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Can Past NFL Quarterbacks from USC Help Predict Matt Barkley’s Future?

There has been much speculation about what direction the Philadelphia Eagles will take next season at the quarterback position. After all, nobody has ever seen first-year coach Chip Kelly’s offense adapted to the NFL game, so right now it’s just way too tough to predict who he’ll go with in week one.

And their logjam at the position doesn’t make it any easier. Going into April’s NFL Draft, the team already had veteran Michael Vick, youngster Nick Foles, and Dennis Dixon, who played his college ball under Kelly at Oregon. But apparently, they didn’t even think that was quite enough, as they traded up to draft former USC QB Matt Barkley in the 4th round.

That pick is an extremely interesting one. Kelly, having coached in the Pac 10/12 throughout all of Barkley’s career at USC, you have to assume he constantly saw something on the field and in the game tape the he really liked. But since his transition of his offense to the NFL is just too hard to predict at this point, we can’t really use that as much of a discussion point when trying to project Barkley’s future NFL success.

So, like always, we’re going to look to the numbers. Specifically, let’s look at how recent QB’s to come out of USC have fared in the NFL and compare the positions they’ve been in to that of Barkley’s. Maybe then, we’ll be able to accurately anticipate what the Eagles will get out of him, since the other factors just seem way too unpredictable.

There’s five former USC quarterbacks that have been or still are in the NFL that played in a very similar situation to Barkley while wearing a Trojan uniform: Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez, Matt Cassel, and John David Booty. Once you get the initial look of disgust off of your face, you can digest the following statistics …


Passer Rating

Completion %

TD’s per Game Played


M. Leinart



0.45 (15/33)


J.D. Booty



00.0 (00/00)


M. Sanchez



1.09 (68/62)


M. Cassel



1.05 (82/78)


C. Palmer



1.55 (189/122)


Those statistics provide for a very telling representation of the QB’s success. The completion percentage represents efficiency, TD’s/GP represents the impact they’ve made with their given opportunities, and the passer rating represents an overall figure of effectiveness.

So, what USC has produced at the QB position in recent history is this: two above average starters and three duds.

While that doesn’t seem too abysmal, it does begin to when you look into it further. While John David Booty never had lofty expectations, both Sanchez and Leinart were drafted high in the first round and set their franchises back, at least in some regards, substantially.

And even though Cassel and Palmer have been solid, there’s plenty of room for skepticism around their careers. Palmer put a strain on both the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders franchises by making a scene and demanding a trade out of town. And while Cassel hasn’t created those types of problems, his best seasons of his career came in 2008 for the Patriots, when he was blessed with an all-time great offense surrounding him and in 2010, when his Chiefs were led by Jamaal Charles’ 6.4 YPC and Dwayne Bowe’s monster, breakout season.

So while they have been ‘above average,’ they haven’t ever really been something you’d undoubtedly want to build your franchise around.

But after Matt Barkley’s underwhelming 2012 season at USC, he too became something nobody was too eager to build around, which is obvious because of the fact that he was passed on almost 100 times before being selected in April’s draft.

So, back to our original question … how can the numbers of Barkley and others at USC help us predict his future NFL success? Well, here we go …

Before his days at USC, Barkley was the number one ranked high school quarterback in the nation. So at that point, he was in the same shoes that Mark Sanchez (2005 no.1 QB) and Matt Leinart (2001 no.7 QB).

Barkley started as a true freshman back in 2009. The best way to describe his first season under helm in So-Cal is “mediocre” or “pedestrian.” Though his 131.3 passer rating was good, his line of 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions wasn’t too special. At that point in time, he was a bit behind Matt Leinart (38 TD’s, 9 INT’s) and John David Booty (29 TD’s, 9 INT’s) based on their respective first seasons.

But no hope was lost; those surrounding the USC team had seen Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez overcome early career woes to become an elite quarterback. And after Barkley’s next two seasons, that hope had turned into a reality, as Barkley threw 26 TD’s (to just 12 INT’s) in 2010 and another 39 in 2011 (to just 7 INT’s). At that point, Barkley had turned into the high school QB that USC was so elated to bring in just a few years earlier. If it weren’t for Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck being the dominant QB’s that they were, he would’ve received much more love in the Heisman voting, though his sixth place finish was nothing to frown about.

Many then figured Barkley was NFL bound, as he’d have a very good chance of being taken before others in that class, namely Brandon Weeden (no. 22 pick), Brock Osweiler (no. 57 pick) and Russell Wilson (no. 75 pick). But the golden California boy decided to return for his senior season, as many expected USC to be a dominant force in college football and win a national championship under Barkley’s leadership.

After all, his numbers were very comparable to Carson Palmer’s in 2002 when he won the Heisman Trophy (33 TD, 10 INT, 149.1 RAT), Matt Leinart’s ’04 campaign that got him the award (33 TD, 6 INT, 156.5 RAT), and Mark Sanchez’s ’08 efforts (34 TD, 10 INT, 164.6 RAT) that got him to be selected with the fifth overall pick in that year’s upcoming NFL draft.

But like Leinart, deciding to come back for his senior season proved to be an awfully bad mistake.

Yes, at a first glance the numbers look just fine. Barkley threw 36 touchdowns but more than doubled his interception tally, going from seven to 15. And Leinart, who like we mentioned had 33 touchdowns in ’04, dropped down to 28 in ’05.

So, by the numbers, it appears Barkley compares best at this point in his career to Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer; one of which a successful NFL quarterback, and the other not so much. So how can we best predict which path he’ll take starting this fall for the Philadelphia Eagles?

Well, that’s up for the organization to determine. If Barkley can get any sort of an opportunity in the near future, there’s a decent chance that under Chip Kelly he could be at least serviceable right away. But what will be key is if he’ll get a continued opportunity at the position, like Palmer did but Leinart did not. In their first opportunities, both Leinart (2006, 12 GP, 11 TD, 12 INT, 74.0 RAT) and Palmer  (2004,  13 GP, 18 TD, 18 INT, 77.4 RAT) were just okay, but Kurt Warner quickly took Leinart’s job in Arizona whereas the Cincinnati Bengals stuck with Palmer as he went on to immediately have a couple of his best NFL seasons in ’05 and ’06.

In between John David Booty, who has put up goose egg statistics (never played) and Carson Palmer, who’s thrown for almost 30,000 yards and 200 touchdowns, there is a large statistical gap. Where Matt Barkley will fall on that scale is large-in-part up to the opportunity the Eagles present him in the near future.


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