LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 12: Quarterback Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans calls signals against the Washington Huskies at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 12, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. USC won 40-17. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
USC quarterback Matt Barkley will not enter the 2012 NFL Draft. How does the absence of one of the top prospects available change the draft landscape?
Well there goes that. The sound you heard was the collective "dammit" emanating from a number of NFL front offices and fan bases desperately seeking a quarterback in the 2012 NFL Draft. What precipitated that sound? USC quarterback Matt Barkley announced on Thursday that he will return to school next year, forgoing the 2012 NFL Draft and all the promises of filthy lucre it offers the nation's best and brightest football players.
Besides the immediate sense of exasperation, Barkley's decision has big ramifications for the 2012 NFL Draft as well as free agency.
Barkley was part of a troika of high profile quarterbacks available in this draft, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III being the other two. All three of those quarterbacks have the bona fides to build a team around, franchise centerpieces for years to come. They were also economically friendly building blocks, thanks to the new rookie salary scale that ended the days of unproved players getting six-year, $78 million contracts, a la Sam Bradford.
Less money and loads of talent made the top spots in the draft an attractive place to be for teams wanting a quarterback this year. Ironically enough, the second and third spots in the draft will likely be owned by two teams who already have their franchise quarterbacks, the St. Louis Rams and the Minnesota Vikings. You had all the ingredients for plenty of draft day horse trading, as teams move up to secure their shot at one of these three quarterbacks.
The Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins are the teams most in need of a quarterback, though you could lump in a few others that probably need to start planning for the future. In our most recent 2012 NFL Mock Draft at SB Nation, I had Barkley being picked sixth by the Redskins. The reality is that some of those teams would have been likely to trade up for one of the draft's premier passers.
With Barkley out, there's less trade value in the second and third picks, the places where teams could guarantee their chances at either Barkley or Griffin. If Griffin opts to return to school, the second and third spots will have absolutely no trade value.
Andrew Luck's market gets a big boost from Barkley's decision. The Colts could use certainly use him, but they might be better served to take the picks and replenish their World League roster with some more NFL talent. If Griffin heads back to Baylor, the Colts might even be able to tack on another draft pick to their asking price, and teams desperate enough to start winning - looking at you Washington Redskins - might just open the wallet.
Weak draft class
Without Barkley, there's one less premier player, one less kid truly worthy of a high draft slot. Outside of the quarterbacks and Barkley's blind side protector Matt Kalil, many of the players currently projected to go in the top ten picks are not as good as their counterparts from last year. This is especially true for the wide receivers. Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd are considered the best of that position group, but neither are as good of a prospect as A.J. Green and Julio Jones, the top receivers in the 2011 NFL Draft.
I think there might even be more surprises among the top picks with the quarterbacks out and less trading happening. Look for Alabama running back Trent Richardson to get picked a little higher, since he's one of the most talented, blue chip players in the draft class. One name that I think will surprise people is Stanford guard David DeCastro. To me, he's the second-best offensive lineman in the draft. Like Steve Hutchinson in his prime, he has the ability to change an entire unit. With the salary structure fixed, taking a guard in the top ten picks no longer means making them one of the highest paid players at their positions.
Free agent quarterbacks
Finally, a middling group of veteran free agent quarterbacks could enrich themselves thanks to Barkley's decision. Desperate teams might see a chance to upgrade with a temporary solution like Kyle Orton, Vince Young or even Jason Campbell.
One player to keep your eye on is Packers backup Matt Flynn. Due for unrestricted free agency, he could cash in on on hungry teams seeing his flashes of potential behind Aaron Rodgers. He's like Kevin Kolb 2.0, only some would say better.
Barkley has a very good chance of being the first quarterback picked in the 2013 NFL Draft. More than likely, one of the teams who would have liked to draft him in 2012 will still have a need to fill.