by Russ Bliss (4/18/11)


NFL Draft Preview: Quarterbacks

There are seven quarterbacks making buzz in the 2011 NFL draft. Two of them, Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton are sure fire first round picks, and recent reports say as many as 5-6 QB's may be drafted in the first round. I think that's a bit overly optimistic and part of the disinformation cycle we've come to this close to the draft. At best I think 3 and possibly 4 QB's could go in round 1. The biggest problem is that there isn't a "can't miss" prospect in this draft even with Gabbert and Newton. While they are considered the cream of the crop and that inflates their value for the draft, each and every one of the remaining 5 QB's listed here come with questions about some part of his game (be it on the field or off it).

1) Blaine Gabbert, Missouri, 6'4, 233 lbs.

It's curious that while most experts have Gabbert ranked as better pro prospect than Cam Newton, it's Newton everyone is saying will be drafted first. Gabbert has a very strong arm and can make all the requisite throws but his accuracy on longer passes has been called into question. He struggled more in 2010 than he did in 2009, and there is some concern about his not having the pocket presence to know when the pass rush is there, and when it's not. Does a good job avoiding the rush with his superior speed for a QB and is willing to play thru injuries.

Draft Projection: 1st Round, top 10 pick

2) Cam Newton, Auburn, 6'5", 244 lbs.

Few players have elicited such opposite reviews in recent drafts than Newton. Some analysts say he will be the #1 pick by the Carolina Panthers, and others question whether Newton should be drafted in the first round at all. Those who love Newton point to his outstanding athletic ability and rocket arm. Newton is also a solid rushing QB and makes defenders miss with his elusiveness. His detractors point out suspect accuracy, a track record with only 1 year's worth of stats to judge him on, and the considerable questions regarding his character and off-field decisions. Newton is considered one of the highest risk/reward players in the draft.

Draft Projection: 1st Round, top 10 pick

3) Colin Kaepernick, Nevada, 6'5", 233 lbs.

Incredible athlete possessing the second strongest arm in this draft class, Kaepernick will have to prove he can handle lining up under center and making progression reads necessary at the NFL level as he played in almost exclusively out of the shotgun and wasn't required to make sophisticated reads on defenses. The good news for Kaepernick is that he is very smart, and very dedicated to becoming better and learning. An excellent running QB, Kaepernick has rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of the last 3 seasons and produced 53 rushing TD's to go along with his 4 year totals of 10,098 passing yards, 82 passing TD's, and only 24 interceptions. His completion percentage improved every season to a solid 64.9% in 2010. His lean build could use some bulking up, but at 4.53 in the 40 yard dash, Kaepernick's total package of skills, smarts, and work ethic is going to make him awfully intriguing and likely the 3rd QB off the board.

Draft Projection: Mid to late 1st Round or early 2nd Round

4) Ryan Mallet, Arkansas, 6'6", 247 lbs.

Possibly the best pure passer in this draft, Mallett elicits comparisons to Jeff George in terms of physical tools and immaturity. Despite Mallett supposedly coming clean in interviews with teams about recreational drug experimentation in college, rumors swirl that it was a bigger problem. Mallett possesses the best arm in this class and can make every throw look effortless although he tends to throw with velocity when touch would serve him better. The biggest physical limitation of Mallett is his heavy feet. He simply isn't elusive and his 5.37 40 yard dash time is slower than many offensive linemen. Big and strong, he is a statue in the pocket, but his big time arm, success playing in a pro-style offense, and big stats (7,493 passing yards, 62 TD's, 19 int's, 60.3% completion average, 9.2 yards per attempt average the last 2 season s combined) are sure to make a team take a chance on him despite considerable questions about his off-field concerns.

Draft Projection: Mid-late second round or early 3rd round

5) Jake Locker, Washington, 6'3", 227 lbs.

Locker is another polarizing player with some who think him the second best QB in this draft, and others who don't think him worthy of a first round pick. The biggest problem for Locker is a lack of accuracy. His arm strength is superior and he can make all the throws NFL team's demand of their QB's, but his overall stats have been underwhelming. While a 4 year starter, a 53.9% completion average for 40 college games is less than ideal, as is his career 6.65 yards per attempt average. Locker has excellent athletic ability though and escapes the rush as well as any QB in this class. Considered a strong leader on the field, you just have to wonder if Locker deserves some of the top 10 hype he gets as usually it's harder for college QB's to improve their accuracy their first couple of seasons in the NFL.

Draft Projection: Late 1st round or early to mid 2nd round

6) Christian Ponder, Florida State, 6'2", 229 lbs.

His arm strength is good enough, but isn't as strong as the 5 QB's ranked above him here. Ponder is very accurate on his shorter passes and is considered to be a natural fit for a west coast style of offense. Has good athleticism and intelligence, and is considered a strong leader. Has had injury problems to both his elbow and shoulder in college and durability is in question. While his smarts and short area accuracy are plusses, he just lacks the feel of being a capable NFL starter and probably projects more as a quality backup for his career.

Draft Projection: mid to late 2nd round, early 3rd round pick

7) Andy Dalton, TCU, 6'2", 213 lbs

While not the most physically gifted passer or athlete in this draft, Dalton earns high marks for a strong work ethic, leadership, and competitive nature. His arm strength is less than ideal though and he would fit better in a west coast style of offense. There's a lot of buzz recently about Dalton being a potential first round pick, but his limitations of not being a strong runner, and accuracy throwing the long ball, along with suspect pocket presence, makes me wary of thinking him being more than a competent NFL backup at best.

Draft Projection: Late 2nd to mid 3rd round pick

Check out Russ's 2011 NFL Draft Preview for Running Backs

Check out Russ's 2011 NFL Draft Preview for Wide Receivers