Barkley may just win the Eagles' quarterback job

Matt Barkley doesn't have a powerful arm, but at USC he showed traits Eagles coach Chip Kelly likes.
Matt Barkley doesn't have a powerful arm, but at USC he showed traits Eagles coach Chip Kelly likes. (Getty Images)
Posted: May 13, 2013

If Chip Kelly drafted Matt Barkley, a quarterback virtually no one thought he could be interested in, then there is no reason to think that he can't start this season.

History says fourth-round quarterbacks hardly ever start in the NFL, let alone as rookies. But the NFL is evolving and in certain segments becoming more like the college game than vice versa. And there's something about the Great Kelly Unknown that suggests anything is possible.

There are some pertinent reasons to support Barkley's candidacy, among them his decision-making, accuracy, and moxie. There is also his competition, two capable but hardly insurmountable quarterbacks who have yet to put their stamp on the position.

So who's to say Barkley can't beat out Michael Vick and Nick Foles? The Southern Cal quarterback may have several factors going against him, but he does have one clear advantage over his competitors: He is the only one Kelly brought to the Eagles.

Vick was Andy Reid's creation and was brought back on the cheap for one season. Kelly said Vick's skill-set was the primary reason for retaining him, and perhaps he's the latest coach to believe he can win with him.

But Kelly's comment about "the landscape for other quarterbacks" - read: there weren't better options - probably factored into the decision to keep Vick more than anything else.

Foles was Reid's draft pick. If Kelly had a high opinion of the former Arizona quarterback, he probably would have never brought Vick back, nor would he have drafted Barkley. He obviously thinks enough of Foles to keep him around, but Kelly's endorsement has been lukewarm at best.

For those reasons and others - Vick's two-year regression; Foles' inability to grab the job last season - many have latched onto the idea of Barkley's coming in and supplanting both. But aside from their faults, what has Barkley done to garner such a leap of faith?

He dropped into the fourth round for a reason. Kelly can point to Russell Wilson and Tom Brady as proof that the majority of teams have been wrong on quarterbacks before, but those two are exceptions.

If Barkley had left college after his junior season he would have likely been a first-round pick. But he stayed, suffered a shoulder injury, and, upon closer examination, drew criticism about his arm strength.

But Kelly doesn't seem hung up on a quarterback's arm, often a prerequisite for NFL starters. "We're not trying to knock over milk cartons at a county fair," he said after selecting Barkley. Kelly wants quarterbacks who are quick thinkers, accurate, and not prone to turnovers and sacks.

Barkley had that reputation at Southern Cal. Kelly saw it up close in four games. The Trojans offense was more pro style than Kelly's spread, but both schemes require little hesitation. After Friday's first rookie practice, Barkley said Kelly's Eagles offense was similar to the one he ran at Oregon.

"As a quarterback you generally have lots of responsibilities, and I think in this offense that's no different," he said. "You have to act quickly. You have to be a sharp decision-maker, and that's what Coach is looking for out of the quarterback position."

It is no secret that Vick has struggled in this area over his career. Foles may also have the edge on Vick.

"Repetitive accuracy," Kelly recently said, "is the No. 1 quality we're looking for in a quarterback." Barkley completed 64.1 percent of his passes at Southern Cal and was especially known for his accuracy with short and underneath throws.

Vick has a 56.3 career completion percentage. Foles hit on 60.8 percent of his throws last season and completed 66.9 percent of his passes in college.

Barkley, though, was excellent throwing on the run. He was not only accurate (65 percent), but he often maximized a receiver's yards after the catch with the placement of his throws. Barkley may not be as mobile as Vick, but this trait should benefit him if Kelly continues to implement the zone read - in which the quarterback is a threat to run - as many expect.

While Barkley's arm is not robust, he was not afraid to fit throws into tight windows. Some of that comes from being able to read defenses faster than others. Some of it stems from Barkley's confidence.

He started every game he played in high school and college and hasn't shied away from the idea of starting his first game as a pro. Asked if he would defer to Vick and Foles once full-squad practices start on Monday, Barkley was respectful but did not sound cowed by the veterans.

"They've both done great things and Michael has had an unbelievable career," Barkley said. "You come in as a teammate to them, not as a fan. You come in as someone who is ready to compete against them at the same time."

If the competition is close, Barkley could get the nod. As Seattle showed with Wilson, what would be the point in delaying the future?


Contact Jeff McLane at jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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