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Matt Barkley's delaying NFL career could work out just fine

A precedent: Sam Bradford returned for another season at Oklahoma and then became a No. 1 draft pick. Then again, there's the case of Matt Leinart at USC.

December 22, 2011|By David Wharton
  • USC quarterback Matt Barkley celebrates with receiver Robert Woods after a touchdown pass against Arizona.
USC quarterback Matt Barkley celebrates with receiver Robert Woods after… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Standing before a crowd of reporters, not to mention a national television audience, Matt Barkley explained that his heart told him to stick around for one more season of college football.

But even as the USC quarterback made his big announcement Thursday, he acknowledged putting his future on hold.

"I am prepared to play quarterback in the NFL," he said. "It is my dream to play quarterback in the NFL."

Which raises an important question: How might this immediate decision affect his long-term plans?

"That's a hard one to answer," NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said. "It could go either way."

Most analysts predicted that Barkley would be selected in the top 10 — if not the top five — of next spring's pro draft.

Not only is he forgoing millions of dollars, he also faces the risk of injury or a subpar senior season that could damage his standing in the 2013 draft.

But there is insurance for the injury part, and recent precedent suggests that Barkley made a good bet in terms of his pro prospects.

Sam Bradford remained at Oklahoma for an extra season and got injured. The St. Louis Rams still chose him at No. 1 in 2010.

Andrew Luck might have been the top pick in last spring's draft but hung around Stanford instead. He still figures to be the first name called in April.

"I would imagine that if you are in Matt's shoes, looking at those two situations, that's got to make the decision easier," said Brock Huard, a former college and pro quarterback who now works for ESPN.

The experts see other reasons for Barkley to stay: His team figures to contend for the national championship, he has a pair of highly skilled receivers in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, and he has the right coaching staff.

"The head coach calling plays for him has been in the NFL," Davis said. "Barkley's getting that on-the-job training on a college campus."

Looking back, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers all seemed to benefit from playing their senior seasons.

On the flip side, the likes of Ryan Leaf, Tim Couch, Heath Shuler and Tommy Maddox arguably hindered their careers by leaving early.

So when Barkley was asked if coming back was a gamble, it made sense that he answered, "I don't think there's any logic to that."

But his response ignores the success of other quarterbacks who left early and made it work.

Matthew Stafford has helped transform the Detroit Lions into playoff contenders and Mark Sanchez led the New York Jets to the AFC championship game in each of his first two seasons.

Even Josh Freeman, who has enjoyed less success at the pro level, has started the better part of three seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Add to these names a few ghosts rattling around, cautionary tales of quarterbacks who paid for putting their NFL careers on hold.

Matt Leinart is the current poster boy for that group, passing up the 2005 draft while recuperating from off-season surgery. He dropped to No. 10 in 2006, a costly difference.

There is no guarantee that by withdrawing from the current draft class — rich in quarterbacks with Luck, Brandon Weeden, etc. — Barkley will wind up as the top pick a year from now.

"That wasn't really an issue," he said. "It didn't play a huge role."

Instead, he talked on Thursday about following his gut and feeling good about USC's chances next fall.

With all the uncertainty facing a college quarterback in the NFL draft — no matter when he leaves school — that might be the smartest way to approach the situation.

"We've seen injuries, we've seen stock drop," Davis said. "So, in your mind, you have to say, 'This is where I want to be.'"

david.wharton@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesWharton

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