Matt Barkley and the Prodigy Syndrome

November 28th, 2012

By Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor

Will Matt Barkley be better than Brady Quinn?


USC quarterback Matt Barkley is a very hot topic in draft circles these days, and not always for the reasons he would like to be. Heading into his senior season, Barkley sat atop most preseason mock drafts, watch lists and QB big boards. Expectations were very high for a prospect who many speculate would have been a top 15 draft pick had he entered the 2012 NFL Draft. While he hasn’t been bad, Barkley’s star has certainly fallen in the eyes of both scouting personnel and the general college football public.


I’ll be up front about it: I’ve never been a big Barkley guy. Before he pulled his name from the draft last year, I had Barkley as my seventh ranked quarterback (in order: Luck, Griffin, Tannehill, Weeden, Wilson, Osweiler). But even I was pretty optimistic that Barkley could address his deficiencies and mature into a better prospect and potential franchise quarterback. He has obvious natural talent and a truly outstanding cast of receivers, and I admired his choice to finish the job of leading USC out of probation and to a redemptive PAC-12 title.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Rose Bowl. Barkley has not progressed as a passer or a prospect. If anything, he’s been less impressive at handling more difficult game situations this year than in prior seasons. Even in his record-breaking performance in the loss to Arizona, Barkley exhibited traits that reminded me a great deal of someone who came before him, someone once considered a future NFL star the moment he graduated high school, someone brought in to resurrect a once-triumphant program, someone who seemed destined for greatness from a very early age.

That person is Brady Quinn, and if you follow the NFL at all you know that is most certainly not a flattering comparison. As when Quinn left Dublin Coffman High School in suburban Columbus for the proud tradition of Notre Dame, Barkley graduated from a prestigious high school program widely assailed as the top QB prospect in America. Outwardly confident, handsome, and media savvy at early age, both Quinn and Barkley were quickly embraced by fervid fan bases with great expectations. Both thrived early in college, surrounded by many other top recruits and excelling early on the national stage with aplomb. Their experience and grooming showed right away, as if they’d been born to play quarterback. It came easy to both Quinn and Barkley.

Therein lies the problem. It’s a problem that has plagued many before them in all sorts of different sports. I once heard it referred to as Prodigy Syndrome and I find that moniker apt. Being an early blooming childhood star that seemed destined for greatness at a precocious age brings on a very unique and difficult set of challenges, ones that are so exceptional that it is very hard to find assistance. After all, how many of us knew at age 13 we’d become revered top-level athletes? Everything to that point had come as the result of being identified early as naturally gifted, given access to the top coaching and surrounded by other top athletes while often competing against lesser opponents. Adversity seldom came their way, and when it did they were given excuses and free passes. They absolutely worked at their craft, but the chorus of yes men, admirers, and sycophants made it very easy and convenient to gloss over legitimate deficiencies.

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One Response to “Matt Barkley and the Prodigy Syndrome”

  1. BigMac says:

    You may be right about Barkley and Quinn being similar talents, but it won’t be because of the prodigy thing. Quinn wasn’t thought of very highly as HS QB until the summer before his senior year. Even then he wasn’t really recruited very hard by major programs. Ohio State wasn’t interested, Michigan didn’t offer until he came to them for a camp, etc. A lot of people weren’t sure if he was the “real deal” as a BCS conference prospect until a few games into his senior season.

    Quinn’s problem isn’t that things came easily to him, it’s that he just isn’t very good.





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