NFL

Is Barkley the next USC QB bust?

Alex Marvez and Laura Okmin on Matt Barkley's demeanor at the NFL combine.
Alex Marvez and Laura Okmin on Matt Barkley's demeanor at the NFL combine.
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Alex Marvez

Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com. He has covered the NFL for the past 18 seasons as a beat writer and is the former president of the Pro Football Writers of America. He also is a frequent host on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

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INDIANAPOLIS

His costly decision to return for a senior season at the University of Southern California invokes unfavorable comparisons to Matt Leinart.

A disappointing 2012 campaign raised questions about whether he’s destined to become the next Mark Sanchez.

While we’re at it, throw another ex-Trojan — Carson Palmer — into the mix solely for his inability to win a playoff game in 10 NFL seasons.

As he jostles with other quarterbacks for early selection in April’s draft, Matt Barkley faces an equally daunting task: convincing interested suitors that he shouldn’t be judged by the NFL failings of his USC predecessors.

“The whole stereotype about the SC quarterback seems to be the hot topic,” Barkley said after a 17-minute media grilling Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “I think it’s unfair to stereotype anyone in this regard.

“Are all Michigan quarterbacks going to be great because Tom Brady went there or all Tennessee quarterbacks going to be great because Peyton Manning went there? You can play that game forward and backward. Every situation is different for every person. I know mine is by far different than any other USC quarterback. Although we have a lot of similarities in the offenses we played and stuff like that, my experiences have been so different that it’s unfair to put us in the same category.”

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“It’s human nature,” said Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey, whose club is in the market for a rookie quarterback. “We sometimes try to pigeonhole and stereotype these kids. That’s why it’s so important to sit and find out who they are as a person.

“Once that person becomes your quarterback, he’s going to have to lead your team. You have to be rest assured that guys are going to want to play for him. Last year, there were guys who had those traits. At the end of the day when I meet Matt, I’ll figure that out.”

Meeting with NFL squads like the Chiefs, which he did Friday night, and taking physical exams are the main objectives for Barkley at the Combine. Barkley won’t be able to throw Sunday with the other quarterback prospects because he is still recovering from a separated shoulder suffered last November against UCLA.

“Hopefully, teams will be able to see who I am as a person and individual and not what the media portrays me as,” Barkley said.

And how might that be? Here’s an example:

Yahoo! Sports recently ran a scathing story about Barkley not competing at the Combine despite the quarterback saying he hasn’t received medical clearance and “it has nothing to do with me wanting to be out here because I’ve worked my butt off to get to the point I thought I would be throwing.”

Yahoo! anonymously quoted one veteran scout as saying, “Here we go again — another L.A. movie-star quarterback who needs his own day to throw,” as well as an NFL executive proclaiming, “And you wonder why guys from Southern California [are bad]? Everything is like they have to draw attention to themselves.”

Barkley did himself no favors in this regard in December 2011. His announcement about coming back to complete “unfinished business” at Southern Cal following a brilliant junior season was held at a news conference featuring Southern Cal cheerleaders and a band.

One couldn’t help but flash back to Leinart after seeing such ostentatiousness from a handsome young man who attended the same private high school (Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif.).

Leinart made the same choice to return after his junior season despite the strong possibility of being the No. 1 overall pick in a quarterback-deficient 2005 draft. His play slumped as a senior as Southern Cal failed to defend its national championship. During the pre-draft process, some NFL teams wondered whether Leinart was more interested in living the Hollywood lifestyle than making the strong commitment needed to become a franchise passer.

Drafted at No. 11 by Arizona in 2006, Leinart was cut after starting just 17 games in four seasons. He finished last year as an Oakland Raiders reserve and is set to become a low-level unrestricted free agent in March.

Sanchez didn’t have nearly the same body of experience when turning pro as a junior in 2009, but it quickly became obvious that he shared the same vanity and love of nightlife as Leinart. Emboldened by consecutive trips to the AFC Championship Game with the New York Jets in his first two NFL seasons, Sanchez agreed to a GQ cover shoot even though it was the defense and running game that was primarily responsible for the team’s success.

When both those facets began to crumble, Sanchez’s career did the same. After the 2011 season ended, multiple members of the Jets organization anonymously ripped his work ethic to the New York Daily News, with one teammate calling him “lazy.” The public criticism grew even louder last season when Sanchez threw more interceptions (18) than touchdowns (13) as the Jets finished 6-10.

Excluding the aforementioned news conference, Barkley has yet to show any of the earmarks for off-field fame that helped doom Leinart and Sanchez. Nothing has surfaced so far to indicate that Barkley has any other ambitions right now other than achieving NFL success. His competitiveness is reflected by an in-your-face leadership style that was put to the test during Southern Cal’s 7-5 season in 2012.

Barkley considers the experience of having to deal with such adversity as one of the long-term advantages that came with staying in the college ranks for one more year. Barkley also insists he has no regrets about returning despite the choice potentially costing him millions of dollars in guaranteed salary based upon where he is ultimately drafted.

“There hasn’t been a moment where I said, ‘What could have, what should have happened?’ because I believe what happened to me really benefited me,” Barkley said. “Other people may not think so. I learned a lot and grew a lot this year. I definitely believe I am a better quarterback than I was at this point last year. You can’t really change that for anything.”

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Barkley must change some other perceptions besides the USC quarterback stereotyping, most notably concerns about his arm strength at the NFL level. Barkley’s chance to shine will come March 27 during his Pro Day workout at Southern Cal.

“You can watch the tape where I’ve made throws in tight windows,” Barkley said during his news conference. “I can make every NFL throw that you need.”

If that’s true, Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell told FOXSports.com that it would be foolish for teams to hold the struggles of Leinart and Sanchez against Barkley. Caldwell pointed to the stereotyping that surrounded quarterbacks who played under former University of California-Berkeley head coach Jeff Tedford when Aaron Rodgers was following in the footsteps of NFL busts Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, David Carr, Trent Dilfer and Kyle Boller.

“He slipped to No. 24 in the (2005) draft, right?” Caldwell said of Rodgers. “I wouldn’t make the same mistake again.”

Alex Marvez and co-host Jim Miller interviewed Matt Barkley and John Dorsey on SiriusXM NFL Radio.

Tagged: Raiders, Giants, Jets, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez, David Caldwell

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