Thinking/Processes: At Quarterback, one of the most difficult to project positions in the NFL, I prefer what I know to projectables, I tend to look at a QB who may not have the huge arm, or tremendous physical traits over someone who is highly projectable, but has a lot of work to do. This will filter through in my rankings. The offense that a player has played in for the past 1-4 seasons is a huge part of my evaluations, generally if a QB ran a spread option offense, you are crossed off my personal boards, only extreme cases are even put into my draft rankings, but the fact that a QB operated out of the spread option will hurt then big time in rankings. Accuracy, Mechanics and Smarts are the three biggest points of emphasis among Quarterbacks for me. They form that basis of an efficient passer who knows where they want to go with the ball, can locate that guy and then get him the ball smoothly. An elite arm is not requisite, but there is a point where the velocity on a throw is just not that of a player who is going to survive as a starter long term, but could be a quality backup. Efficiency is what I want in a QB, a guy who is going to complete passes, move the ball down the field, even if he is using dump offs to pick up 5 yards here and 4 yards there more often than he is going to throw a 12 yard out on a frozen rope or fire one in stride 40 yards downfield to a receiver. The 2011 QuarterBack crop is an intriguing group. The general consensus is that there is no real surefire superstar in the bunch, but there are a lot of names that are going to be picked up in the middle rounds because of one or more traits that a team really loves. Overall a pretty weak class with no standout prospects, but a couple of guys who could become long term NFL starters.
1 – Blaine Gabbert*, 6-4 234, Missouri
Gabbert has pushed himself to the top of this class because he does not have the questions that other prospects do, surrounding either their game or their personality or both. He has a live arm that is more than requisite to make a big impact in the NFL. He has made a lot of NFL throws in a Missouri offense that featured numerous 4 and 5 wide receiver sets in what is known as the spread offense. But Gabbert often made numerous progressions on routes albeit if he was not often the guy make the pre-snap reads. The offense he is coming from is very similar to that of Sam Bradford, a wide open offense with a solid OL that has people raising many question about how he will handle pressure at the NFL level, and whether he can make the transition to a player who is going to spend more time under center than he ever has in the past. Accuracy is a strong point especially in the short to middle range routes where most of his throws have been made. Mechanically he is sound, with a solid throwing motion and very nice release, though it does get longer as he begins to throw deeper down the field. Very smart, reportedly did very well in interviews with teams at the combine. He may be the top of a weak class, but Gabbert has the ability to transition into a top tier QB in the NFL, capable of having an elite passing offense built around him. Bring him along slowly ala Josh Freeman in 2009 to see best results. Any team in the top 10 needing a QB will take a good look at Gabbert, in the end I could see him finding a home in either San Francisco at #7, or Washington, with a trade up to #6.
2 – Ryan Mallett*, 6-7 253, Arkansas
The did he or did he not issue surrounding his cocaine use is a huge "what-if" factor surrounding the draft stock of Ryan Mallett, if any information confirming his use he will plummet, but until that can be entirely confirmed he will remain high on many draft boards. Despite his media breakdown at the combine reports that followed were that Mallett was impressive in his interviews, particularly during the phase of interviews where teams ask QB’s to draw and talk through some plays that they used in the past, and was open with regards the drug issue. When talking about Mallett the first thing you cannot look past is the cannon attached to his right shoulder. He fires rockets out of that thing and most of the time they get to their target. A huge arm with some very nice accuracy across a full range of routes and Mallett aces the physical side of QB. He has the great size, the huge arm, and the accuracy with it, though it can be intermittent (More on that later). He played in a form of a pro-spread at Arkansas, and it is an offense that has produced inflated QB numbers before, (We can thank Petrino for Chris Redman ,Stefan Lefors, Dave Ragone and Brian Brohm) he still put up some very impressive production against SEC defences that contain many of this year’s top draft bodies on that side of the football. He seems (Note we cannot confirm this really) to be an intelligent football player, digests playbooks well, and knows what he is doing on the field while reading defences and that is a trait that many will look upon favourably. The biggest issues Mallett has in his game comes from his height, his mechanics and footwork can get very sloppy and this affects his accuracy on all three levels of a route tree. His height can often cause him to overstride into passes and telegraph where he intends to go with the ball by lengthening a release that is only adequate as it is. Overall Mallett seems to be a pretty good prospect, and might be able to start in the NFL from day 1. However if a team is going to tinker with him mechanically then maybe year 2 midway is the best time for him to get extended playing time, giving him a chance to turn the new changes into habit and instinct. A guy I see as similar to Drew Bledsoe and Byron Leftwich should get drafted highly until any confirmations about drug abuse surfaces. Minnesota and Miami are both places he could land.
