INDIANAPOLIS -- Matt Barkley might have been a top-10 pick -- maybe even top-three -- had he entered the 2012 NFL draft. The USC quarterback was coming off an extraordinary season with 39 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and eight sacks in leading the Trojans to a 10-2 record. Only Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were considered more promising prospects.
But Barkley decided to stay in school for another year, and his numbers suffered. The team finished 7-6 and he had 36 touchdown passes, 15 interceptions and 14 sacks. By the end of the 2012 season, when he suffered a shoulder injury that only now is starting to get significantly better, his stock had dropped.
Barkley looks back without regret. "Wouldn't change my USC career for anything," he said yesterday at the NFL scouting combine. "I learned a lot from this last year that you can't teach in a classroom. You have to learn through experience, in regards to handling adversity at its peak, really finding the motivation to get guys going in the locker room, in the huddle, on the practice field when you're not playing for postseason. This year especially, with the early loss to Stanford . . . we weren't expecting it. It allowed me to kind of step up and be that voice when guys didn't really know where to look. You can't really teach some of that stuff."
Barkley, who has resumed throwing but is not participating in passing drills at the combine, said he's a better leader now than he would have been if he had not stayed at USC.
Even so, Barkley might not reap the draft-day rewards he's anticipating. NFL executives now consider him a mid-first- round pick, although the dire need at quarterback could garner a higher pick. Then again, doubts that surfaced over his 2012 performance, as well as the condition of his shoulder, might scare people away.
Barkley says no one should worry about his readiness, physically or mentally. The shoulder, he said, will not be an issue. "With all the back, scapula, rotator-cuff movements and exercises that I've been doing," he said, "I'll be better than I was before the injury."