and the staff, and I'm happy to see Stanford football is on the right track.

"Hopefully this publicity is going to help the program, even in a small way. Anything we can do to help the program is great. We're all going to be Stanford fans for life."

Head coach David Shaw often praised this class of fourth- and fifth-year seniors for buying into the program he and former head coach Jim Harbaugh were pitching. He thinks the legacy they leave will help keep Stanford atop the national rankings for years to come.

"We don't just want smart guys that know how to play football," Shaw said. "We want great football players. We want guys to come here that want to play in the NFL, that want to be first-round draft picks. We want them to have that desire. We also want those guys to excel outside of football. When you've got a class of guys like this who can garner this much attention, it's awesome. And as you can see from the way we've been recruiting the last couple of years, [televised pro days] hopefully will be a regular occurrence for us."

There are also several other Stanford players who weren't invited to the combine, but will work out at the pro day. Because of the attention Luck attracts, many are considering this their combine.

And for those who did participate in the combine, it's one last chance to show what they can do before the draft.

"I'm excited," DeCastro said. "I'm feeling great. I'm in shape, lifting hard. Working out has never been an issue for me. I love training. I love getting that lift and getting those endorphins going."
I got my first real six-string, bought it at the five-and-dime;
Played it till my fingers bled, was the summer of '69.

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