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Rang: Why Barkley is draft's No. 1 QB

The SportsXchange

INDIANAPOLIS -- A day after Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray was noticeably nervous answering questions from the media at the Scouting Combine, Southern Cal's Matt Barkley demonstrated the confidence in the spotlight expected following his four seasons as the starting quarterback in a Los Angeles market without an NFL team.

Barkley, who measured in slightly taller than expected at 6-feet-2 and weighed 227 pounds with 10-1/8 inch hands, confirmed he would not be throwing in Indianapolis. Barkley also said he was "100 percent on track" to throw at his March 27 Pro Day at USC.

Not surprisingly, Barkley disagreed with the widely-held believe among many analysts that he lacks the arm strength to be highly successful in the NFL.

"I would disagree. Watch the tape. I can make every NFL throw that you need," Barkley said.

I agree with him, which is one of the reasons why I project him to be the first passer selected in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Barkley, who started 47 games in a pro-style offense, completed 64 percent of his passes for 12,327 yards and 116 touchdowns against 48 interceptions over his career.

The perception created by some in the media is that Barkley's stock slid considerably during the past year. Clearly, he wasn't as productive as a senior following a breakout junior campaign in which he threw for a career-high 3,528 yards and 39 touchdowns against just seven interceptions.

Barkley surprised many with his decision to return for his senior season, and he wasn't as successful with a dip in yards (3,273) and touchdowns (36) while his interceptions more than doubled (15). After throwing multiple interceptions just one time in 2011, he had a troubling six games with multiple interceptions as a senior. In his final four games before suffering a shoulder injury against UCLA that ultimately ended his college career, he threw nine interceptions.

Because of the injury, Barkley was unavailable to throw at the Senior Bowl and this week's combine.

Barkley's production dropped despite throwing to arguably the top wide receiver duo in college football in sophomore Marqise Lee and fellow 2013 NFL prospect Robert Woods.

Lost a bit amid the scrutiny of Barkley's disappointing 2012 campaign was the impact of having a new left tackle trying to protect him. Barkley had been able to rely on Matt Kalil protecting his blind side for his first three seasons before Kalil was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings last April. Barkley clearly took more hits in 2012 with the Trojans rotating two inexperienced players, sophomore Aundrey Walker and true freshman Max Toerk, at the position.

In large part due to the Trojans' playmaking receivers, Barkley was often perceived as a bit of a game-manager at USC. It is important to note the difference in the Trojans' offensive output during his 11 starts in 2012 compared to the two games in which he was sidelined with injury.

With Barkley in the lineup, USC averaged 36 points per game. USC averaged just 10 points in losses to Notre Dame and Georgia Tech with Max Wittek at the helm. Wittek, for what it's worth, boasts a noticeably stronger arm than Barkley.

As has been proven many times in the past, possessing an arm strong enough to make NFL throws is only one part of the skill set required to be a successful quarterback. While Barkley might not possess a howitzer, he earns the highest grades of any passer in the 2013 draft in the "Three A's" -- accuracy, awareness and anticipation -- the traits that I believe to be most important at the position.

Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for www.NFLDraftScout.com, published by The Sports Xchange

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