LOS ANGELES -- Matt Barkley said he had nothing to prove Wednesday afternoon following his first workout for NFL teams. If that's the case the former USC star succeeded, because he failed to prove to the roughly 50 coaches and scouts in attendance that he deserves to be a high first-round pick in next month's draft.
That's not to say that Barkley won't be selected early. It's to say that his first public workout since separating his right (throwing) shoulder in a mid-November loss to UCLA was more solid than spectacular.
In fact, when one potential employer uses the word "efficient" to describe a passing session that has been scripted and rehearsed for several weeks, and another potential employer watches and says the QB had adequate arm strength "to a point," it's not a reach to say the performance was underwhelming.
Teams have been saying privately for weeks that the likable four-year starter is not the top quarterback in the draft, primarily because of doubts about his arm strength and his ability to make positive plays when things break down. His failure to overwhelmingly disprove at least one of those likely means people's opinions of him are right where they were at the start of the day.
Jacksonville and Oakland are rumored to be in the market for a quarterback, and each had representatives in attendance.
"I thought his footwork, his placement of the ball, some movement passes - he was very efficient doing all those things," said Jaguars coach Gus Bradley. "He had great placement on the long ball, but it's hard. You see guys with the cannon arm and you see everybody in between. I think he's going to be very successful. He played in a pro attack, and the throws that he made are ones that he has made in games."
Said Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie: "It was good to see him make all the different throws, from five [yards] to 55. It was good to see him do everything he didn't do at the Combine."
Asked whether Barkley addressed the arm strength issue, McKenzie said: "To a point. He showed what his arm is."
Make of that what you will, but at least two other scouts commented on how some of Barkley's deep throws fluttered in a relatively gentle breeze."If he thinks this is windy, wait until he gets to Philly or New York or Buffalo," one coach said. "But he's working his way back from that injury. Hopefully he'll get stronger as he goes."
Other quarterbacks have entered the league with questions about their arm strength, most notably Drew Brees. All he has done is throw for at least 4,000 yards in seven straight seasons, including three with 5,000 yards or more.
Barkley's best quality is said to be his football intelligence, poise and leadership ability. But at some point the NFL game comes down to whether a quarterback can fit a pass into a small window, stand in the pocket and beat the blitz, or make a play on the move. Those are the unknowns.
Pro days are supposed to be gimmes. Quarterbacks spend weeks going over the script, throwing the same routes to the same receivers, over and over.
"This should be a pristine day compared to the Combine, where you might throw to three different receivers in four drills," Rams general manager Les Snead said. "This day should have timing and be perfectly clean."
For the most part Barkley put the ball where it could be caught, but the performance was not pristine. At times receivers had to make acrobatic catches, on other occasions they had to wait for the ball to arrive. That's a red flag after weeks of rehearsal.
Teams now must project whether Barkley's abilities as a professional lie closer to his junior season, during which he threw for 39 touchdowns and just seven interceptions; or his senior year, during which he tossed 15 interceptions against 36 touchdowns.
"I think he has the tools to do it all," says former USC and NFL tight end Dominique Byrd, who has been working out with Barkley. "I know people talk about his arm strength, but there has not been a time where I've been running and he has not been able to get me the ball. I'm not Randy Moss, but I'm just saying."
Of course, Byrd's opinion won't matter on draft day. Bradley's will, and he says no one should overreact to a player's pro day - positively or negatively.
"This is just part of the process, part of the evaluation," he said."You take the film, the Combine, the individual workouts, the pro days, and put them all together to form an opinion. There have been guys who have had great, great pro days and individual workouts and haven't done great in the league. So we're constantly evaluating, constantly trying to do something different on a guy that would help us figure him out, whether it's film work, phone calls, meeting him, talking to him. You hope that you have a feel on draft day."