3 – Jake Locker, 6-3 231, Washington
Once considered a once in a lifetime prospect Locker has slipped down draft boards after he has failed to develop over his final two years in college football. What he has is undeniable, a very good arm and athleticism that will allow him to do damage with his legs when plays break down. But when you get into it, Locker has many issues that are pushing him lower among draft circles, the major one being his accuracy. His cannon is not hitting its targets, even in times of little pressure he has struggled to consistently hit his targets, and it is a big worry, you are not going to survive in the NFL with a QB that completes around 50-55% of their passes. However Locker did spend his final two years at Washington learning a very Pro-Style offense and spent a considerable of his snaps under center, his footwork still needs work, but it is better than most draft prospects this year, because he has been dropping from center in games for two years. His throws often required him to use multiple reads to find his target, although his OL rarely offered him the time to sit in the pocket and go through his progressions. Locker has the good kind of projectables that could lead to a year on the bench turning into a very good quarterback. A tweak of his footwork will get him throwing more accurately from the pocket. He seems to rise to the opposition and occasion, playing his best football when the pressure is on and against the best competition .Overall a very nice prospect with a couple of issues that will hurt his stock in the short term, but could benefit a team picking slightly later in the draft long term, his game reminds me of Josh Freeman. Locker will be ideal for the Seahawks if he falls that far, could be on the radar of the Vikings and Dolphins in the upper middle of the first round.
4 – Christian Ponder, 6-2 229, Florida State
The big issue that comes out whenever the name Ponder comes up in draft evaluation is injuries and arm strength, and the two are forever connected. Shoulder and arm injuries are tough to overcome, and joint injuries never fully heal, making them susceptible to successive injuries as the hits pile up. However Ponder is still one of my pet favourites in the draft this year that the Quarterback position, due to my three top criteria for a QB. His accuracy stands out. Across the short and intermediate routes he can hit targets in strides leading receivers perfectly across a range of routes with good zip, and while he can flutter a few passes that are deep passes as his shoulder gets more and more reps and more health back into it, his strength will get better. Mechanically he is sound, possibly the best footwork of any prospect in the draft this season, Three years in the FSU pro-style offense from under center has led to very polished footwork and his delivery is just as good, quick release with nice mechanics. His experience in a Pro-Style offense means that he has had to make defensive reads on the move in his dropback, and he has made progressions over the course of his time as the starting QB as Florida State, and he projects well here, but there are issues including a tendency to stare down his #1 target. For me the biggest worry with Ponder is his tendency to throw picks at crucial times in games, especially late in games, how well is he going to deal with a late game drive situation in the NFL. Unlike most his arm does not concern me, in the right offense he has a very nice arm, the WCO is going to be a place where Ponder will succeed because of his accuracy and the zip he puts on his short-intermediate passes, and if he regains the arm that he showcased pre-shoulder injuries in 2008-09 he is going to be able to throw those deeper routes well enough too. Not your elite prospect, but is not likely a guy who is going to bust completely, has a nice base to at worst provide a solid backup option in the NFL.
5 – Ricky Stanzi, 6-4 223, Iowa
Stanzi is another of those players whose intelligence, experience and accuracy are the reasons I like him. Despite a poor showing at the Senior Bowl, and then the Combine where he looked like he was struggling and his accuracy dropped badly, however once you turn on some Iowa games you can see Stanzi flashing middle and short area accuracy, while being able to drop his deep ball over DB’s to receivers at a solid rate. He is not likely to ever be a world beater, but as a three year starter in a tough conference in a pro-style offense Stanzi has extensive experience dropping back from center, his footwork could use some tweaks, but he is still very polished in his dropback and movements within the pocket. His best attribute is undeniably his lightning quick release, which is the best in the draft class, which combined with nice over the top mechanics leads to a lot of projectability in his arm, despite an apparent army of doubters, Stanzi has an arm that is going to allow him to succeed in the NFL if other areas of his game fall into place and could be a sleeper as a quality starter in the NFL. Mentally Stanzi is probably the most ready of any QB in this class. He has a lot of responsibility to make both Pre and Post Snap reads, while also having the ability to check into and out of plays at the LOS, was required to go through progressions in the pocket and usually did so well, however the speed of the NFL game could affect this for him. Maybe one of the most underrated values that Stanzi has is his ability to stay calm and win in close games, things he has done numerous times at Iowa, coming from behind to win games for his team. A really good value pick in the 3rd round and should be on the radar of the Vikings if they go elsewhere in the first couple of rounds.
