Both of ESPN's draft experts have released their latest mock drafts. Both Mel Kiper and Todd McShay seem to have copied off of one another, at least for the first five picks of the first round, as they are identical. Both have Cam Newton coming off the board at number one, followed by Marcell Dareus, Von Miller and A.J. Green. That leaves the Arizona Cardinals with a tough choice: select who is considered by many as the best player in the draft (LSU CB Patrick Peterson) or go with the best quarterback available (Missouri's Blaine Gabbert).
According to both experts, Gabbert is the guy and Peterson falls an additional two picks to the San Francisco 49ers.
Kiper says this about the pick of Gabbert:
I could also see Arizona getting creative and looking for a veteran arm such as Kolb, but Gabbert is the quarterback in the draft most likely to help a team soonest, and if he's available here, it might be tough for Arizona to pass on him. He offers elite size, accuracy, athleticism and the smarts to pick things up quickly at the NFL level. This is a pick I could see going in several directions, but if Arizona isn't confident they can get a suitable veteran fix in at quarterback, Gabbert is a good choice.
McShay justifies his projection this way:
With Miller off the board, Gabbert is a no-brainer here. The Cardinals might have a trying season in 2011 with a rookie quarterback at the helm but the team cannot believe that Max Hall or John Skelton is the long-term answer at the position. Gabbert might not be the first quarterback off the board but I believe his combination of intangibles, mental makeup and accuracy will make him the best quarterback from the 2011 class when all is said and done.
With the quarterback need taken care of in the first round, the Cardinals turn their attention to the pass rush in the second round. Kiper projects that the Cardinals will take Arizona's Brooks Reed and McShay has them selecting UCLA's Akeem Ayers in the second round.
You really can't fault the Cards for going this way for both of their first draft picks. Miller is gone and many think Gabbert is the best QB in the draft, while both Reed and Ayers are projected to be productive players on the outside.
Were it my choice, I would take Peterson and then a pass rusher. The Cardinals are going to have to get a veteran QB anyway and Ken Whisenhunt still believes that John Skelton is going to be a good quarterback. The last time the Cardinals took the consensus best player available at their pick was when they drafted Larry Fitzgerald. i don't think they have ever regretted that pick. As noted on Tuesday, there is damning evidence against drafting a QB in the second round, so even with taking Peterson I still go for the best pass rusher I can find in that round.
However, if the Cards do believe that Gabbert will be a franchise guy, you have to make that pick. It may not be where he is a "gift from heaven" as Leinart was (at least on draft day), but if Gabbert is available we really could not fault the team for taking him.