It’s a down year for quarterbacks in the NFL draft, which means that teams looking for a quarterback will have to work that much harder to figure out which one is the right one for them. With quarterbacks, there’s such a fine line between those that can lead their teams and put points on the scoreboard week after week and those that should be holding a clipboard and wearing a head set every Sunday. So, let’s try to ascertain who are the pretenders and who are the contenders when it comes to being a starting quarterback in the NFL.

First up: Matt Barkley of USC.

If the draft had been held before the 2012 season, Barkley likely would have gone number one overall, so it appears that he hurt himself by staying in school an extra year; although Barkley watched Andrew Luck stay an extra year and still go first overall, so it’s tough to fault Barkley for wanting to stay in school, even though it cost him. His senior season did not go as expected, as Barkley threw a career-high 15 interceptions, including nine in his final four games, as USC sputtered to a 7-6 record.

A shoulder injury held Barkley out of the regular season finale against Notre Dame and the Trojan’s bowl loss to Georgia Tech, an injury that won’t help his reputation for having average arm strength at best. More than anything else, the extra year just allowed scouts more time to nit-pick his game and look for flaws, and Barkley certainly exposed some flaws instead of having a Heisman-caliber season as expected.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons why Barkley rose to the top of the draft board during his first three years at USC. He has the accuracy of an NFL quarterback, as well as a useful amount of mobility, although he’s not exactly a runner. Aside from his accuracy, the best thing Barkley has going for him is his experience and his poise. As a four-year starter, especially at an elite program, Barkley has more than enough college snaps under his belt to make pro scouts comfortable, and all that experience has given him a great understanding of pro offenses. The experience has also given Barkley the poise he will need to step into the NFL and be prepared to play.

While it may not be fair, Barkley will be hurt by the lackluster performances of his fellow USC alums Matt Cassell, Mark Sanchez, and Matt Leinart. With the way Leinart has flopped and the immense struggles Cassell and Sanchez had this past year, NFL teams may think twice before they invest in another USC quarterback. Unfortunately, there’s nothing Barkley can do to change that perception, as the recent results speak for themselves.

So, is Barkley a pretender or contender as an NFL starting quarterback? It’s a real close call, because Barkley has the intelligence, the accuracy, and a lot of the intangibles you like to see in a quarterback. But at the same time, he really struggled during his senior season and the arm strength is a tough sell. The USC stigma is also tough to ignore, as even Carson Palmer hasn’t quite lived up to being top overall pick in the draft. Ultimately, Barkley is a pretender. He would be a great guy to have as a back up quarterback, but all things considered, it’s tough to see him having a lot of success as a starting quarterback in the NFL.