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Barkley, Smith top QB prospect list

Posted: November 27, 2012 1:50 p.m.
Updated: November 28, 2012 5:00 a.m.

As the college football season winds down, players with next-level potential will be getting even closer attention from NFL scouts. While some general managers may have a sour stomach after missing out on last year’s top choices Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, this year’s class is still intriguing. There may not be as many sure bets as in 2012, but an abundant of talent exists, particularly at the quarterback position.

At the beginning of the season, Southern Cal’s Matt Barkley was considered a bona fide top pick. Had he left school early, he might have even contended with Luck and Griffin for the No. 1 selection. Overall, he has a good arm and solid consistency for most throws, but may lack the deep ball accuracy coveted by pro teams.

Although it shouldn’t necessarily reflect on his potential, the last few USC quarterback prospects have been far from stellar. The three most recent, Carson Palmer, Mark Sanchez, and Matt Leinhart, have never solidified themselves as legitimate all-pro level talents. This could indicate that Barkley’s college success may not translate well to the NFL.

But his talent seems to truly shine the most when it comes to game management. He has called plays effectively from the line of scrimmage in no-huddle and two-minute situations, a must in the big leagues. Sticking around for his senior year will also help him make an easier transition to the next level. In the end, he could eventually turn into a franchise quarterback, particularly if he goes to a team that doesn’t immediately throw him to the wolves.

Despite Barkley’s hype, he has largely been trumped, especially in the second half of the season, by West Virginia’s Geno Smith, currently projected to be the top quarterback drafted.

Viewed as one of the best dual threats in recent years, Smith has been categorized as smart, accurate and a strong leader underneath center. His Week 4 performance against Baylor where he threw for eight touchdowns and almost 700 yards was sensational. His six touchdowns and 407 yards passing in his team’s 70-33 bowl game rout of Clemson in 2011 was phenomenal as well. 

Few weaknesses exist in his game, but he may face somewhat of a learning curve after playing in a shotgun spread offense in college. Additionally, while he has good height, his slender frame could be a concern for NFL teams.

While Smith’s draft position has spiked, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray’s stock has somewhat dipped despite shattering almost every school passing record in Athens.

As a junior, Murray still has a year of eligibility left and consequently has time to decide if he wants to go to the pros.  

  Interestingly, when recently asked which player he would take with the first pick in the draft, former Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy picked Murray over any other player.

The UGA signal caller has garnered a lot of attention over the years due to the prolific numbers he has put up for the Bulldogs. Heading into the final week of the season, he was fifth on the SEC’s career touchdown passing list with 87, needing only two more to tie Peyton Manning for No. 2 on the all-time list.

Despite his many positives, Murray also carries some baggage on the field. His gunslinger mentality may make teams weary. Although there have been exceptions, the NFL usually isn’t very kind to young, improvisational quarterbacks who make mistakes. Also, his rather small build could hurt his chances of being picked high in the draft. Scouts will also remember his dismal 2012 performance against South Carolina where he completed only 36 percent of his passes and failed to reach the end zone.

As the draft nears, every quarterback wishing to make the jump to the big leagues will be jockeying to improve their stock. But how well they perform in upcoming bowl games and at the scouting combine will ultimately decide which NFL cap they don this April.

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