- Tom Luginbill, ESPN Staff Writer
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BEAVERTON, Ore. -- There have been Nike camps and combines, Under Armour combines, Elite 11 camps and the Steve Clarkson QB Academy, at which hundreds of the country's top quarterbacks (including underclassman) have showcased their skills and competed against one another. But not one time has there been an event at which QB Matt Barkley (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) and QB Aaron Murray (Tampa, Fla./Plant), arguably two of the best in the nation, have met head-to-head.
This past weekend at the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., the two signal-callers squared off with their respective teams at the first ever Nike 7ON national tournament, pitting eight 7-on-7 teams from around the country against each other.
While we are inching closer to the release of our first edition of the 2009 ESPN 150 on Aug. 5, and having seen both Barkley and Murray extensively on tape (highlights and games) and in person several times, I can honestly say it may be a battle down to the wire in February as far as who the best QBs truly are in the 2009 class. Richard Brehaut (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Los Osos), Garrett Gilbert (Austin, Texas/Lake Travis), Josh Nunes (Upland, Calif.) and Tom Savage (Philadelphia/Cardinal O'Hara) -- just to name a few -- have also dazzled with their performances both last fall and in the spring. Also, depending on what LSU decides to do with Russell Shepard, he is likely the best athlete of them all. These players, among others, are all pushing for top-five status.
Having studied Barkley and Murray over the past two days and taken into account several factors, below you will find our in-depth analysis and comparison of these two quarterbacks.
Tale of the Tape
Barkley: He's a legitimate 6-foot-3 but not quite 6-4.Well-built and powerful, Barkley is built like a linebacker with both a strong upper and lower body. He possesses a chiseled arm, chest and shoulder area. He looks taller from further away because of his build, but once you stand right next to him, he is appropriately listed at 6-3 and probably weighs in at about 225 to 230 (exact weights not available). He also has long arms and is a flexible athlete.
Murray: I used to like to say I was 6-1 when I was playing, but the reality is that I was more like a smidgen over 6-0 -- and so is Aaron Murray. Like Barkley, Murray appears taller from afar than he does up close. Also like Barkley, Murray is stacked with very little body fat, skinny ankles (generally a sign of athleticism) and a well-toned, athletic look.
He and Barkley are actually built very similarly; Murray is just on a shorter frame. He is a little more tight-skinned and probably weighs in the 200-pound range, give or take a pound or two.
Scouts Edge: Barkley, if you are talking about a pro-style scheme, because of his height and the ability to see the field more clearly. In the shotgun or spread, Murray's size is fine.
Barkley: While he plays in more of a balanced, pro-style attack that features a fine running game and a solid dose of play-action, his tools as a passer will have to overcome the lack of playmakers he has around him if balance isn't maintained and his team is forced to throw the ball all night long. If Mater Dei gets behind against a team with speed and good athletes on defense, Barkley is going to be asked to make a ton of plays and throws into tight spaces because he does not have the luxury of great skill personnel around him that can separate and create mismatches against elite opponents. He clearly showed he is capable of making those types of throws this past weekend.
Murray: He has personnel around him that can cause problems for defenses and his scheme is far more tailored to getting those guys the ball in space. He has bigger windows to fit the ball into than Barkley does just due to the speed and quickness of his receivers and tight ends that can create space. This gives you an idea of how difficult some of the throws Barkley made over the weekend really were. Murray made the same types of throws too, he just had more playmakers to create matchups.
Scouts Edge: Murray. He has more help, giving him the ability to take more risks with the ball -- we'll get to that later.
Barkley: Smooth, fluid and over the top is the best way to describe his release. He is very consistent on every throw in terms of how the ball gets out. Barkley can beat the rush with his arm not only with strength but because of fundamentally-sound footwork and knowledge of where he is going with the football.
Murray: It is lightning quick and explosive. The ball jumps out of his hand with pop and wrist snap. He has the release that every coach in America covets.
Scouts Edge: Murray. You can't coach what he can do with his delivery quickness.
Barkley: Could be the most fundamentally sound quarterback in each of the last four classes -- and that is saying a lot. From head to toe, he is well groomed and polished. He's balanced, he transfers his weight, his feet are underneath him and he can reset with the best of them. His mechanics from the ground up are what make him what he is, more so than size or arm strength.
