Barden was born in Altadena, California. He played high school football at Flintridge Preparatory School in La Canada Flintridge, California. The three-time all-league selection caught 41 passes for 915 yards and 4 touchdowns as a senior, while also playing free safety. As well as playing football, Barden averaged 17 points per game in basketball and competed also in volleyball and track and field. He was also named small schools High School Athlete of the Year, while being pursued by UPenn, Stanford University, San Diego, and Cal Poly. Barden ultimately signed with the Cal Poly Mustangs.
Barden arrived at Cal Poly in 2004, but redshirted his true freshman season. In 2005 as a redshirt-freshman, Barden led the Mustangs with 40 receptions for 655 yards and 9 touchdowns en route to being named a first-team All-Great West Conference selection. In the game against Southern Utah, Barden caught a career-high 9 receptions, while blocking two field goal attempts in games against South Dakota State and North Dakota State.
As a sophomore in 2006, Barden again led Cal Poly with 42 receptions for 824 yards and 5 touchdowns while being named a first-team All-Great West selection for the second-straight season. In the September matchup against Sacramento State, Barden earned Great West Conference Player of the Week honors with his 9 reception, 200 yard and 2 touchdown performance. In the following game against San Jose State, he had 7 catches for 110 yards and a score. Barden's 824 receiving yards placed 11th on the all-time school single-season list, while he was named a College Sporting All-American.
As a junior in 2007, Barden made the All-Great West First Team and was named the Great West Co-Offensive Player of the Year. He had 57 receptions for 1467 yards and 18 touchdowns. In a 48-28 win over Idaho State he had 10 catches, 268 yards, and 3 touchdowns.
As a senior in 2008, Barden matched his junior year mark of 18 touchdowns and improved his reception totals with 67. He had 1,257 yards receiving. Barden finished his Cal Poly career with 206 receptions, 4,203 yards, and 50 touchdowns. In his last game at Cal Poly had 108 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 49-35 loss to Weber State in the first round of the FCS playoffs.
At the NFL Combine, Barden measured in at 6'6.5 tall and 225 pounds. He timed at 4.61 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 17 reps on the bench press, a 33.5" vertical jump, and a 9' 10" broad jump. He was also the tallest receiver in the draft class.
In the 2009 NFL Draft, the Giants moved up six spots in the third round of the draft to select Barden. The move up cost the Giants their own third-round pick (91st overall) and one of their two fifth-rounders (164th), which they sent to their division rivals the Philadelphia Eagles. He saw little playing time in his rookie season, participating in 3 games and recording 1 catch for 16 yards. In his second season, he had 5 catches for 64 yards in 3 games before being placed on injured reserve on November 16, 2010 after breaking his ankle and suffering ligament damage. Place on the Active/Physically-Unable-To-Perform List on July 29, 2011. He returned to action on November 6, 2011, catching 2 passes for 24 yards in a win against the New England Patriots. On September 20, 2012 vs. the Carolina Panthers, with Hakeem Nicks out with a foot injury, Barden had a breakout performance with 9 catches for 138 yards. In 2013 Barden was re-signed during the Giants training camp, although he was released shortly before the regular season began on August 31.
After sitting out the entire 2013 NFL season, Barden signed with the Buffalo Bills on January 16, 2014. He was released on July 21, 2014.
Barden was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars on August 6, 2014. The Jaguars released Barden on August 24, 2014.