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Draft King Analysis
September 23, 2012
Lou Pickney,

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The field of 2013 NFL Draft eligible quarterbacks is interesting this year. It's a tight pack at the top, meaning any number of scenarios could play out. But the biggest story relative to the position is how Matt Barkley has fallen from the lock-it-in #1 QB spot on most boards, or at least had his perceived huge lead narrowed tremendously. Two seasons ago he was protected by offensive tackles Matt Kalil and Tyron Smith. In 2011, the Cowboys used the #9 overall pick on Smith. Without Smith last fall, Barkley still managed to perform at a top level with Kalil protecting his blind side.

Barkley returned to USC for 2012, while Kalil joined his brother Ryan (the starting center for the Carolina Panthers) in the NFL ranks, going #4 overall to Minnesota. Meanwhile, USC didn't have an heir apparent waiting in the wings to replace Kalil at left tackle, and the dramatic dropoff there, compounded by an injury to center Khalid Holmes, has forced Barkley to have to make decisions quicker with much weaker protection against opposing pass rushers. In turn, his completion percentage has dropped, he's thrown a few more interceptions than would be expected, particularly in his past two games, and the shine is starting to fade from his star a bit.

Note that Barkley is still just as talented as he was before, but without the luxury of elite offensive line play this fall, he has faced a new challenge. Throw in that Barkley is slightly below the 6'3" prototype level (6'2" if you believe the media guide), though I've read multiple speculative writings suggesting he's closed to 6'1". We'll find out for sure when he goes through the pre-draft grind early next year, and while it's not a huge difference, it is something to keep in mind.

After going back and forth over it, I moved West Virginia QB Geno Smith ahead of Barkley in my mock. To be fair, part of that was because it was Jacksonville making the pick, a team that deviates from the norm more than most on personnel moves. That isn't always a bad thing (see: New England), but when that doesn't work you before an easy target for criticism. But I expect Jaguars GM Gene Smith to continue to do things his way so long as he's in charge, and while taking a quarterback would be the dreading "losing face" that no GM wants to do, essentially admitting that Gabbert wasn't a good choice two years ago, at some point you have to reverse course.

Of course, if new owner Shad Khan is not happy with some of the perhaps questionable moves made (like giving $14 million guaranteed to WR Laurent Robinson, who had been cut by Dallas less than six months before then), Smith might not be the one making the decisions for Jacksonville in 2013. But the Jaguars have only played two games as of this writing, and perhaps things will improve going forward for them. Perhaps...

I might made a quick edit/update to my latest 2013 NFL Draft on here and bump Tennessee QB Tyler Bray in favor of Florida State QB E.J Manuel for Philadelphia at #26. Manuel has been a very accurate passer during his time in Tallahassee, and while he's been on the cusp of breaking through, his performance last night against Clemson was nothing short of impressive: 27/35 passing yards for two TDs and no interceptions to go with 12 carries for 102 yards. It's one thing to put up big numbers against the likes of Murray State and Savannah State -- it's another to do it against Clemson, in the spotlight on national network TV on ABC.

And, with all do respect, forget Tyler Bray -- at what point does E.J. Manuel start getting talked about with the other SEC Tyler QB: Arkansas' Tyler Wilson? As pumped as I am to see FSU corner Xavier Rhodes play in Tampa this upcoming Saturday (with a gametime that still hasn't been released as of 7:30 a.m. EDT -- six days before a game and they don't have a start time yet?!?), I'm also very much looking forward to seeing Manuel in action. Granted, USF might not be the toughest opponent that the Seminoles will face this year (to point: South Florida lost to Ball State yesterday), but it's intriguing to me nonetheless.

Up next for me: a nap (I work overnights, which means weekend sleep is catch-as-catch-can during football season) and then the wonderful experience that is the NFL Red Zone Channel. For you long-suffering Time Warner and Bright House Networks cable customers who finally have the NFL Network and RZC this week for the first time... just trust me, you're in for a treat.


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