USC quarterback Matt Barkley had a great season in 2011; of that, there is no doubt. He was a finalist for the Manning Award and the Wuerffel Trophy (yes, there is such a thing as a Wuerffel Trophy, and you get it for doing good things on the field), he set a single-season PAC-12 record for touchdown passes with 39, and set a school pace with a 69.1 percent completion rate for the full season. He became the fourth player in USC history to throw for more than 3,500 yards in a season, and there's little debate that had he declared for the draft instead of returning to school for one more season, Barkley would have been a top-10 pick.
Standard consensus seems to be that he would have gone somewhere after Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, who were snapped up with the first two overall selections, but somewhere before Ryan Tannehill, who was taken by the Miami Dolphins with the eighth overall pick.
Of course, the Redskins traded up to get Griffin, and Barkley is of the belief that had he been draftable in 2012, he might have been the one for whom such a trade was made.
"I had confidence that I was going to go high, it wasn't really a question of that as to why I came back," Barkley told "The Dan Patrick Show" on Tuesday morning. "I think it was a sure bet that Andrew [Luck] was going to go No. 1."
But what about Griffin? Barkley said that this is where things would have become complicated.
"I had confidence in that — I think I could have been," Barkley said, when asked if he would have been the second overall pick.
Again, Barkley had a great season, and this is nothing against him, but it's hard to see that happening. Not only did Griffin show the kind of athleticism rarely seen on a football field, but he also displayed an absolutely sick combination of accuracy, efficiency and arm strength. In 2011, Griffin put together a great little statistical twosome for the Baylor Bears: he led the nation in yards per attempt with 10.7, and completed 72.4 percent of his passes. NFL teams treasure such a combination above just about everything else. We put RG3 at the top of this year's Shutdown 50, and I don't think there's any doubt that had Andrew Luck not been so amazingly prepared for the NFL, Griffin could well have been the first overall pick. Griffin just does things on a different level.
The good news for Barkley is that by heading back to USC, he's got a pretty good shot at grabbing that first overall pick in the 2013 draft. Unless he absolutely tanks his senior season, suffers some sort of terrible injury, gets lapped by a surprise contender, or if the first overall team is already set at the position, he's the odds-on favorite to hear his name called before anyone else next April.
This April? Anything but third would have been a significant upset.