Murray: This is the area where Murray needs the most work. His carriage of the ball in the pocket depending on where he is in his progression starts out sound and consistent, but the longer he holds onto the ball, he extends the ball out and away from his frame and down near his waist and will also "pat" the ball if he is looking or waiting for someone to get open.
There are three chief concerns. One, as he exposes the ball away from his body and takes his off hand away, he is very susceptible to getting it stripped and putting the ball on the ground. Two, this makes his delivery longer and unnecessarily a bit slower because he is bringing the ball from further away to get rid of it. Three, his delivery point is lower, which does not help his below-average height and leads to batted balls.
Scouts Edge: Barkley.
Barkley: Given his size, he has very good feet. Drop speed and depth away from center is consistent and under control. Obviously he is not a scrambler or runner, so his feet are more about subtle movements around the pocket with just enough quickness to avoid, reset and deliver.
Murray: This is one of Murray's best attributes. Drop speed and initial quickness within the pocket is outstanding. He can move, get out of trouble and is far more of a dual threat than some might think. His feet along with his release are what give him his "gunslinger" style.
Scouts Edge: Murray.
Barkley: He has superb accuracy and has to for the reasons given above in regards to personnel. He can throw darts into small windows and his feet and mechanics provide for consistent accuracy on throws all over the field. He has a knack for pinpointing throws where his guy can catch the football.
Murray:When he is on time, he is far more accurate because his mechanics are sharper and consistent, but when he is working to his third progression and the delivery mechanics start to stray, he can have a tendency to spray the ball around a little bit. Overall he's an accurate passer, especially on the deep ball, which is difficult.
Scouts Edge: Barkley. This will even out once Murray's mechanics become cleaned up.
Barkley: He possesses excellent, but maybe not elite arm strength. It is far better than Jimmy Clausen, whose arm strength was overrated, but not in the class of Matthew Stafford at Georgia or Zach Mettenberger (Watkinsville, Ga./Oconee County) in the 2009 class. I'll make this comparison: He has Peyton Manning-type arm strength in relation to his former draft-mate Ryan Leaf, who has exceptional arm strength. Barkley can do something very difficult with his arm though -- he can make all the throws with power and speed, yet there is a softness to each one of his passes no matter how much mustard he puts on the ball, making them very easy to catch.
Murray: Murray may have a slight edge here due to natural wrist velocity. He has excellent arm strength and premier RPMs. His delivery quickness gives a little more of an appearance of explosiveness in his arm. He needs to learn some touch on certain throws; he can be one speed, all the time.
Scouts Edge: Murray. Both guys can make every throw on the field even the tough, tight ones.
Barkley: There is no doubt Barkley has been well-schooled and has a very good feel for where he is going with the ball pre-snap and has consistently shown the ability to work through progressions with timing and anticipation. He knows where everyone is on the field, he knows how coverages work and dictate which throws to make and when and he has made big decisions in big games. His work ethic and ability to absorb and apply what he has learned and seen give him an edge over most quarterbacks at this stage.
Murray: I mentioned taking risks with the ball when it comes to Murray and his style of play. His confidence and gunslinging mentality can lead to him getting a bit greedy and attempting to do some things that maybe he shouldn't. This is the swagger and style that makes him who he is, much like Brett Favre or Tony Romo. However he is so talented he will often times get away with it. It is obvious he has studied this game and understands what his offense is trying to accomplish.
Scouts Edge: Slight edge to Barkley; this is essentially a toss up.
Take your pick. As a fan or coach of the game, you can't miss with either of these two, but also understand they are two entirely different quarterbacks in terms of their methods and style. So depending on the scheme, some coaches may like Barkley better and some may feel Murray is better and has more upside.
We hope this has given you, the fan, a better feel for both players' ability level and what they bring to the table in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Regardless, it looks like both USC and Georgia won't be hurting for quarterbacks for a while.
Tom Luginbill is the National Recruiting Director for ESPN's Scouts Inc. He has an extensive background in professional football talent evaluation and coaching. He played quarterback at Georgia Tech (1994) and Eastern Kentucky (1995).
Aaron Murray and Matt Barkley are among the quarterbacks competing for the top spot in the 2009 class, writes Tom Luginbill.