When I first heard Matt Barkley’s name it was because after years of Matt Leinart and then Mark Sanchez at QB for the University of Southern California, they were handing the reigns over to yet another highly recruited high school prospect.
While that was a promising start to my history with Matt Barkley, it may have also have been the last time I had really paid attention to his name before he resurfaced with the Bears. Whenever Bears fans heard his name heading into the Titans game this past Sunday, they were most likely just thinking of the unheralded third-stringer who was the main reason the Bears lost to the Packers earlier in the season.
Let’s rewind to 2007 though to get some better perspective on Matt Barkley. That year he was a junior in high school and had just been named the Gatorade National Player of the Year, in addition to winning the Joe Montana award for best high school quarterback in the country, as well as best high school player in Southern California. So yeah, this guy was kind of a big deal.
By 2009, ESPN and Rivals.com both rated him as the No. 1 overall college recruit, and by 2011 he had won the CFPA National Performer of the Year Trophy with a season that saw him throw 39 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions with a completion percentage of 69-percent. Although he was projected by some to go in the top 10 in the 2012 draft, instead of declaring Barkley made the mistake his fellow Trojan Matt Leinart made and chose to return for his senior year to take care of “unfinished business.”
It was a huge mistake for Leinart and an even worse mistake for Barkley (I secretly believed Leinart just loved being B.M.O.C. and maybe the college life at USC seduced Barkley as well).
In 2012 USC had their national title hopes dashed early, and went on to lose five games, losing Barkley to injury in the process. Instead of being drafted in the first round, Barkley lasted all the way to the fourth and was drafted 98th overall by the Eagles in Chip Kelly’s first season as head coach. Unfortunately for Barkley, he was behind both Michael Vick and Nick Foles on the depth chart. When Vick went down that year, Foles magically put up MVP-type numbers which only further implanted Barkley on the bench.
Two years later and Barkley had been traded to the Cardinals for a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. On September 3, 2016 the Cardinals released Barkley, who then signed to the Bears practice squad the next day.
Knowing his entire history, Barkley’s performance on Sunday really should not have been a surprise. The Titans were barely even covering receivers, and a talented quarterback such as Barkley was able to easily take advantage. Had Bears receivers not dropped 10 passes during the game and Barkley’s numbers would have been even more impressive. At the end of the day, his line of 28-54 for 316 yard with 3 TD’s and 2 INT’s is both encouraging and discouraging.
While it’s clear that Barkley has talent, one thing that has plagued him his entire football career has been interceptions. In four seasons at USC, he had just one season with single digit interceptions. There’s not much of a sample for his NFL career, as he played significant snaps in just two games in 2013 before being thrown into action against the Packers, but in those four games including this past Sunday he has thrown a combined eight interceptions.
At 6-2, 227 pounds he looks like Cutler-lite, with less mobility. Barkley seems to have the potential to at the very least end up as a solid backup QB who can continue to improve and maybe one day be a starter, I just wouldn’t want that day to be with the Bears. As far as backup QB’s go, in a vacuum I’d rather have a guy like Brian Hoyer who will at least give your team a chance to win, even if he can’t win it himself. In this scary 2016 Bears world we live in though, Matt Barkley is at least moderately interesting, even if it just means that he’s your second or third stringer, he at least appears to have the upside to win a game for you.
Unfortunately when I think about who Matt Barkley reminds me of, in both size and ability, the name that comes to mind is Rex Grossman. Not as tall as you’d like, good arm, willing to throw down field, and always is going to end up turning the ball over. Backup QB? Sure, but not anyone’s first choice.