This is one of the most enjoyable draft years for quarterbacks because there is so much divisive and different opinions on the players. After a couple more weeks to digest tape and rumor and outside opinion, I am ready to go on record with my final opinions on the quarterbacks:
The Franchise Guys:
These are the players I believe if given ample time and investment (i.e. keep the same offensive system, don’t force them on the field and give them 20 starts before coming to conclusions) will end up being top-15 quarterbacks in the league and provide a passing offense that will reach 85.0+ QB rating and a scoring offense in the top half of the league.
1. Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
I have liked Gabbert since this process began and I’m sticking with my initial gut feeling on the guy. I think he’s going to take some time, but I also think he has the mental capacity and work ethic to improve a lot under good coaching. His quick release is his best NFL quality. Playing style is sort of a mix between Stafford/Kolb/McNabb to me; with the range of success similar to what you are seeing from those players statistically. I don’t know what team/coordinator/system would best suit Gabbert yet. I think he could succeed in a west-coast style (like Kolb/McNabb) or run a quick passing attack out of the shotgun a lot (like what Detroit is doing with Stafford). He is not ideally suited for the Martz/Zampezi/Turner system based on old Don Coryell’s vertical system. I do not see any limitations on climate or playing conditions with Gabbert. I think he can succeed in a cold weather situation if necessary but since he might be the best fit for a pass-happy offense (like McNabb), getting into really bad climate might not ideally work.
2. Christian Ponder, Florida State
Ponder is a quarterback I would love to build a balanced, smart, run-oriented offense around. I know it’s sacrilege to say I don’t want an offense that throws it 40 times a game, but I do think a coach that believes (and coaches) the running game equally with the passing game would find Ponder a perfect fit. Ponder will be incorrectly labeled “a game manager” in his successful career but might end up with more wins than any quarterback in this draft. His clone image is a younger Chad Pennington. And that’s the career he could develop and foster if given the right team and coaching staff. I have always like Pennington as a quarterback when he is healthy. He always seems to win even when the talent around him isn’t great and always seem to give your team a shot. I expect Ponder to be the same. I think Ponder would excel for a cold weather team. He has large hands and his velocity on his throws has come back a lot since his shoulder surgery. I expect his arm strength to improve over time as well. The ideal offensive systems are those that are built by former offensive linemen and tight ends: Whisenhunt, Grimm, Callahan, Sporano, Tice, Cable.
3. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
There is no doubt Mallett is a boom/bust prospect. But as of today, he’s on my list of players I would pin my franchise too if I needed a quarterback (and he fits my system). The player Mallett most reminds me of is Drew Bledsoe (who was coached by Pete Carroll, Bill Parcels and Bill Belichick by the way) and Kerry Collins. Mallett has the best arm in this draft and that arm is worth drafting because it allows for an offense to attack all areas of the field. Teams that believe in max protection and the use of tight ends (to help chip pass rushers) can make sure Mallett stays upright enough so his arm can do the rest. Look at Tennessee, Miami and San Deigo as offenses that almost always have a FB, H-Back or TE on the field. Those are where Mallett could excel. Mallett also would do well in any climate or environmental conditions, which opens up franchises in extreme conditions like Buffalo or Denver.
The Guys I Would Pass On:
These players I would not have on my draft board (or so low they can’t possibly be available).
1. Cam Newton, Auburn
This is the controversy of the 2011 draft class and I have decided to pin some of my future reputation on saying Newton will never live up to the status of a franchise quarterback. That the offense he ends up running will be lackluster and struggle week-to-week in the NFL. This is not to say we won’t see Newton make plays. But making plays and leading a consistent offense are two different things to me. I am not going to rehash all of Newton’s negatives but if I was running a team, Newton would not be on my radar.
2. Jake Locker, Washington
I want to like Locker, I really do. I respect his decision to go back to school and try to improve with a horrific supporting cast. But when I look at the totality of his “game”, I just see too many holes that would allow him to prosper in the NFL. The dilemma of Locker is how his ability matches up with any current system or coach. Most have sidetracked that issue stating he “looks like Jake Plummer, therefore he fits with Mike Shanahan” or “He went to Washington, therefore he fits with Seattle”. But the reality is if you step away from those weak connections, Locker really doesn’t fit with anyone. Locker reminds me a bit of Tim Tebow in the sense it eventually comes down to how many NFL throws you have really seen him make from the pocket. And like Tebow, it’s just not that many. Locker is am improviser at this point and I struggle to see that allowed in the rigid structure of the NFL. And unlike Tebow, he’s not going to have the fan support to supply the collateral of “time” or expect a offensive coordinator to build an offense for Jake Locker. This is absolutely the toughest question mark I have of all the quarterbacks. But I see Locker as an athlete that just can’t spin the ball well enough to be an effective starting QB.
The Sleeper I would take to Develop
1. Ricki Stanzi, Iowa
Of all the tier-2 prospects (Stanzi, Dalton, Kaepernick, McElroy and Devlin), Stanzi is my guess to most surprise us and say “Why didn’t we see that before?”. My analysis of Stanzi is very similar to Christian Ponder in the fact I really believe he has the intangibles to be an NFL starting quarterback. And when I combine that with the size and arm, you have the ingredients for potential success story. Stanzi also reminds me a bit of Tom Brady. He’s a tall kid that needs to strengthen his core muscles a bit, improve his velocity and mechanics and develop accuracy through technique. Stanzi is the ideal Bill Belichick project quarterback and looks very similar to Matt Cassel. There is connection from Belichick through Ferentz as well. That’s not to say Stanzi only succeeds in New England. As Belichick’s disciples spread, so to the likelihood of Stanzi’s success. Landing spots like Atlanta, Kansas City or St. Louis all might let Stanzi learn and grow and potential turn into an asset for those teams down the line (like Kolb and Flynn are now).