By JEFF LATZKE
NORMAN — Matt Barkley stayed in school. Landry Jones stuck around.
When the NFL draft kicks off Thursday night, the question of whether they made a mistake will be answered. Some of college football’s highest-profile quarterbacks will find out if an extra year in school cost them millions of dollars.
If Barkley, Jones and Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson drop far, it goes against the NFL’s conventional wisdom that another year in school is almost always a good idea.
But they’re considered rare exceptions to the rule by some.
“Staying in school has never hurt anybody because it makes them much better players, and especially the quarterbacks,” said NFL draft consultant Gil Brandt, a former general manager of the Dallas Cowboys.
The latest standout quarterback at Southern California, Barkley was considered in the same class as Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the top two picks in last year’s draft who went on to sensational rookie seasons and playoff appearances. He returned to USC with national championship expectations and the preseason No. 1 ranking, but the Trojans went bust with a 7-6 record. And Barkley got hurt.
Jones, who flashed tremendous potential soon after replacing No. 1 pick Sam Bradford at Oklahoma, never solidified himself as a top-of-the-draft quarterback. Wilson struggled through a disappointing final year with the Razorbacks as coach Bobby Petrino’s messy exit preceded a 4-8 season.
Even in these cases, Brandt isn’t convinced damage was done by the trio of seniors.
“They stayed. Did it make them better players? I think it did,” Brandt argued. “Did it get them drafted higher? I think they probably got drafted about the same as they would have had they not stayed in school.”
We’ll see later this week.
None of them has fallen off the draft board entirely, but instead it’s Geno Smith from West Virginia and E.J. Manuel from Florida State who will be attending opening night at Radio City Music Hall. Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib has also surged toward the top of some analysts’ rankings of top QBs.
Brandt said he never considered Jones anything higher than a second- or third-round pick after the 2011 season, and he doesn’t think Wilson was seen as a franchise quarterback at the time, either. To him, the big anomaly is Barkley.
“With Matt Barkley, I guess we were all wrong because we all — myself included — thought that he was going to be the first pick in the draft and the team was going to win a national championship,” Brandt said.
Barkley ended up spraining his right shoulder when he was leveled in a late-season game against UCLA. He has said, including at the NFL combine, that he doesn’t have regrets and thinks the chance to be a leader through adversity benefited him — even if his interceptions doubled and his completion percentage dipped.
If Barkley does drop, it will be an aberration in the eyes of Brandt, who said he regularly encourages players to stay in college. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock is still a believer that most players are better off returning to college.
“If you get a first-round grade from the NFL Advisory Committee, you probably should go. If you can’t help yourself in any way, shape or form, you should probably go. If you’re a running back, you might go,” Mayock said. “But for the most part, you ought to listen and see if you can improve your draft stock by staying another year.”
In this year’s draft class, count Alabama linemen D.J. Fluker and Chance Warmack among players who’ve dramatically improved their status by taking more time to improve.
“I’m not a big believer of what a lot of agents are telling players — underclassmen — now, which is, ‘Hey, all that matters is the second contract. Let’s just get out there,’” Mayock said.
“The flaw in that thinking is assuming that you’re going to get to a second contract. ... If you’re out of the league in two years, that doesn’t do you any good, that second contract conversation,” he added.
As for Barkley, Mayock foresees him getting picked late in the first round, possibly with a team trading up from the second round to get him. Even last year, he says, he didn’t think Barkley would have gone in the top 10.
“When you get a guy like Barkley who’s a very competitive kid and the team wasn’t anywhere near as good as they expected, and I think he started to force things. And when you start to force things at the quarterback position and get outside of your comfort zone, bad things happen,” Mayock said.
Jones finished his career with the third-most yards passing in FBS history, but with plenty of questions whether he got better during his time at Oklahoma. Jon Gruden, the Super Bowl-winning coach who’s now a “Monday Night Football” analyst, has suggested Jones got bored after so much success early on in college.
“I think his sophomore year might have been his best year and I think his decision-making has been somewhat questionable,” Mayock said. “At this point, I’ve got Landry Jones in my fourth round. That’s a kid that as a sophomore I thought had a lot of upside and then I thought he just kind of settled in and did not grow anymore.”
Jones still was harboring hopes of being the No. 1 overall pick at his pro day last month, although he acknowledged even then that it was unlikely — particularly after the Kansas City Chiefs acquired Alex Smith.
“I don’t really know where I’m sitting,” he said, noting he avoids projections where he might get picked. “This is a long process for guys, but at draft day, you’ll figure out where you’re going.”
Like Barkley, Jones — who got married to Sooners basketball player Whitney Hand last July — and Wilson have expressed no regrets about staying in school no matter what their draft fate may be.
“You hear speculation, but I think I’m in a pretty good position,” Wilson said. “I’m happy that I’m in the spot that I’m in, and any chance you’re going to get to play at the next level is a tremendous opportunity. Hopefully you’re picked early, but we’ll see.”
AP Sports Writer Kurt Voigt in Fayetteville, Ark., contributed to this story.