QB Matt Barkley proving to be long-term option for Bears?
The Chicago Bears may have just found something in quarterback Matt Barkley.
Forced into starting action due to the injuries of Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer, Barkley has started each of the last two games for Chicago; he played well in each, earning PFF grades of 79.4 and 83.7, respectively.
During a snowstorm in Week 13, Barkley completed 61.1 percent of his passes, and though he only threw for 192 yards, he did put the ball where it needed to go for the most part, and lost a significant big play through a drop from WR Josh Bellamy. That brings the number of passes dropped by Bears receivers over Barkley’s two starts to a ridiculous 13, or 18.1 percent of all of his attempts over those games.
That also helps explain why his raw numbers—though not terrible—don’t match the high grades. In Week 12, the Bears dropped more passes in a single game than any other team over the last 10 years of PFF grading. The drops alone were the difference in Barkley’s actual completion percentage of 51.9 for the game, and his potential completion percentage of 74.1 percent, had his receivers simply held on to passes he delivered accurately.
In Week 13 versus the 49ers, Barkley avoided the mistakes that were still in his game a week prior against Tennessee. That’s not to say that his performance was perfect, but there were no horrendous decisions that have blighted his career to date.
It’s worth noting that his career was only 50 pass attempts old heading into this season. In the Tennessee game alone, he eclipsed the total number of passes he had attempted over his first two seasons in the league, and across his two starts, Barkley has thrown the ball more times than over the rest of his career combined.
While it’s true that we hadn’t seen much of Barkley before these two starts, what we had seen was horrendous. As a rookie (2013), he posted a grade of 30.5 across two games of significant action with the Eagles, and looked so bad that you question—even on that small sample size—if he ever had what it takes to be a viable NFL passer, even with development.
Barkley’s combined stat line for that rookie season was 30 completions from 49 attempts for 300 yards, scoring no touchdowns but tossing four interceptions for a passer rating of 44.6—if anything, those numbers actually flattered his performance.
For as bad as Barkley looked, it’s important to note that he just didn’t play much. As a fourth-round draft pick by the Eagles out of USC, Barkley was never supposed to be more than a developmental project, and those players need development—otherwise, they would be first rounders.
Barkley’s rookie performance was poor, even in the preseason, and in fact, the preseason gives us the best glimpse of his development, simply through being the biggest source of NFL tape on him.
Over his four seasons in the league, Barkley has had three poor-to-average preseason performances, and one good one—coming in the 2016 preseason. This year, Barkley threw four touchdowns in the preseason, and though he only completed 58.1 percent of his passes, he was again plagued by drops, with Arizona’s receivers dropping seven of his 86 pass attempts (8.1 percent). Adding those drops back into his numbers boosts his completion percentage up to 66.3 for the preseason, and would have given him some significant plays back to polish the rest of his numbers, too.
Of course, you could massage the numbers for any QB, but the point is that Barkley was playing notably better this preseason than in any previous year, something he appears to have carried over into the regular season once given the chance.
We are still dealing in the area of very small numbers, and even including the preseason, are looking at just 182 total dropbacks from Barkley in 2016—fewer than Browns QB Josh McCown, who has started three games and made relief appearances in two others. He has played only about a third as many passing snaps as Jaguars QB Blake Bortles, who currently leads the league in dropbacks, so it remains a possibility that we have simply witnessed an exceptional run from Barkley, and nothing more.
The fact that Barkley’s two starts have come against Tennessee and San Francisco—two of the weaker defenses and coverage units in the league—only heightens that prospect. But for the Bears, a team whose prospects at quarterback looked very bleak just a few weeks ago, Matt Barkley has provided a very real situation to monitor down the stretch, because it’s just possible that they have stumbled into the realization of a developmental QB’s potential.