With the 2013 NFL draft set to begin on Thursday, a group of Trojans are anxiously awaiting the moment when Commissioner Roger Goodell announces their names at Radio City Music Hall and invites them to join one of the most exclusive fraternities around: the National Football League.
Quarterback Matt Barkley, one of the most-talked about prospects in this year’s class, is one of those Trojans.
His decision to return to school for his senior year did not bring him the national championship he desired, and along the way Barkley hurt both his shoulder and his draft stock.
Scouts have gone back and forth on whether Barkley will ever be a starting quarterback in the NFL, let alone whether he’ll be successful if placed in the role. Some worry that his arm strength is average and that he lacks athleticism in the pocket.
On the other hand, no quarterback in this year’s class seems as pro-ready as Barkley. He has been schooled in pro-style offenses for the last eight years. Former USC coach and current Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll had this to say about the QB: “He’s thrown every route and read every coverage. … He’s as well-versed as a guy can get.”
Projections about Barkley’s landing spot vary heavily. Some have him going as high as No. 8 to the Buffalo Bills, while others have him going mid-second round to the Arizona Cardinals at pick 38.
Buffalo could be a intriguing landing spot for the 22-year-old. With only the unproven duo of Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson on the roster at quarterback, Barkley could walk in and instantly be in the running to start.
Moreover, the offense, equipped with tight end Scott Chandler and wide receiver Steve Johnson, would aid Barkley’s transition process. The Bills also sport the impressive backfield duo of Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller to provide legitimate running support.
One of Barkley’s top targets, receiver Robert Woods, will look to break the USC wide receiver curse that has plagued Trojan wideouts of late. Three former USC receivers are on NFL rosters, and none accumulated more than 350 yards last season. Decision-makers in NFL front offices have praised Woods’ route-running ability and believe he is one of the most polished receivers in this class.
However, he lacks the pure speed and strength that many top receivers in the league possess. As a result, Woods is more suited to be a secondary, rather than primary, option. His projections are all over the board; he has been predicted to go as high as the mid-first round and as low as the early third round. One team that has been tied with Woods lately has been the Houston Texans, who seem to be looking for a receiver to complement standout Andre Johnson.
This type of situation seems like it would be a good fit for Woods, as he could learn from one of the all-time greats at the position.
Barkley’s longtime center Khaled Holmes will also be up for grabs this weekend. He has shown that he can move very well for a lineman his size and is extremely coachable. However, he struggles to get low as a result of his 6-foot-4 frame.
Still, any team looking for versatility in the interior of their line has to be intrigued with the possibility of drafting Holmes and adding depth at the center position. If the Bills were to take Barkley early on, they may want to add Holmes to ease the transition to the pros for their prized QB prospect.
Safety T.J. McDonald has a strong pedigree and onfield IQ stemming from his extensive time at USC and his father’s experience in the NFL. McDonald lacks great speed and was often protected by schemes that kept him in the box to utilize his physicality, rather than leaving him floating in pass coverage. Still, his size and natural football intelligence have garnered interest from the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens. He could be a fourth- or fifth-round selection.
Standing at a mere 5-foot-8, defensive back Nickell Robey will look to sneak into the late rounds of the draft. He was a tremendous cover corner in college and is an extremely smooth athlete. As the NFL becomes more and more of a passing league, someone who can play nickel corner becomes extremely valuable, especially for teams lacking depth in the secondary. The 49ers might take a look at Robey in the sixth round.
The NFL draft begins on Thursday at 5 p.m. Rounds two and three begin at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, and the final rounds are on Saturday starting at noon. Complete coverage is on ESPN.