Barkley's success may depend on how Eagles coach him

Posted: April 29, 2013

It is traditional, right about now, to remark upon all the fine college quarterbacks who crash and burn in the NFL.

Matt Barkley, the 98th overall pick of the 2013 draft, seems doubly cursed. He is coming off a disappointing senior year that ended with a shoulder injury, and he is coming from Southern Cal, launching pad for such high-profile crack-ups as Matt Leinart, Todd Marinovich, and Mark Sanchez.

One major factor is too often overlooked in these flameouts, though. Everyone talks about the quarterbacks. Hardly anyone talks about where they go, who coaches them, and how they are developed.

Look back at the 1999 quarterback class, from which Andy Reid famously plucked Donovan McNabb over Akili Smith, Daunte Culpepper, and Cade McNown. Tim Couch was already off the board.

McNabb had the best career of the bunch. That is a credit to him, of course. But it is a mistake to ignore all the variables at play.

What if Reid had chosen Smith and brought the strong-armed Oregon QB along with the same care and attention lavished on McNabb here? What if McNabb (or Smith or Couch) had gone to Minnesota instead of Culpepper and had started his career lobbing balls to Randy Moss and Cris Carter?

Barkley will not be in a vacuum. He is coming here to get in on the ground floor of whatever it is Kelly is building. The coach will have a lot to say about whether Barkley is a fourth-round steal or another USC bust.

"We all can identify who the great players are," Kelly said. "I'm sure everybody in the country last year knew Andrew Luck was a real talented player, but only one team gets him. [But] who's going to be the Russell Wilson? Everybody had a shot at taking him, but for some reason he fell through the cracks."

Wilson, a quarterback from Wisconsin, was taken 75th overall last year by the Seattle Seahawks. He vaulted free-agent pickup Matt Flynn to become the starter. With great coaching, a great running back, and a very good defense, Wilson led his team to an 11-5 record and a playoff victory.

It is no mystery why Barkley fell through the cracks. It is oft-repeated that he would have been a top-10 pick if he'd entered the draft in 2012, coming off his junior year. That may not be true. Going through the grinder of the combine and private workouts, Barkley's stock may well have dropped quite a bit by draft day. That happens all the time, as NFL personnel types search for faults.

Barkley chose to come back and play as a senior. He wanted to try to win the Heisman and a national title. It didn't turn out that way, and the separated shoulder was like a cruel joke on top of everything else.

Considering how important decision-making is for quarterbacks, could that howler be seen as a red flag? It shouldn't be. Barkley is from an affluent family. Money wasn't as pressing an issue as it is for many young athletes. Loyalty to his teammates and coaches, coupled with the drive to win a title, ought to count as positives.

Eagles fans won't care about that either way. They'll care whether he can play quarterback effectively in the NFL. Kelly believes he can, and Kelly is going to play a major role in determining whether he's correct.

At the very least, this pick should speed up the departure of Michael Vick. Hanging on to the 33-year-old turnover machine makes even less sense after adding Barkley to the mix. He and Nick Foles give the coaching staff two young talents to focus upon. That should be enough.

It will be fascinating to watch, especially with the other events of the weekend.

The Giants, who seem to know what they're doing, moved up to take Syracuse's Ryan Nassib 12 picks after the Eagles took Barkley. Geno Smith, the West Virginia QB worked out by the entire Eagles front office (including owner Jeff Lurie), went to the New York Jets. He'll work with Marty Mornhinweg there.

Everyone will eventually evaluate this class based on the quarterbacks. But their success or failure will say every bit as much about Kelly and the other coaches.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow @Sheridanscribe on Twitter.

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