"Should (Cleveland/Miami) pass on a first-round QB this year and hope to land Matt Barkley in 2013 instead?" was a commonly heard question during draft season this year.
Barkley was not being stringently reviewed and compared to his peers like Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and the rest of the 2012 QB class, yet he was already being anointed the leader of the 2013 class.
Some even definitively stated that Barkley was a better option than Tannehill or Weeden to be the focus of a franchise's hopes.
Statements like that tend to be carried forward in the following draft season as accepted wisdom because if they go unchallenged, so I went back and watched two 2011 USC games (special thanks to JMPasq for these and all of his other hugely helpful cut-ups on YouTube). Unimpressed is the word that best sums up my reaction.
Here are my main areas of concern:
Arm Strength: Barkley is mostly a touch passer. He has arm strength in terms of distance, but he doesn't put a lot of zip on the ball or try to thread the needle into small windows. Throws on the move are an exception sometimes as Barkley can get it there to a spot downfield in a hurry. He also throws one frozen rope on a key down when he has to get rid of the ball quickly. His deep ball is high arcing because a strange hitch in his mechanics that takes the release angle of the ball closer to vertical, but that allows Barkley put a lot of air under the ball and let his guys run under it. Marqise Lee, who is a beast, can do that and makes Barkley look good with his huge catch radius. Robert Woods, who isn't as fast as you might think, can't, and makes Barkley look like he's constantly overthrowing him.
Diversity of Throws/Reads: Barkley mostly throws deep sideline or short throws outside. I'm not seeing many throws to the middle of the field or going through a true progression of reads. Barkley isn't really attacking the defense with tactical throws, he's mainly taking shots downfield or (crisply) running plays designed to nickel and dime a defense with short throws.
Accuracy: In addition to spotty deep accuracy depending on the target, Barkley's intermediate accuracy is inconsistent. In general, he seems to be aiming instead of just seeing the field and trusting his mechanics to put the ball in the right spot. Barkley makes few timing or anticipation throws, and even his big downfield plays by Marqise Lee are created as much by Lee's talent as Barkley's throw, if not more.
Athleticism/Measurables: Barkley isn't that big. He's listed at 6'2" 220, and that's probably generous. He won't be a "stand tall in the pocket" QB who can shrug off smaller rushers or make plays with guys hanging on him. One of his more catastrophic plays, a dagger of an interception to ice the Arizona State loss, is made when he tries to do this. Barkley isn't fast or quick or especially athletic.
I don't want to come off as completely negative about Barkley. He seems to have internalized the play design and timing on rollouts and play fakes and is adequate to good in terms of pocket presence. He does have legitimate NFL deep ball arm strength and will try to throw his talented receivers open downfield. I'm not sure what makes Barkley a savior with the limited tools and throwing skills displayed we have to go on. Barkley might have been wiser to back to USC than we realize. His 2012 performance will probably end up determining whether he's an elite top 5 prospect or merely a wishful thinking first-round QB.