Matt Barkley or Geno Smith? Quarterback class still unsettled

NFL/Associated Press
With a ways to go before the 2013 NFL Draft, Matt Barkley (left) has time to surpass Geno Smith in teams' eyes.

It's dangerous to make assumptions about what will happen over the last weekend in April during the first week of March.

But for a while now, most haven't been shy about making this one: West Virginia's Geno Smith will be the first quarterback to come off the board in the 2013 NFL Draft, walk to the Radio City Music Hall stage, shake the commissioner's hand and hold up some hopeful team's jersey.

So is that really a sure thing?

It depends on whom you talk to, which means that prediction really might not be the slam dunk it could appear to be.

"I think Matt (Barkley) can catch him," said one AFC college scouting director. "You get the right system, a team that fits what he does, a West Coast-type team, and I can see where he'd go ahead of Geno. I don't see Geno as a top-10 guy either, but you get a team in dire straits -- and there are teams in the top 10 that really need quarterbacks -- that feel like they have to take one, worry he won't be there in the second round and force yourself to do it.

"And in that scenario, I could see where certain teams would like a Barkley over Geno."

It's hard to find an NFL team that doesn't project Smith as a starter. At least a few, though not necessarily -- or even close to -- a majority, see Barkley as a backup. After those two, major question marks pock each prospect.

There's no other position where beauty is quite as much in the eye of the beholder as it is with quarterbacks.

When I asked a second AFC college director the same question late last week -- about whether or not Smith could be passed -- his immediate response was, "I'd say 'No,' based on the ones I've seen. (Smith) has the most impressive body of work, he throws it well, has the arm strength, makes good decisions and has mobility and accuracy. And I don't think it's a strong enough group as a whole for anyone to pass him."

Then, given a moment to think more globally -- and outside of his own impressions -- the college director altered his tune, without changing it all together.

"If Barkley goes out there and has a great pro day, and with the great intangibles he brings, he could do it," the second college director said. "I like Geno better on film, but Barkley might fit someone's offense better."

Part of Barkley's problem, at this point, is that the teams most scouts agree make sense for him, as far as scheme goes, are taken care of at quarterback.

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The Kansas City Chiefs, who recently agreed to trade a high second-round pick and a pick in 2014 to the San Francisco 49ers for Alex Smith, were cited as one such would-be fit. The New Orleans Saints and Cincinnati Bengals, who also came up, are both settled under center for the long term.

Still, there is plenty to like about Barkley.

First, the aforementioned intangibles will help him win teams over. One NFC personnel executive said that Barkley, from a "football smarts" standpoint, is rare, comparable with Andrew Luck when he came out last year. In fact, when asked on Monday if anyone could pass Smith, the exec texted to say, "I think (Barkley) already has."

Second, Barkley's 2012 stumble is explainable. He lost his left tackle, Matt Kalil, to the NFL, and an injury to his center, Khaled Holmes, left USC's line in shambles. A series of injuries at tight end didn't help, either. Besides all that, the locker room melted down around him.

Barkley admitted to some NFL folks in Indy that he tried to do too much as a senior. An NFC general manager who still likes Barkley said, succinctly, that the quarterback's problem was that he was "coloring outside the lines" last fall.

"He's a system quarterback with average arm strength, not great arm strength, and he got into bad habits," said the first AFC college director. "He wasn't set in the pocket; he was throwing off his back foot in trying to get it out quicker. That team went south quick, but you also have to remember, he had playmakers around him. Whatever team he goes to, SC might have had more playmakers than they will."

The director continued to say that Barkley is at his best when he's playing quarterback like a point guard, focusing on setting up others to make plays rather than being asked to make plays on his own.

Smith, conversely, didn't have a down year as a senior, has a similar volume of experience as a four-year starter and is roundly considered to have better physical attributes.

This question, of course, is bigger than Barkley or Smith.

It's about the fact that there's no sure thing at quarterback in this class. Syracuse's Ryan Nassib has shown flashes. N.C. State's Mike Glennon and Tennessee's Tyler Bray have big arms and serious question marks. Arkansas' Tyler Wilson is seen by many as a dark horse after a train wreck of a senior year. Florida State's EJ Manuel has all the physical tools but has never put it all together.

It's also about the reality that a team with a need at the game's most important position sometimes can't afford to wait.

So Smith is the consensus No. 1, for now. But the circumstances surrounding how he achieved that status dictate that there's a long way for him -- and everyone else -- to go.

"The way (Smith getting passed) could happen is that there's no slam-dunk guy, no Luck, no (Robert) Griffin (III), no Cam Newton," said the second college director. "Because Geno's not that guy, there's a chance there's a debate over those two, and maybe more than just those two. And with the first team that takes that shot, it'll come down to who they're more comfortable with."

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.