Devon Heinen

Draft Decisions

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Gabbert or Newton?

Friday, February 25, 2011


Signs of spring are already starting to show themselves. Snow is melting, people are beginning to shed a few layers of clothing and, in the world of football, the National Football League Draft is the center of debate.

- Which position is the deepest? The shallowest?
- Who had the best showing at the Combine? The worst?
- What does my team do with its first pick?

If you're Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney or the team's new head coach, Ron Rivera, you might find yourself asking 'Is Jimmy Clausen our long-term solution at quarterback?'

Like the Panthers as a whole, the second-year signal caller had a lackluster campaign in 2010. Clausen started 10 games for Carolina and came off the bench in three others. In his 10 starts, the 6-foot-2, 222-pound product out of Notre Dame managed to surpass a quarterback rating of 75 just three times. He'd finish the season with a rating of 58.4 to go along with a completion percentage of 52.5 and nine interceptions compared to three touchdown passes.

Should Hurney and Rivera stick with Clausen or choose to replace him via free agency or the trade market, they can spend this year's first-overall selection in April's Draft on much-needed help along the defensive line or at wide receiver – a position that features the likes of University of Georgia's A.J. Green and University of Alabama's Julio Jones as its top attractions; however, should the decision makers opt to start anew, two gunslingers sit ripe for the picking.

Standing 6-foot-5 and 248 pounds with a rocket for an arm and having the legs of a running back, Cameron Newton enters the NFL Draft after an illustrious one-year career at Auburn University. As a Tiger, the junior accounted for 50 touchdowns with 20 coming on the ground. He also completed over 66 percent of his pass attempts en route to guiding his team to the NCAA national championship.

Everything isn't pristine with Newton, though. Off-field issues involving a stolen laptop while being a member of the University of Florida football team and an alleged pay-to-play scandal hang over the quarterback's head.

Vying with Newton for the top-quarterback-chosen honor is University of Missouri's Blaine Gabbert.

Quarterbacking a team known for its spread offense, Gabbert flourished. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound junior completed over 63 percent of his passes in his final season in Columbia – an improvement of more than four percent compared to his sophomore season. Gabbert also passed for more than 3,000 yards and was picked off just nine times in each of his two seasons as his team's starter under center.

Like Auburn's Newton, Gabbert, too, has a question mark hovering over him. Unlike Newton, though, Gabbert's pertains to on-the-field performance as it remains to be seen if the Missouri Tiger will be able to produce in a pro-style offense.

Before the Carolina Panthers come to a verdict as to whom they'll tab as the team's and the league's first selection come late April, decision makers Marty Hurney and Ron Rivera along with their staff will pay close attention to the league's Combine results, personal interviews with the players and their respective Pro Day workouts.



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