The 2012 draft was Andrew Luck's. The 2013 draft is Matt Barkley's. This is a simple, undeniable fact.
Or is it?
When Barkley returned to USC for the 2012 season, many immediately pegged him as the front-runner to go No. 1 in the 2013 NFL draft.
That may not be the case.
There is Tyler Wilson of Arkansas, who will certainly give Barkley a run for his money. But more importantly, there is Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech, the player who has been compared to Cam Newton himself. That comparison isn't entirely fair, but it exists.
Thomas and Barkley are vastly different quarterbacks, and Thomas has certain strengths that stand. Barkley has his own advantages, but they aren't quite as noteworthy.
So, what exactly is it that makes Thomas the favorite to go No. 1?
This is the most obvious difference between Thomas and Barkley. While Thomas stands in at an imposing 6'6", 260 pounds, Barkley is 6'2", 230. That's not to say Barkley can't be effective, but it does hinder him somewhat.
Thomas can effortlessly peer over the offensive line, seeing the entire field and throwing the ball without worrying about a knock-down. Barkley, on the other hand, has to search for throwing lanes and can't see the field nearly as easily.
Matt Barkley doesn't have a weak arm. However, it's nothing more than average. Logan Thomas has an absolute rocket attached to his shoulder.
Watch Matt Barkley throw this pass:
That isn't terrible, but it isn't great either. The ball got there with decent velocity, but it took a little longer than is ideal. An NFL defender may have been able to make a play.
Now watch Logan Thomas throw a pass across the middle:
See the difference? Thomas' ball travels a greater distance with less air under it than Barkley's. This reduced travel time allows the wideout to get the ball more quickly and make a play with it, while not allowing the defensive back to deflect the pass.
People often claim arm strength isn't key for a quarterback, but that isn't true. Arm strength often makes the difference between a ball sneaking between a gap and an interception.
It's no coincidence that the best quarterback in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers, has a rocket arm.
Many people think the deep ball is the same thing as arm strength. While arm strength does affect the deep ball, it is not the only factor.
Watch Barkley try to throw this deep pass down the sideline:
The problem here isn't so much that Barkley missed, as much as it is his technique. For one, Barkley had to step into the throw.
This is problematic for two reasons. One, Barkley needs a clean pocket to execute his crow hop. Two, it takes more time, allowing the defender to close on the receiver or for Barkley to get sacked or pressured.
Then there's the issue with the actual ball Barkley throws. There is way too much air under it. This lofty deep ball is more difficult to aim, and often defenders are able to catch up with receivers.
In contrast, here's Thomas going vertical:
Thomas has a stronger arm than Barkley, and, as a result, he doesn't have to throw the ball quite as high. This allows him to more easily place the ball where he wants it.
Thomas also doesn't have to step into the throw and is actually leaning backward, avoiding pressure. Barkley would struggle in such a situation.
A quarterback doesn't have to be Mike Vick in order to succeed. It doesn't hurt, but it's not required. Peyton Manning might as well be paraplegic with how mobile he is.
On the other hand, mobility is a definite plus. If nothing else, it allows a quarterback to more easily escape pressure and avoid a sack. Maybe he can even make some plays with his feet.
So, no, mobility isn't required, but it is a definite advantage. Here's Matt Barkley using his mobility to the fullest extent:
Yes, that's really all the more mobile Barkley is. His lack of mobility limits how the offense can use him. It's probably best if they don't have him roll out too often, and he isn't going to dodge too many sacks.
Logan Thomas is on the other end of the spectrum:
Thomas isn't quite Cam Newton as a runner, but there are similarities. He has decent burst and speed to go with great power and above-average agility.
The Virginia Tech star can not only escape pressure but can also be featured on designed runs and roll-outs.
To narrow it down, Thomas is a superior player to Barkley because of their differences in physical attributes.
Thomas is taller—he can see over the offensive line and feel pressure more easily. His added bulk also helps him as a runner.
More importantly, Thomas's arm is much stronger than Barkley's. He can make more difficult throws along the sideline and across the middle. Barkley has to be careful not to get too confident about his arm.
On the deep ball, Thomas can word in tighter quarters and delivers a more accurate and precise pass.
Now, this isn't to say Barkley doesn't have some advantages over Thomas; he does. The USC star has better ball placement, and he is much more advanced at going through his progressions and finding the open receiver.
But these are areas Thomas can improve. He can learn to throw a more accurate pass, and he can definitely learn to go through progressions.
Barkley's arm won't get much stronger, and he definitely won't be growing or getting faster.
We see it all the time in the NFL. Calvin Johnson wouldn't be the player he is without his physical ability, and neither would Matthew Stafford.
It's the one thing that can't be taught, and it's the one thing that makes Thomas better than Barkley.