We’ll start rolling out the PewterPlank big board by beginning with the quarterbacks. The Bucs aren’t going to be looking for a QB in the draft, if they do select one it will be in late rounds and everyone in Tampa will feel badly for that guy because he’ll be looking at third string as a best-case scenario. Josh Freeman is the Bucs’ QB of the future. Josh Johnson is an intriguing back-up for more than a few reasons. The Bucs aren’t looking quarterback, but we’ll start there anyway.
I’m going on record as saying if I were a team that needed a quarterback in the first 15 picks this would not be the year I want to do it. Nobody is a slam-dunk, anyone who tells you otherwise is buying into the pre-draft hype. As soon as Andrew Luck decided to return to Stanford, this QB class went from top-notch to questionable. Factor in an abysmal senior season from Jake Locker (who looked to be a sure-fire top pick before the season started) and some big concerns over Cam Newton’s character and Blaine Gabbert becomes the de facto top QB prospect. And had anyone outside of Missouri heard of Gabbert before last year?
Top Five Quarterbacks:
1.) Blaine Gabbert, Missouri- Blaine Gabbert has become the consensus surest thing in the NFL draft. His physical ability is that of an NFL quarterback, he won a lot of games, managed the ball well and played in a major conference. I have nothing against Blaine Gabbert but his distinction as the top QB in the draft doesn’t mean he’s amongst the best players. Personally I just don’t see the “wow” factor from Gabbert. He’s a solid quarterback who does a ton of things right and he probably will have a great NFL career. But he was never amongst the best quarterbacks in any of his years in college in terms of either his numbers, wins or the eye test. And he isn’t amongst the most physically gifted of QB’s either. He’s safe. He lacks the injury issues of Christian Ponder, the character concerns of Cam Newton and the inconsistency of Jake Locker. The question is are you drafting Gabbert because of who he is, or because he doesn’t come with the same concerns as the other guys?
2.) Cam Newton, Auburn- Newton is hands-down the best athlete playing quarterback in the 2011 draft. He made Auburn this season. Without Cam Newton, Auburn runs middle of the pack in the SEC. The problem is Cam knows that. He knows how good he is. He refers to himself in the third person, he makes grandiose statements about his ability and there are still some questions about whether he took a pay-out. I’m not knocking on Newton, in a lot of ways I can admire his honesty and candor. But there are some considerable concerns about character to weigh down his athletic upside. There is a history of incidents. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get kicked off an Urban Meyer-coached football team? In his tenure as the UF head coach Meyer had over 35 arrests, more than double FSU and Miami’s combined in that time. A lineman once fired off an AK-47 over the Gainesville strip, players stole cars, Chris Rainey threatened to “kill a bitch.” Yet in that whole time only one player was (actually) dismissed from the team, Cam Newton. That’s a pretty big concern.
3.) Christian Ponder, Florida State- Ponder is a nice marriage of Gabbert and Newton, you get a quarterback with tremendous athletic ability, minimal character concerns and a pretty solid track record. You also have to deal with a history of injuries that has prevented him from playing a full-season in each of the past two years. Ponder and his camp claim that the Bursa sac injury that forced him to miss considerable time last season and required regular lancing is in the past, now it’s up to NFL teams to decide. If not for injuries Ponder would probably be the top QB on the board. His combine workout and pro-day have rocketed him up draft boards and he has a ton of intangibles. Ponder graduated in three years, then earned an MBA while attending FSU, he was an academic all-American and is absolutely cerebral on the field. Critics point to his 2010 numbers, but despite an injury to his throwing arm and a ton of drops from a young receiving corps, he still limited interceptions and posted an efficient year. The real indicator is how impressive he was in 2009 with a bottom-25 defense and national turmoil (the decision to push out Bobby Bowden) as hinderances.
4.) Colin Kaepernick, Nevada- This guy is just a winner. If not for the fact he played against more than his fair share of sub-par talent at Nevada he would be higher, he still managed to come big anytime he was on a national platform though. It was Kaepernick and his teammates that did the BCS a solid in removing Boise State from the ranks of the unbeatens this season. Kaepernick is a dual-threat QB, something that will have to change at the pro level. Despite his prolific career rushing the football for the Wolf Pack, Kaepernick can fling it too. In four years as a starter he never threw more than 8 picks, averaged about 20 touchdowns and was highly efficient. Kaepernick is a project quarterback, he isn’t out-of-the-box ready, but he has a very high ceiling. If given a good chance to develop behind a proven starter he could have a fantastic NFL career. It’s his potential that puts him at 4th on this list. His ideal landing spot may be somewhere like Indianapolis where he can learn for several years from an aging veteran like Peyton Manning before succeeding him.
5.) Jake Locker, Washington- Locker should have left college last year, his draft stock took a huge hit this season when he decided to come back, despite the fact he was amongst the highest rated players going into the year. There’s two ways to perceive Locker, he was an incredible player on an incredibly bad team and even when shining his absolute brightest was rarely able to elevate Washington. Or, Locker never lived up to the hype generated by a promising freshman season (that looks much less impressive now in hindsight). Truth be told the reality is probably somewhere in the middle. He’s phenomenally gifted from an athletic standpoint, second only to the freakish Cam Newton in raw ability. But because of the lousy lines he’s been forced to play behind, I’m not sure Locker has developed as a passer the way you’d like to see a potential first round pick develop. Locker relies so heavily on his mobility that when he doesn’t have that to rely on (as was the case with his injuries this year and will be the case with the game-speed of the NFL next year) he looks lost. When asked to make a drop, stay in the pocket and deliver an accurate throw Locker struggles. He gets happy feet, he starts to squirm. That’s not his fault, thank the lines at Washington for that issue. But it’s a concern which has diminished his draft stock. Locker has tons of potential, but tons of bad habits and work to do as well.
Best of the Rest:
6.) Greg McElroy, Alabama- Somewhat unremarkable from a physical standpoint, but his ability to manage and win with a pro-style offense at Alabama is also something that’s highly underrated. A lot of people see him as a career back-up, I think he could be a serviceable starter if put in the right situation, thought admittedly that’s not a likelihood.
7.) Andy Dalton, TCU- Dalton had a fantastic college career at TCU. Not many quarterbacks helped their school rise in the collegiate game like Dalton who helped the Horned Frogs bust the BCS twice and gain an invitation to a BCS conference. Not many four year starters get to say to the incoming freshman, “when I got here we were a mid-major, enjoy the Big East.” That being said, Dalton doesn’t project quite as well to the NFL game. He is a winner though, and that’s not something that can be easily discounted. Of all the next-tier quarterbacks in this draft who could come from no where to blow people away, Dalton has the best shot.
8.) Ryan Mallett, Arkansas- Mallett did some impressive things at Arkansas this season in a tough SEC conference and he does have the physical tools (specifically arm strength) to be a good NFL quarterback. I just can’t get over the comparison that was consistently made when Mallett first arrived at Michigan. People said he was just like Chad Henne. And you can see it too. No thanks.
9.) Ricky Stanzi, Iowa- Stanzi quietly had a fantastic senior season, cutting his interceptions from 15 to six and tossing 25 touchdowns. He’s an underrated prospect heading into the draft.
10.) Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech- Taylor could make a fantastic receiver, his athleticism is incredibly impressive. What Tyrod Taylor is not going to do is drop back 30 times a game and pick apart a secondary.