NFL Draft 2011: Ranking the Quarterback Prospects

James WilliamsonSenior Writer IMarch 1, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 27: Cam Newton passes the ball during the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 27, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The most important position is the quarterback position. You cannot attain consistent success without a consistent quarterback under center. It doesn’t have to be Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but you can’t expect to contend for a Super Bowl with Derek Anderson at quarterback.

The position is also the hardest to judge in the draft. This year, the NFL looked like they were going to get someone who was as great a prospect I have ever seen in Stanford's Andrew Luck. However, Luck decided to stay at Stanford, so now teams are assessing players like Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Mallett, Jake Locker, Andy Dalton and Christian Ponder.

I’m going to address them in this article. There are more quarterbacks out there, but these gentlemen are the big names.

No. 1: Cam Newton (Auburn): In terms of his overall athletic ability, he is the best prospect out there. He’s 6′5," 248 pounds, with a 12-gauge arm, and incredible mobility (he posted a 4.59 in the 40). Newton doesn’t throw the ball the fastest, clocking in third at 56 mph, but he can throw it any distance, and despite his inaccurate passes at the Combine, his game film at Auburn speaks for itself.

People compare him to Ben Roethlisberger in terms of size and strength. He’s able to gain yardage with his legs and he’s very hard to bring down, so we are talking about a freak of nature.

The current Heisman Trophy winner is possibly the best prospect out there regardless of position. He carried the Auburn offense on his back and won the National Championship. Newton is just an amazing athlete who just dominated on the football field with his arm and legs.

The questions that general managers have to ask and answer is: will this young man be his own worst enemy?

You can look back on the history of the draft and you’ll see that so many guys have been hyped as the next great (insert position), but have fallen because of the following: injury (football or non-football), the franchise that drafted them did not put them in a place to succeed, horrible coaching or personal problems.

The one that scares front offices the most is personal problems. The greatest example would be in 1998. Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf were drafted No. 1 and No. 2 in the draft respectively, and the scouts all thought both guys were amazing selections. People felt that either player would go on to win championship(s) and pass for countless yards and touchdowns.

However, Peyton Manning was and will always be the most professional person in any locker room he walks into regardless of who is in there or not. Ryan Leaf on the other hand, was a 15-year old in a grown man’s body. He drank, partied and did not take football seriously. He was so immature that you look at him and wonder how in the world  he had such great talent.

Leaf is the most pathetic figure in National Football League history while Peyton Manning is a Hall of Fame quarterback.

Newton is going to make GMs yank their hair out in frustration because they know that he has abilities unlike anyone in the league except for a select few. Conversely, his flamboyance, cockiness and attitude do not inspire the utmost confidence. No front office executive wants to be regarded as the person who made one of the biggest errors in franchise history by wasting a first-round pick on someone they should’ve known was a bad egg.

However, there is the flip-side to the coin. Not every boy in college stays a boy—sometimes he grows up and starts acting like a man.

Hindsight may be 20-20, but foresight is blind. Franchises have seen many players with questionable reputations in college come into a professional setting and excel.

Dan Marino was drafted 27th overall in 1983, and fell because of his low Wonderlic (IQ test) score and the fact that there were a lot of rumors that Marino had been on drugs in college. His college coach, Foge Fazio, had kept the test results hidden from the public, so Marino was thought of as a big arm with no brains and bad decisions instead of what he truly was, which is one of the greatest passers of any era.

Other notable guys who had off-field problems in college but produced on the field are Randy Moss, Warren Sapp, and most recently, Dez Bryant.

I can’t answer the Newton question, though. This guy has gotten away with so much this past season—he wasn't penalized for his "pay-to-play" scandal—that he may just think he’s above the rules.

He doesn’t sound like he’s a delinquent, but Leaf put on a fake persona to fool the Chargers into drafting him, and Newton could be doing the same thing.

I do like that he’s not afraid to workout at the Combine and display what he's capable of. However, the comments about him being an “entertainer,” and an “icon,” do not sit well with me.

When you’re a rookie in pursuit of being drafted, you need to put a strip of duct tape over your mouth and mute your opinions. No matter what team drafts you, you will be in a locker room full of veterans who are not going to follow a loudmouth just because he’s the quarterback.

Draft Grade: A- If I had a top-10 pick, I probably would not invest it in Newton. I think if Newton fell to the 20s, I’d grab him depending on the situation. I think that while he is an amazing athlete, it will be hard to just re-mold him into a pure passer because he cannot run in the NFL forever—he’ll get hurt too much.

No. 2 Colin Kaepernick (Nevada): I love this kid’s arm. He boasts the fastest spiral of all QBs in the draft class (59 mph). From watching his film, it seems he’s not completely NFL ready, but I get the hard-worker feel from him. I’d make him a project for the future.

He’s a lot like Newton with his big arm and fast 40 time, 4.53—which is exceptional for a guy who is 6′6" and 225 pounds.

The reason I don’t have him higher than Newton is because Newton was just innately magical at times. You cannot teach it, you cannot learn it, you just have it or you don’t.

Another negative for Kaepernick is that he runs WAY too much. After watching his game film, it's obvious he was too eager to bolt from the pocket. That’s dangerous because one wrong hit and his career is over. Plus, championships are won by true passers.

Never has a "running" quarterback won the Super Bowl, and it won't ever happen because QBs have to be excellent at passing the ball. Guys like Fran Tarkenton, Roger Staubach, and Steve Young went to Super Bowls because they could not only run well, but they were also comfortable in the pocket.

Kaepernick is too much of a runner, and that doesn't bode well in the pros.