6 – Cameron Newton*, 6-5 248, Auburn
Finally we get to him. For me this is about the right spot for Newton, his evaluation and translation to the NFL is based almost entirely off projectables, and the wrong projectables, Arm Strength, Athleticism and Winner. Now I am not going to sit here and question that Newton is not a rare specimen with the size and athleticism to create a lot of problems for defences when plays break down nor that he does not have the arm required to make all the NFL throws, because clearly those are two of the most important things that has Newton projected so highly. But that is where the good things stop. His accuracy is intermittent, he throws a very nice deep ball, but pull it back a little bit and in the short-medium game he is often high and behind receivers and tends to put too much on the ball making it more difficult for receivers to make the catch for him. The way he misses these throws is asking for receivers to get laid out by safeties, and is a high interception risk. He comes from the One and Run Spread option offense that never required him to read more than one receiver at a single time and also had him operating exclusively from the shotgun. Mechanically his throwing motion and release is very nice, but his experience under center is minimal, his footwork is still a huge work in progress and he has never really been asked to stand in the pocket, make a read then throw the football. When a QB is lacking in every one of my big three attributes he is lucky to make it onto my draft board, but Newton can do that because of the elite projectables (Even if they are not indicative of QB play) that he has. If he does develop in the areas I have touched on above (Accuracy, Mechanics and Reading Defences) he has the ability to be a superstar at the position, but those are huge question marks and it is too much of an ask for me to rate him higher than this. Still I don’t think he makes it past the first 10 selections in the draft, Carolina or Buffalo could snag him in the top 3. Ken Whisenhunt was at his pro-day and asked him to make a couple of throws for him and the 49ers, Titans and Redksins all need QB help. A guy I would not mind spending a 3rd round project pick on letting him sit, learn and develop for 2 maybe 2 and half seasons, but as a top 10 prospect, and being asked to play early, Newton would be atop my draft bust probabilities list.
7 – Nathan Enderle, 6-5 233, Idaho
Enderle is almost the forgotten man of the Quarterback prospect group for the 2011 draft, not even invited to the combine where he falls in the draft will depend a lot on what he can do in interviews and throwing drills at his Pro-Day and private workouts. For a mid-late round prospect he can really boost his stock to the 4th round or drop himself off to the ranks of the 6th-7th round of even an UDFA. A three year starter at Idaho in a pro-style system Enderle is another one of those guys who has a wealth of experience not only taking snaps and dropping back from under center, but also reading defences from 2 and three WR sets as well as some spread sets. He can and has thrown a multitude of pro-style route trees at Idaho and quite clearly has the arm to do so at the next level. His accuracy is up and down, but he can fit balls into tight windows when he is on his game. Mechanically he is good, has a quick release and a nice easy throwing motion. Most impressive is the control and command he had of the Idaho offense, he was in full control, he made the pre snap reads and had full licence to make play adjustments using hot routes to beat a blitz, or to exploit a favourable matchup. Clinical under pressure, all one has to do is flip on the bowl game from his 2009 season to see the potential that Enderle possesses. A guy I would take in the 4th round, and could prove to be a nice underrated QB prospect, that teams with QB problems or older QB’s should be keeping tabs on.
Others of note;
8 – Andy Dalton – Just not a fan here, does not stand out to me, backup prospect.
9 – Pat Devlin, Delaware – Projects as a solid backup in the NFL.
10 – Greg McElroy, Alabama – Could be a really nice backup with the intelligence and accuracy he possesses.
Eliminated from Consideration
Colin Kaepernick, 6-5 233, Nevada – Spread Option guy without the elite projectables to really get me to consider drafting him, even as a project.
Tyrod Taylor, 6-1 217, Virginia Tech – Better suited making a transition to WR in the NFL, just not going to be an NFL QB