Niner Noise moves along with our “who is?” series on San Francisco 49ers players. And in this installment, we look at backup quarterback Matt Barkley.
The San Francisco 49ers may have raised a few eyebrows when the elected to sign quarterback Matt Barkley in free agency on March 9.
Barkley, a former fourth-round NFL Draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles back in 2014, hasn’t done much at the pro level. But he did manage to start six games for the Chicago Bears last season, posting a 1-5 record with 1,911 yards and eight touchdowns against 14 interceptions.
While the Bears were lousy last season, these numbers don’t exactly instill a good deal of confidence for a Niners team going through a complete rebuild:
But Barkley isn’t expected to shoulder a major load for San Francisco this season. He’ll act as likely the primary backup to veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer, who should get the lion’s share of starts in 2017.
Let’s break down what there is to know about Barkley heading into this year.
San Francisco 49ers
Why He’ll Improve
Barkley was stuck behind Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles for two seasons before landing with the Bears a year ago after a brief stint with the Arizona Cardinals.
That Bears team was dealing with a plethora of injuries, which forced Barkley into the picture late in 2016. Chicago fans will remember, of course, the five interceptions Barkley threw in Week 16 against the Washington Redskins.
It’s hard to go much lower than that. And with an offensive-minded head coach like Kyle Shanahan at the helm, Barkley’s on-field efforts may reveal a little more of his abilities.
With Hoyer starting, Barkley’s primary job will be to secure the backup job on the 49ers’ 53-man roster. His only realistic competition, rookie QB C.J. Beathard, won’t be pushed into the fray anytime soon. So Barkley will get his chances, almost all of which will take place in the preseason.
Barkley should benefit from Shanahan’s scheme, which opens up receivers in space and allows quarterbacks to go through reads with much less contention from defensive backs.
Should Barkley excel in this role, we’ll see it during training camp and the preseason when he gets regular snaps.
Why He’ll Regress
It’s going to be hard to regress much further than what happened last year. So the bottom is already low, as are the expectation levels.
While Barkley’s mechanics have usually been smooth, his arm strength and decision-making abilities haven’t always been the best. And that’s still true from his days at USC.
If he’s ever called upon to start, he’ll have to deal with the fact the 49ers offensive line may be substantially worse than what he had in Chicago last year. Despite the Bears’ woes, their offensive line actually ranked seventh in pass protection, according to Football Outsiders.
San Francisco’s was 30th.
True, some offseason changes could make the Niners O-line work much better this year. But it’s not a perfect scenario.
Tack on the lack of a true No. 1 receiving weapon, and Barkley may not get any renaissance season here.
What to Expect in 2017
If things go right, Barkley will never see a meaningful snap during the regular season. Those will go to Hoyer, no one else.
So unless someone is judging how well Barkley holds a clipboard, there isn’t much to expect here in this case.
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But things happen in the NFL, and an injury to Hoyer could force Barkley into a starter’s role. It’s highly unlikely Beathard gets a chance unless the situation absolutely calls for it.
Should this happen, Barkley is likely a slightly better version than his 2016 self. One could easily argue the Niners now have a better offense than anything the Bears fielded last season. So that’s a good thing.
Yet the ideal world wouldn’t see Barkley start at all in 2017.