When he passed though, he was beautiful to watch. That ball was whistling its way to the receiver’s hands. I definitely would take him for a project—he just needs to stay in the pocket more.

Draft Grade: B+ I would draft Kaepernick early in the second round if I’m a team high in the draft. He’s not a first-rounder because his development is lacking, but he's one to watch carefully.

No. 3 Jake Locker (University of Washington): He could’ve been a top-five pick last year, but he had some poor performances as a senior that really made his draft stock fall.

He’s shorter than most quarterbacks at 6′2-and-a-half" (228 pounds). He has a very quick release, a strong arm, and can fit the ball into tight spots, but he struggled with accuracy during his collegiate career.

However, his 4.52 40-time was very impressive.

I think Locker has a chance to start somewhere. His junior season at Washington was nothing short of amazing, and he should be a guy selected in either the later part of round one, or early in the second.

Draft Grade: B+ He should be drafted no later than round three.

No. 4 Christian Ponder (Florida State): This one’s a tough one. I really like Ponder—his arm strenght and accuracy make him one of the most solid QB prospects. He played in a great program at Florida State, and from the film analysis I've done on him, I love his skill-set and football aptitude.

Ponder’s not particularly fast, but he’s not a runner—he’s a passer—and I like that about him.

He had the best Combine performance, displaying incredible accuracy and a good attitude. He is mobile, a lot like Aaron Rodgers, which is definitely a good thing—so why isn’t he higher?

The answer is injuries. NFL teams are usure if his body can take the punishment given his past shoulder and forearm injuries from 2009 and 2010. He came into the Senior Bowl as a fifth-round prospect, but after winning Senior Bowl MVP and acing the Combine, I have him much higher.

Draft Grade: B+ I’d only take Kaepernick and Locker first because of the injuries, but if I’m the Bengals in round two and Ponder is out there, I’d take him. Carson Palmer wants out, and I think Ponder could be a great fit there.

No. 5 Blaine Gabbert (Missouri): I do not understand all the hype on this kid. I think scouts are falling for an image and not a real player. Gabbert has all the physical tools in terms of arm strength and mobility, but I have him low on my draft board because of what’s between his ears.

First off, the guy did not throw at the Combine, so scouts don't have a thorough report on him. His agent, Tom Condon, uses this tactic to make sure scouts don’t downgrade his clients, and with desperate teams often taking chances with high draft picks, his clients yield huge contracts without showing anything.

Well, Gabbert showed me plenty on film. I watched tape of him against Illinois, and I was rolling my eyes at this kid.

He’s like a cat on a hot-tin roof. I watched him run the spread formation with five receivers, and he was overthrowing people like crazy. He’s got five options, and he can’t complete a decent pass at times? 

He has mobility, but he sometimes scrambles too soon. From what I saw, he seems to not always let the play develop. I don’t recall ever seeing him step up in the pocket, which is critical in the NFL. Gabbert has raw talent, but he's far from being a finished product.

Plus, Chase Daniel came from that same system with a lot of success, and even though Gabbert is half a foot taller than Daniel at 6′5," I still question if he's capable of being a real solution for an NFL team.

I would not spend a top-ten pick on him, but I have a feeling he will go 10th overall to the Washington Redskins.

Draft Grade: B+ Sometimes raw talent manifests into NFL success, sometimes not. In the case of Gabbert, his performance at the pro level will depend on his motivation. If he is drafted with the 10th overall pick, his lucrative contract may compromise his ambition to put in the necessary work needed to flourish in the NFL.

No. 6 Ryan Mallett (Arkansas): Mike Mayock of NFL Network is hesitant on this kid, and so am I. He’s got a beauty of an arm. He was second at the Combine with a 58 mph spiral, is 6′6," 238 pounds, and had a great coach in Bobby Petrino (The man’s ethics are that of an armed robber’s—but he knows how to groom quarterbacks).

The thing about Mallett that I do not like is his accuracy. When he’s protected, he’s very accurate, but when’s feeling the blitz, he’ll panick and throw interceptions or miss an open receiver.

He struggles at throwing the ball after resetting himself. So, unless he’s got Tom Brady or Peyton Manning’s offensive lines, he’s not going to be settled in the pocket forever.

Also, Mallett has those personal issues. He has already pleaded guilty to public intoxication on April 3, 2009, and there are persistent rumors of drug-use and possible addiction. Now, I don’t know if he’s on drugs, but public intoxication is something that a lot of people do. When you’re in college, you’re gonna have a few beers and do some stupid stuff.

Draft Grade B- I’m not sure on him. I may not even grab him high in the second round. If he falls to round three, then I’ll take him for sure, but definitely not a first-round grade on Ryan Mallett. It’s a huge reach.

No. 7 Andy Dalton (Texas Christian University): Dalton is going to have to fight hard to be recognized because TCU is not too big of a football factory, he hasn’t run a pro-style offense and he’s not as big as the other quarterbacks (6′3" and 220 pounds).

Dalton is, to be frank, an average quarterback physically. He’s not dead accurate like a sniper, he doesn’t have a bazooka for an arm, he’s not super fast, but he’s a winner for TCU (44 wins) and he’s a team leader. He needs to learn an NFL offense, and he’ll be 24 as a rookie.

I like his upside, though. I’d try to get him in round three or four and develop him. Who knows what he could become?

Draft Grade: C+ He’s got a lot work to do before he really gets a legitimate shot at handling an NFL team. Many scouts call him a career backup, but it depends on who drafts him, who coaches him, and really, a little bit of luck.


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