Throughout the next couple weeks I'll be taking a look at the NFL Draft field and giving positional rankings along with a column dedicated solely to sleeper picks, and it will all culminate with a Mock Draft at the end of the process. Today we begin with the most important position on the field, quarterback. The Packers aren't likely to take any of these guys, but that doesn't mean they aren't worth getting to know.
1) Blaine Gabbert
I’m just going to say it, it’s a weak year for quarterbacks. With Andrew Luck electing to forgo the Draft and going back to Stanford for another year it severely weakened this class. It also made a few people quite a bit of money, and I think the guy who will benefit the most is Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert.
Gabbert led the Tigers of Mizzou to a successful 2010 season by completing 63.4% of his passes with 16 TD’s and 9 INT’s on their way to a 10-3 record. Gabbert’s finest hour came in a win over then #1 Oklahoma on October 23, completing over 70% of his passes for 308 yards and 1 TD.
Gabbert has ideal size for the QB position at 6’5” and 235 lbs, so he’ll be able to stand tall in the pocket and he’ll have no trouble throwing over NFL lines. He’s got the arm strength to make all the throws, he’s an accurate thrower, and he’s a decent decision maker.
There’s nothing about Gabbert that wows, though. He’s solid, he’s efficient, but he’s not overly impressive. Any other year he’d probably be a mid-to-late 1st round pick, but given the dearth of talent at the position this year, Gabbert will probably be a top 10 pick. I think his upside is probably lower than some of the other QB’s in this draft, but I also feel he’s less of a risk in a draft full of boom/bust QB’s. Gabbert is the safe pick among QB’s in this draft, and that’s why he’s my #1.
2) Ryan Mallett
Here’s where the risky picks begin.
Mallett led his Arkansas team to a Sugar Bowl appearance this year and a pretty decent 10-3 record. He was a much more prolific passer than Gabbert, numbers wise, throwing for 3869 yards, 32 TD’s and 12 INT’s, and completing almost 65% of his passes. Mallett, with talented receivers Joe Adams and Greg Childs, helmed one of the more explosive offenses in the SEC and in all of college football in 2010. The Hogs could score with anybody.
Mallett is a gigantic man, when you look at him. Listed on ESPN.com at 6’6”, I think that might be an inch or two shorter than what he actually is. He has decent mobility for such a big guy, as he can get out of the pocket and escape pretty well. All of Mallett’s measurable are pretty much ideal. Heck, if you were going to complain about something, he might be TOO tall.
My issue with Mallett is his decision making. Especially late in games. He had chances to beat both Alabama, who was the #1 team in the land at the time, and Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl on the last possession of the game. Both times he threw an interception. He threw 3 INT’s against Alabama. I’m just not sure you want to use a high draft pick on a guy who’s shown he’ll melt on the big stage like that. Now, I say that fully aware of what happened at the end of the Georgia game this year, when Mallett hit Greg Childs with 15 seconds left for the game winning TD. 2 things: A) Georgia’s mediocre and B) Childs got himself wide open and made a pretty decent run after catch to get the score. Credit to Mallett for getting the ball to him, but I think it was more Childs and less Mallett.
That said, though, I’d take the chance. The guy’s similar to Gabbert in that he’s got prototypical size, he can make all the throws, and I think with a little coaching up on late game management he could be a very productive passer in the NFL.
3) Jake Locker
Outside of Cam Newton, he may be the biggest boom/bust prospect at the position in this draft.
I’ll come out and flatly say it: Washington wasn’t good when Locker was there. It might not be an indictment on Locker, because he had nobody around him, but they didn’t win very often. Good on them for getting to a bowl this past year and upsetting a clearly disinterested Nebraska team, but the Huskies are still very much a work in progress. That said, Locker was very clearly their best player.
Locker’s got all the physical tools. He’s got size at 6’3”, he’s very mobile for his size, and he’s got the arm strength to make any throw. In that way, he reminds me of Aaron Rodgers. If you block for him, he’ll find a way to beat you, whether it be by running or throwing.
Where he differs from Rodgers, and from the other 2 I have above him, is accuracy. 55% is not good. Not in college, certainly not in the pros. You might be able to chalk that up to a lack of talent at receiver, and you may be right, but it’s my opinion that great QB’s can find a way around that. Tom Brady won for years with no-name receivers. Peyton Manning made a habit of throwing this year to the likes of Austin Collie, Jacob Tamme, and Blair White. It can be done. The closest Locker got to facing an NFL caliber defense this year was their first game against Nebraska, and in that game Locker went 4/20 for 71 yards with 1 TD and 2 INT’s. He faced that same defense again in the Holiday Bowl and despite winning went 5/16 for 56 yards with 0 TD’s and 0 INT’s.
