QB Matt Barkley proving to be long-term option for Bears?

Through two weeks as the Bears' starting QB, Matt Barkley has graded exceptionally well. Has Chicago found a hidden gem?

| 6 months ago
Matt Barkley

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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.

Matt Barkley vs pressure

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.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • GiveNoFuq

    I didn’t see much of the Titans game, but against the 9ers in a snow filled day I saw deadly accuracy. His arm strength is questionable, but I’ve like what I saw. It’s only been 2 games, so hopefully he can end the season on a high note.

    • Good Captain

      FWIW, Barkley said he had to alter his throwing mechanics to adjust for weather conditions which likely impacted the “strength” of his throws. He clearly lacks Cutler’s arm but he’s well above Hoyer’s.

  • piteus

    I don’t know if Barkley is the long term answer, but he’s not chopped liver. He was considered the top HS football player coming out his year, a Heisman candidate, and a projected top 5 pick before his shoulder injury. He also got penalized for being 6’2″ 230lbs. Is that really small? Barkley always threw a good deep ball with decent arm strength and his leadership skills were never in question. The kid is also smart and gives to the community.

    Matt Barkley is the anti Cutler. Maybe this is an illusion. Maybe the Bears finally stepped into something. Who knows? Give him a chance though. Lord knows playing in Chip Kelly’s system for years didn’t help.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Somewhere in my mind I’m hearing a movie voice-over promo:
      “It lurks in the shadows of Soldiers Field….waiting to prey on the unsuspecting. Is it man or beast or just an illusion? Coming soon to a theatre near you… “The AntiCutler starring Matt Barkley” – rated PG.

    • russ hook

      He gives to the ‘community’, or CROOKED
      ‘charities’??? Sport fans=RETARDS!

      • piteus

        Going to Haiti to build houses or travelling to Africa to donate his time to needy children is a “crooked” charity? How is that “crooked.?” Russ Hook = Idiot.

        • russ hook

          Let me REPEAT for jou, cuz jou obviously ST000PIFIED. Sports fans=RETARDS!

          • piteus

            Settle down. You’re getting angry at an anonymous sports message board. You might want to get yourself checked out. Not healthy.

          • russ hook

            Let me REPEAT for jou, cuz jou obviously ST000PIFIED. Sports fans=RETARDS!

          • piteus

            Are you okay? I know the holidays are a lonely time for some. May you find peace.

          • russ hook

            Stfu mama’s boy! Jou are one of those video game playing FAGGOTS on BlahCOCKs HF Boards aren’t jou? That automatically means you know NOTHING about REALITY. I LIVE ‘peace’ while jou talk about it NUMBNUTS! I am 30 years VEGAN, NO DEAD ANIMALS rotting in my guts. When jou get CANCER, get back to me cuz I’ll uncork a bottle of champagne and ‘CELIBATE’! lol Say hi to that PUSSY-cuck BWC for me!

          • piteus

            Are you still thinking about this? Wishing cancer and death on anonymous posters? Faggots? Isn’t that a 70s term? I’m happy you’re a Vegan. You need help. I get you some.

          • russ hook

            I live in Kelowna BC. Come and see me, and I’ll bend JOU over and make yer gay! Let me know when JOU get the CANCER son. It will make my day!!!

  • Tiberius

    I’ll withhold judgment until we see him play against a top 10 defense.

  • McGeorge

    I’d sign him to a big contract now, before the price goes above 20MM/year.

    Or maybe I’d withhold judgment until after the season. 2 games is a rather small sample size. I seem to remember this QB, Brock Osweiller who got a huge contract on 8 games of work.

    I’d rather pay more for a guaranteed good QB, than 15 percent less on a speculative one.

    • Dart Vade

      which is why we shouldnt drink the kool-aid on Jimmy G from NE

  • Sean

    I think he good be a good QB, he doesn’t have the greatest arm strength but he’s very accurate and a great leader. He is a student of the game and very humble (Not Cutler).

  • marsares

    I don’t know why everybody keeps questioning Barkley’s arm strength, he threw a 61 yard pass with pinpoint accuracy that the receiver dropped…..that’s a weak arm????

    • someguy

      everyone watching training camp in philly thought he had a noodle arm. a couple more years removed from his shoulder injury probably helped.

      • Duck fan

        If it wasn’t for his injury he would have been a high first round pick. Watch his highlights at USC. Unreal supernatural release and arm strength.

  • Sand Ripper

    At best, he’ll probably be a reliable backup.

  • themacabre

    Connor Shaw has more potential as a QB than Barkley if he comes back from the broken leg he suffered in preseason.

    • Smart guy.

      Lol…. wrong… Barkley has way more potential.

      • themacabre

        Barkley averaged an int a game in college…his arm strength is average at best….he’ll be average at best in the pros.

  • ChemicalDeath

    David Fales is great too!

  • Mark Evans

    I am 58 years old. I have been a Bear’s fan since I was 8. I live in Ohio. I watch every game I can on TV. I have never been to Soldiers Field. Mostly due to the high price of tickets. I can honestly say that if I was the Owner I would fire everyone and I mean everyone from myself down including the team and start over from there. Anyway that’s my 2 cents. Have a Great Day and Thank You!

    • crosseyedlemon

      Thanks for your input Mark. I’m too much of an old softie to fire the team mascot so I’d probably give the George Costanza (from Seinfeld) “Opposites” approach a shot instead. At least everyone agrees some changes need to be made.

    • MikeT

      Well keep your 2 cents. You don’t see that’s what there doing? You might need glasses so you can see what there doing. There getting better every game. They may not be winning, but they are getting better.

  • Synickel

    Sometimes having a few years to mature can help a talented QB develop poise to go with talent. Together they make starters.

  • NFL Buddha

    It is impossible to estimate how many Matt Barkleys never get the chance to audition during regular season games. We believe that three or four potential Pro Bowl Quarterbacks have their rookie deal expire after four years without ever getting a chance to play. It is a funny (peculiar) thing when you consider that the Dallas Cowboys went 4-10 last season with Professional Quarterbacks under Center, all of whom were better NFL Quarterbacks than the extremely limited Dak Prescott, yet sit 11-1 this year. You cannot credit the entire difference to preferential treatment by the Officials. Had Ryan Fitzpatrick continued to play decent in New York, we may never have seen Bryce Petty start a game. Personally, we want to see what Christian Hackenberg has next year in preseason as a potential long-term starter for the Jets, but if Bowles gets fired we may never get the chance.

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    i was surprised AZ cut him just shortly after he torched my broncos in the preseason, he looked the part, even if the game was “meaningless”.

  • Nivlac Naharts

    Let it play out but for now so far so good. I like what Fales has done in the preseason as well but Barkley’s doing it in the regular season. This game at Detroit will be a good test for him and all the backups he’s surrounded by.

  • Phong Ta

    I don’t care if it’s Matt Barkley or not, just please get Cutler out of there