USC's Matt Barkley and Oklahoma's Landry Jones seriously considered entering the 2012 NFL Draft, but both players ultimately decided to return for a senior season. This instantly created an enticing quarterback debate for next year's NFL draft: Barkley vs. Jones. It's a topic that'll definitely be on people's minds as the 2012 college season unfolds.
I reviewed 2011 tape to evaluate both quarterbacks and tell you what I'll be focusing on when I watch each player this fall. Both Barkley and Jones will be entering their fourth year starting, so their respective games should be pretty polished in 2012, given this extensive experience.
Matt Barkley, USC
Release/feet: I like his release -- it's quick and compact. When his back foot hits the ground, the ball comes out almost immediately. He can shuffle in the pocket to avoid the rush and swiftly reset his feet to throw.
Arm strength: He does not possess a big-time arm, but it appears to be good enough. He has displayed the ability to throw the ball deep (50-60 yards), but his touch varies. Don't confuse arm strength with how far someone can throw the ball. Arm strength, to me, is putting the ball on a line with velocity on deep-out cuts.
Mobility: He has good mobility and can get outside the pocket. He makes good decisions while throwing the ball on the move.
Accuracy/decision making: Barkley shows poise in the pocket and has good command of the offense. He sees the field very well and routinely finds alternate receivers. He is a very accurate passer on short-to-medium length throws, but shows some inconsistency on deep passes. At times, he will force balls to his receivers, but I believe he does this because they're talented and can make plays. He does not take many sacks because of his mobility and ability to throw on the run.
Overall: I will be interested to see if Barkley is actually 6-feet-2. His best asset is that he runs a pro-style offense very effectively. He sees the field and for the most part, makes intelligent decisions. He can make plays on the move and is an accurate short-to-medium passer. He does not have a top-tier arm, but I believe it's an arm that can definitely suffice at the pro level. I believe he would operate best in a West Coast system. I like him better than former Trojan Mark Sanchez coming out of college. He does not have the physical gifts of Robert Griffin III, but is farther along as a potential pro QB. I'd still take RG3 ahead of him based on raw talent, but Barkley is better than Ryan Tannehill.
Two things I'll look for in 2012:
1. More consistency on his deep balls.
2. Cutting down on forcing balls to his receivers.
Landry Jones, Oklahoma
Release/feet: Jones holds the ball too low and must raise it up to throw. He is sloppy with his foot mechanics at times, causing some accuracy issues. (Sometimes, he doesn't reset his feet when he throws.) I did see him make an athletic release under pressure -- a very good play on his part.
Arm strength: He possesses a big-time arm. He can throw the deep-out cut and can put the ball in tight spots. This is his best asset.
Mobility: He is a pocket passer who is not a threat as a runner.
Accuracy/decision making: This is his biggest problem. He is too inconsistent on his accuracy and ball placement. He tends to force some balls. He does show some field vision though, and can go to the second receiver. He also displayed some poise versus the rush.
Overall: Jones is a pocket passer with a cannon arm that stretches the field, but his legs are of little concern to defenses. He shows the ability to see the field, but lacks the consistent accuracy necessary to pick apart an NFL defense. He also holds the ball too low, slowing down his release. He really needs to clean up his footwork. I would not rate him ahead of any of the four quarterbacks taken in the first round this year, but he has the entire 2012 season to improve.
Two things I'll look for in 2012:
1. Improvement in his foot mechanics and where he holds the ball prior to releasing it.
2. Better accuracy on a consistent basis.
In summation, Barkley is clearly ahead of Jones based on the 2011 season. But as we've seen before, a lot can change in the span of a season. This will be an intriguing subplot to follow throughout the 2012 campaign.