To be honest, this year's crop of quarterbacks is pretty underwhelming. There isn't a stand alone slam dunk signal caller that is going to make teams salivate. What you do have is a lot of "maybe", "could be", and "has the potential to be" than you usually see in the first few rounds of a draft. In fact, there isn't a whole lot of separation from #1 to #7 on my list and I moved several of them up and down numerous times before settling on an order. No sir, there is no Sam Bradford in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Note: These rankings are not the order in which I think they will be drafted. Also: the commentary gets much shorter the further down the list I get ...
+ = on the rise
- = on the decline
Z = Sleeper
1. Blaine Gabbert, Missouri - It is difficult to put Gabbert at the top of the heap, but I do so by default. He has all the tools and certainly looks the part, but as someone who watched every game of his MU career I was shocked that he decided to come out. Sure, financially it is obviously the right choice since he is probably going in the ten or five. But, with the holes in his game he probably should have stayed one more year.
At 6'5" 235, he has perfect QB size. He doesn't have a cannon, but his arm is strong and he can make all the throws. On top of that, Gabbert is surprisingly athletic and can run if he needs to. He reminds me of Aaron Rodgers in that regard. A guy that you don't think has wheels, but then pops off a 30 yard scamper.
Where Gabbert struggles the most is consistency. He is one of the streakiest college QBs that I have possibly ever seen. He will have three amazing series that you watch in awe, but then his next two will make you wonder how he ever won a starting QB job. When Gabbert is off, he is WAY off.
Having said that, his flaws are correctable and Gabbert is extremely coachable. Any other year and he'd be a mid to late round prospect and a solid sleeper. But in 2011, with no Andrew Luck, he is the best QB in this class.
2. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (-) - Dan Marino's arm ... Ryan Leaf's maturity. If it weren't for the off the field issues and the lack of leadership, Mallett would be that slam dunk that I said this draft was missing.
Mallett has a flipping howitzer for an arm, can put the ball anywhere, and played in a pro style offense while at Arkansas. Sadly, he ran a 5.75 40 time and I think that even I might be able to beat that. In today's NFL with complex blitz schemes and ultra quick pass rushers, a QB this slow might not have any success in the league.
However, Mallett does have a super quick release on that cannon of his and seems to make his reads quickly. That will help since his feet are encased in concrete.
The lack of speed and athleticism isn't what keeps Mallett from being a top 10 pick though. What is holding him back are the rumors of drug use, problems with alcohol, and an attitude that makes it difficult for others to follow him on the football field. These issues will cause Mallett to fall to the end of the first at the earliest, and possibly into the late second round.
3. Cam Newton, Auburn - Physically Newton is the perfect QB. He has Brett Favre's arm, Micheal Vick's feet, and Ben Roethlisberger's size.
Why is he #3 on my list? Because he opened his mouth.
You see, Newton has already proclaimed himself to be an "entertainer" and an "icon" and that didn't rub future coaches and players the right way. It is great to have confidence, but in the NFL you have to pay your dues. Newton has pretty much anointed himself a superstar without playing a single down. Historically, when it comes to the NFL Draft, that signals trouble ... especially when there were already questions about Newton's character and work ethic.
Compounding things is the fact that Newton played in a very vanilla offense at Auburn. It was not complex and Newton was not asked to make many actual decisions. That won't fly in the NFL. In fact, when Newton was interviewed by John Gruden last week, he seemed confused by simple questions and football jargon.
However, the sky is the limit for Newton. He is a specimen and an absolute freak. If he can get his head together and submit to proper coaching, he could be something special. That alone will get him drafted in the top five, and perhaps #1 overall.
4. Andy Dalton, TCU (Z) - This is bold of me to say, but Dalton could potentially end up with the best career in this draft class. He doesn't have Mallett's arm, Newton's athleticism, or Gabbert's ideal frame ... but he is intelligent, a winner, and does all the little things correctly.
Two things hold Dalton back. First is his frame - 6'2", 213. That is ultra thin and sometimes it looks like a defender will be able to snap him in two. Second is the fact that you can't plop Dalton into any offense and expect results. Sure, he will give it his all and try to will you to victory ... but Dalton will really only be successful in a West Coast style offense. Short dropbacks, quick reads, and timing patterns ... those things will make Dalton a great starter one day. If a coaching staff gets too cute and tries to rely on a vertical passing attack with him, they will potentially ruin him.
5. Colin Kaepernick, Nevada (Z) - Kaepernick put up gawdy numbers in his career at Nevada, but the level of competition wasn't the greatest. He also seems to be a run first QB, and that is a problem. On the plus side, he is a good kid who will strive to be great. He reminds me of Vince Young, but without the mental issues.
6. Jake Locker, Washington (-) - Like Gabbert, Locker looks like he was born to play QB. He has the perfect size, has an NFL arm, and can take off and run if he needs to. Unfortunately, he is probably the most inaccurate college QB I have seen in some time. The combine, Senior Bowl and his Pro Day did nothing to erase those concerns either. His raw talent will get him drafted in the early 2nd at the latest, and in the mid 1st at the earliest.
7. Christian Ponder, Florida State (+) - Ponder looks the part when he drops back and he stands in the pocket well. He is accurate on short passes, but does tend to sail the deep ball. He doesn't throw a lot of picks, yet doesn't read a defense all that well ... which is just downright odd. This inability to adjust to what the defense is doing hurts his draft stock. Throw in injury concerns and Ponder is a late first rounder at best ... with bust potential.
8. Ricky Stanzi, Iowa (-) - Extremely inaccurate in college, but damn it if he doesn't look good doing it. Stanzi is tall with great mechanics and delivery ... this will get him drafted as a developmental prospect, but I wouldn't expect too much.
9. Pat Devlin, Delaware - Future caretaker backup and spot starter right here. Went to the same college as Joe Flacco, but that is where the comparison ends. Devlin has solid size, but a weak arm and isn't athletic at all running just under 5.0 in the 40 at the combine. Having said that, he absorbs a playbook well and is exceptionally smart. He'll have a career in the league as long as there aren't any expectations.
10. T.J. Yates, North Carolina - Similar to Dalton, but lacks the prototypical size. He has the intangibles, but lacks the tangibles to be a starter in the NFL.
11. Greg McElroy, Alabama (-) - McElroy scored a near perfect on the Wonderlic and will probably make a solid coach one day. He will have a difficult time making an NFL roster though. He was a winner in college, but he doesn't have the talent to last.
12. Nathan Enderle, Idaho (Z) - At 6'5" 245, Enderle will get some love in the draft. He doesn't have ideal arm strength, but could end up being a decent game manager. But he won't make it far if he can't cut down on the picks.
13. Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech - Taylor will be a gimmick player in the NFL. Think Brad Smith.
14. Adam Weber, Minnesota (Z) - If Weber threw less interceptions for a struggling Minnesota program, he'd be considered a third round prospect. As it stands, he'll be a free agent pick up (once FAs are able to be signed) who could work his way onto a roster as a backup and future starter. His arm strength is decent and he has great mechanics, but he is a tad on the short side ... listed as 6'1", but I have read that that is being generous.
15. Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin - Probably won't get drafted, but could have a future as a clipboard holder.