by Russ Bliss(2-22-11)


The 2011 NFL Scouting Combine is fast approaching, and rest assured, a lot of attention will be paid to the all important QB position. 18 QB's were invited to attend this year and usually, 12-15 QB's are taken in the NFL draft. There are 5 I'm mostly interested in of the 18 invitees though and watching how they perform in the combine drills will be a beginning step in how I evaluate their potential for our fantasy football draft analyzer. A lot will also depend on the situation they find themselves in, as being drafted by a team with an immediate need as opposed to being drafted as a developmental QB for a year or two down the road is a big part of whether any of them find themselves on 2011 fantasy football cheat sheets when August rolls around.

It's funny that we're hearing talk of 2 QB's being drafted in the top 5 picks in the 2011 NFL Draft because after Andrew Luck decided to not declare himself eligible for the draft very few people had any of the other QB's in their top 10 overall players. Here's the 5 that intrigue me the most, and what I think they need to accomplish at the combine:

1) Cam Newton. Newton is rising rapidly up mock drafts after his media spectacle. But that's just in the media. He'll need to recreate his knockout performance for the scouts to solidify such a giant leap up popular media draft rankings. On the plus side, Newton is supposed to take part in all drills, but why do I get the funny feeling that something is going to prevent him from actually participating in all of them? It's rare for a top QB prospect to take part in all combine drills and while it would help him, it also won't hurt him that much if he (or "Team Newton") changes his mind. Nobody denies his natural athletic gifts (great scrambling ability and rocket arm) but he needs to prove he is accurate on all throws and possibly more important will be his team interviews to address character concerns. A good performance at the combine will increase the hype train that Newton will be the #1 overall pick in the draft.

2) Blaine Gabbert. Some think Gabbert is much more NFL ready than Newton and should be the first QB selected. But the latest reports say that Gabbert may not take part in throwing drills at the combine. There's rumors of some hidden injury that may push him back to his pro day to showcase his passing skills. He needs to show that he is more like the QB who had a strong 2009 campaign than the one who was still impressive, but struggled at times in 2010. The physical skills are there though as he has great size and arm strength. He is more athletic than given credit for and just needs to show he can execute the more traditional style of offense played at the pro level than the shotgun heavy offense he ran in college.

3) Ryan Mallett. If not for character concerns and off-field issues, Mallett may well have been the first QB selected in this draft. He'll likely stand out in the physical skills drills at the combine, but the interviews are going to be key for him to sneak into the first round. There are rumors of concerns about drug abuse in his history, along with a lack of leadership. Leadership is critical to becoming a successful NFL QB as there are plenty of examples of guys who had all the physical talent in the world (JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf, Jeff George, etc) but did not inspire the players around him. And that led to major disappointments for the teams overlooking that aspect of the position. I'm confident Mallett will impress at the passing drills, but he is not mobile at all and needs to show he can get quicker on his feet. But what we aren't going to see (the interviews) is going to be more important to him than for practically any other player in the draft.

4) Colin Kaepernick. Possibly the best QB in this draft class that no one is talking much about. Kaepernick needs to showcase his QB skills at the combine to supplement what everyone already knows: he's an outstanding running QB. His long arms have led to a concern about his delivery being a little slower than ideal, but between his height and over the top delivery, he won't have to worry about passes being batted down in the NFL. Kaepernick has arm strength to spare and needs to show more touch on his passes as he tends to rifle the ball too often. Smart, and a natural leader, he'll score high marks in his interviews. Some are going to hate his mechanics, while others won't consider them to be an issue. His biggest obstacle will be transitioning from the gimmicky style of offense he played in at Nevada to a pro style offense.

5) Jake Locker. Locker is one of those guys who needs a strong showing at the combine or be in danger of falling a lot during the draft. Heading into the 2010 college season Locker was considered one of the top prospects but his accuracy and decision making are in serious question after he failed to take a step up in 2010. He already is known to not have a rifle for an arm, so accuracy is an issue. His mechanics are sound, but he's not been able to put it together and probably won't be able to in the NFL. If he shows improved accuracy and better arm strength than expected, he could be a 2nd or 3rd round pick for a team that likes to have a dual threat type of QB. If those things aren't there at the combine, his stock will continue to fall.