I have serious doubts as to how he’ll perform against NFL defenses, but I think he has enough talent and upside to warrant a late first round selection.
4) Cam Newton
And now the most boom or bust prospect in this entire draft at any position.
Newton was brilliant at Auburn. He led his team to an undefeated season, a national championship, and he picked up a Heisman Trophy along the way. No sane person would argue against the assertion that he was far and away the best player in college football last year. It wasn’t even close.
Cam is a freak. He has a great arm, and he complements that with great mobility. He is incredibly tough to bring down in the pocket, and when he gets running he’s incredibly tough to bring down in the open field. The most apt comparison is probably Vince Young when he was at Texas. There is no debating that Newton has a wealth of tools at his disposal that could all make him a great NFL quarterback.
Credit to Gus Malzahn for coming up with an offense at Auburn that absolutely played to Newton’s strengths. There were lots of read options, there were lots of QB draws, there was lots of QB play-action passes, and you don’t see any of those in the NFL. Well, you do occasionally, Packer fans know all about the option from the Super Bowl 2 point conversion play, but they aren’t run on a regular basis. Options and QB draws are almost run like gadget plays, regarded the same way as flea flickers and HB options. It will be interesting, and it is a concern of mine about Newton, to see if he can adapt to a more conventional style in the NFL . Can he adapt to being under center a lot, handing the ball off, running RB play-action passes? It’s a legitimate question about Newton that nobody really knows the answer to.
And then there’s the character concerns. You couldn’t turn on ESPN this college football season without hearing about the Cam Newton “pay for play” scandal. I don’t know how much things like that matter to an NFL scout. I don’t know how much it matters in the grand scheme of whether or not he’ll be a good player in the NFL, but if Myron Rolle could be questioned for being a Rhodes Scholar, this certainly doesn’t help Newton. The whole thing about stealing a computer at Florida and then throwing it out a window when he got caught would be more concerning to me, but I suspect neither incidence will cost him much.
On raw talent, Newton’s a top 5 pick. And someone will reach for him in the early to mid 1st round. I’m just not sure how wise that is.
5) Colin Kaepernick
So you want Cam Newton, but you don’t want to spend a high pick? I have a solution.
Colin Kaepernick had a storybook senior season at Nevada. He got his Wolfpack a share of the WAC title, he finally beat Boise (though you could argue Kyle Brotzman beat Boise), and he capped it all off with a bowl win in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl over Boston College.
First the good, and there’s a lot to like. Kaepernick has ideal size at 6’6” and he runs like a deer. He might be closer to Mike Vick than to Cam Newton as far as playing style. He has great arm strength to go with average accuracy. His senior season saw him throw for over 3000 yards (while completing almost 65% of his passes) as well as run for over 1200 yards. He’s the ultimate dual-threat at the position and it’s very easy to seem him making NFL linebackers look foolish at the next level.
Now the bad. First, and foremost, he played in an odd offense at Nevada. The Pistol offense is what it’s called, and Nevada coach Chris Ault invented it. It’s a modified shotgun. The QB lines up 3 yards behind the C, with the RB 4 yards behind him in a sort of weird I-formation. It’s a fantastic running offense, you just need to look at Kaepernick and Vai Taua’s running stats to see that. But it’s different. It’s similar to Newton’s offense in that there’s a lot of read option, lots of straight option, some triple option. I don’t want to use the word “gimmicky” because it’s not, it works. We even saw the Steelers run some Pistol against Baltimore this year. But the uniqueness of the offense brings up the same issue as Newton, how will he translate? Will he be Mike Vick? Or will he be Pat White? The only way to really know is to take the chance on him, because there’s a lot working in his favor and if a coordinator thinks he could find a way to make his offense work for Colin it’d be worth the risk, I think.
The second issue he has probably isn’t fair: he played in the WAC. Facing the Louisiana Techs and Idahos of the world isn’t exactly the same as facing Alabama, Auburn, and Florida on a week-to-week basis. It might not be fair, because he can only control how he plays, not who he plays against, but it’ll be a legitimate concern for some and I can understand that.
Kaepernick has a lot of upside. He’s similar to Newton in that if he hits, he’s going to be a superstar, but there’s a large potential for a miss. Teams without a backup plan should shy away, but teams willing to take a chance should look at Kaepernick in the mid to late 2nd round. He could prove to be a steal. Or a bust. But someone will take the chance.
That’s my look at my top 5 QB’s in this draft. Up next we’ll focus on the running backs, which is a position the Packers could actually realistically go, though I doubt it. Look for that article in the very near future.
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