There is still a lot of time for some of these guys to improve their draft status before April. With Senior Bowl week now finished, I feel I have a better idea of the top QB prospects available for the 2011 NFL Draft. All of these guys have question marks and have been difficult evaluations. I’m sure I’m not the only one struggling to figure out where to put them on my draft board.
(My grades and projections are not where I think they will go, it’s how they graded out)
1. Jake Locker, Washington
Projection: 2nd round
Locker has been one of the most polarizing prospects in recent memory. He has the traits you love to work with: strong arm, mobility, toughness, and leadership. However, coming back for his senior season at Washington may have ruined the young signal caller. Projected to be a possible Top 5 pick last April, Locker decided to return for his senior season. With a below average supporting cast and a porous offensive line, the team struggled, as did Locker’s accuracy. After spending a year behind that constantly changing line, Locker has developed anxiousness in the pocket. He doesn’t set his feet consistently and misses throws he should (and used to) make. He looks much more comfortable rolling out and making throws outside the pocket, which he obviously can’t do every snap. Pocket presence is one of the most important attributes for a QB to have and unfortunately, it is also one of the most difficult traits to reacquire. Once a QB starts feeling the rush, he starts watching pass rushers and, as a result, stops going through his reads. I feel that if any QB can turn it around, it’s Locker. He has the highest upside of any QB in this class and could end up being a steal.
2. Christian Ponder, Florida State
Projection: 2nd round
In my opinion, Ponder is the most NFL-ready QB in this class. He has very good accuracy in the short to intermediate range. He’s a smart kid who had (I believe) a 3.7 GPA heading into his senior year. He has solid mobility to pick up some yards when plays break down. Ponder is great at ball fakes and gets the defense moving in the wrong direction. He has some swagger to him out on the field and plays with confidence. Check out his 2009 game tape against the Tar Heels. After a bit of a slow start, Ponder took over that game. He ended up going 33-40 for 395 yards. He lacks elite arm strength, but I think his arm is stronger than people give him credit for. I’ve seen him throw passes where I had to make sure Ponder was still in the game. He has above average arm strength, but he just throws with touch often and tends not to show it. For that reason, he doesn’t always put a tight spiral on the ball and some passes flutter on him a bit. The biggest concern with Ponder is his durability. He’s had two surgeries on his throwing elbow to correct bursa sac problem. I’m not sure he can hold up to an NFL beating, though he’s supposedly completely healthy now. If Ponder can stay healthy, he should be a solid starting NFL QB. His best fit is probably in a West Coast scheme and I would say he’s the safest pick as far as QBs go in this class.
3. Cam Newton, Auburn
Projection: 2nd round
His character issues are well documented. He was arrested on felony charges in Florida and the pay-to-play story with his dad soaked up national headlines. The number one job of a QB is to win games though, and that is something he has proved to be adept at. Newton won the National Championship with Auburn after transferring over from Blinn College, where he won the 2009 NJCAA Championship. Cam isn’t overly fast, but he can run pretty well for a guy with his size. It’s tough to bring down a 6-6 250 pound guy in the open field. He’s competitive, as evidenced by his willingness to throw blocks downfield. While he didn’t have a great game in the Natty, his rally back from a 24 point deficit against Alabama in the Iron Bowl cannot be overlooked. He possesses a strong arm and can put the ball anywhere on the field. His Achilles’ Heel at the next level will be his accuracy. Newton struggles to put the ball on the money consistently. While he’s not a 50/50 passer, he misses open receivers at times. It’s only going to get harder for him at the next level. I don’t believe he’ll put up great numbers in the NFL, but Cam has “gamer” written all over him. Statistically, he won’t have many pretty outings, but I feel he can win some games if you get him some tools to work with.
4. Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
Projection: 3rd round
Despite having good size and an arm that can make all the throws, I view Gabbert as a guy that needs a lot of grooming if he wants to start at the next level. He had a good sophomore season, but his junior season was marred by some bad games. When he steps up in the pocket, he delivers some really sharp passes. Unfortunately, when the pass rush gets any where near him, he bails and tries to make plays on the run. There are some snaps where the pocket is still clean and he gets jumpy. He has to learn to set his feet more. Blaine makes more work for himself because he makes easy throws so much more difficult with his feet placement. I’m also concerned about his transition from the Mizzou spread to a pro offense. He panics a bit when his first read is covered and I’m not convinced he’ll be able to go through his reads. His throwing motion is a bit winding, where he pulls it low and then brings it up for an overhead delivery. He does have some pocket mobility, which allows for him to extend plays. I’ve still seen him make some nice throws even when his footwork is terrible. Gabbert definitely has upside, but he needs some polishing to say the least.
5. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
Projection: 4th round
I probably don’t have to explain how strong Ryan’s arm is. He can bomb it and put some zip on his passes. He’s tall as well, which allows for him to survey the field. In spite of those two qualities, I don’t view Mallett as a guy that will be a consistent starter at the next level. His accuracy is all over the place. The offensive scheme that he’s in allows for him to get away with passes that aren’t right on the money. He trusts his arm to the point where he forces dangerous throws, including in the redzone. He doesn’t have a quick release. I look at his thin build and I’m amazed he is still playing football. I can’t see that frame holding up at the next level. As for his intangibles, he was arrested in 2009 for public intoxication. I don’t view him as being accurate or mature enough to become a starter in the NFL, but I’m sure that his arm strength alone will allow for him to stick around. He has the raw tools to possibly develop into something, but, personally, I’d probably pass.