Evan Silva

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Draft 2011: The Quarterbacks

Sunday, March 20, 2011


The 2011 quarterback class is commonly regarded as weak amongst NFL fans, ostensibly because it lacks a surefire plug-and-play starter. The clear-cut top two prospects come from college spread offenses, Auburn's of the read-option variety and Missouri's resembling a Mike Leach system.

Draft weekend (April 28-30) will prove fans wrong, however, as at least seven quarterbacks are virtual locks for the first three rounds. In a quarterback-needy year, as many as five or six could be drafted in the top 32 picks. For perspective, just once in the last 11 years have seven QBs gone in rounds one through three. The average number of first-round signal callers taken during that span is 2.5.

The 2011 QBs are far more well regarded in the NFL community. What this class lacks in certain Week 1 starters it makes up for in long-term star potential.

1. Cam Newton, Auburn

Height/Weight: 6'5/244
College Experience: Fourth-year junior
40 Time: 4.59
Comparison: Donovan McNabb
2010 Stats: 185-of-280 (66.1%) for 2,854 yds (10.2 YPA), 30 TD/7 INT; 5.6 YPC, 20 TDs
Draft Prediction: Panthers, No. 1 overall

Positives: Newton went 25-1 as a college starter, including one JUCO season, and all told his teams were 30-1 in games Newton appeared. A three-time national champ ('08 Florida, '09 Blinn College, 2010 Auburn), Newton is an established winner around whom teammates rally. Newton's career FBS completion rate (65.41) and yards-per-attempt average (9.91) are easily the best in this quarterback class. As a junior, Newton's 30 touchdown passes averaged 31.5 yards in length. He has a powerful arm and off-the-charts athleticism, averaging 5.56 yards per career rushing attempt with 24 scores. Last season, Newton dominated football's toughest conference en route to a 14-0 record, 51 all-purpose touchdowns, a BCS title, and the Heisman Trophy.

Negatives: Auburn's option offense is dissimilar from the NFL, allowing its quarterback to immediately scramble if his first read is covered. Though Newton draws high marks for arm strength and his overhand delivery, he developed a bad habit of "fading away" on intermediate-to-deep throws, and needs plenty of coaching. Newton only started 14 games at the FBS level. At Florida early in his career, Newton accumulated character red flags for stealing a laptop and allegedly cheating on multiple exams in the winter of 2008. He left UF at the end of the following semester, reportedly to avoid suspension or expulsion. Newton's accuracy is a work in progress. He struggled in passing drills at the Combine, although Newton was a bit better at his Pro Day.

Outlook: Donovan McNabb had a leg up with 49 college starts, but his natural skill set is comparable to Newton's. Raw in his own right out of Syracuse, McNabb was brought along slowly as a rookie, often playing behind Doug Pederson. Newton would figure to benefit from similar handling. As a finished product, he has more upside than any player at any position in the draft.

2. Blaine Gabbert, Missouri

Height/Weight: 6'4/233
College Experience: Third-year junior
40 Time: 4.62
Comparison: Kyle Orton
2010 Stats: 301-of-475 (63.4%) for 3,186 yds (6.71 YPA), 16 TD/9 INT; 5 RUS TDs
Draft Prediction: Bengals, No. 4 overall

Positives: The nation's No. 2 quarterback recruit behind Terrelle Pryor in 2008, Gabbert replaced Chase Daniel as Mizzou's starter after one year on the bench. He compiled a career 40:18 TD-to-INT ratio in the Tigers' passer-friendly offense, breaking out in his first season as a starter with career highs in TDs (24) and yards per attempt (8.07) while throwing to deep threats Danario Alexander and Jared Perry. Gabbert's intangibles (work ethic, passion for the game) have drawn comparisons to Matt Ryan's, and he was a first-team Academic All-Big 12 selection. Gabbert's a top-notch athlete at the position, and is considered to possess ideal arm strength.

Negatives: Gabbert played in a Texas Tech-style shotgun offense requiring its passer to "catch, rock, and throw" to one read rather than drop 3-5 steps and go through progressions. His footwork is raw. Gabbert's production slipped dramatically after Alexander and Perry graduated, morphing into a checkdown machine with smallish slot man T.J. Moe as his primary receiver. Gabbert's 2010 YPA was the worst in this quarterback class, and he completed a startlingly low 30 percent of his throws of 15 or more yards. Gabbert has shaky pocket presence and flashes a tendency to tank under pressure. Three of his nine 2010 interceptions occurred in the fourth quarter, two more with three minutes or less left in the half, and six killed six-or-more-play drives.

Outlook: Unlike Newton, Gabbert did not dominate in college. And Gabbert was far less dominant against far weaker competition. However, more skilled college-to-pro talent evaluators than exist at Rotoworld believe Gabbert projects as a just as good, if not better pro than Newton. We'll defer to them while keeping in mind that something doesn't quite add up logistically here.

3. Colin Kaepernick, Nevada

Height/Weight: 6'5/233
College Experience: Fifth-year senior
40 Time: 4.53
Comparison: Randall Cunningham
2010 Stats: 233-of-359 (64.9%) for 3,022 yds (8.42 YPA), 21 TD/8 INT; 7.0 YPC, 20 TDs
Draft Prediction: Bills, No. 34 overall

Positives: Prolific statistically, Kaepernick accounted for 2.96 all-purpose touchdowns per college start, which compares favorably to fellow athletic QBs Jake Locker (2.05), Andy Dalton (1.86), and Tyrod Taylor (1.59), and ranks behind only Newton (3.57 - in a much smaller sample). Kaepernick's career record was 32-16, including a 21-2 finish. Accumulating a Sam Bradford-like 82:24 TD-to-INT ratio and 6.85 yards-per-carry average, Kaepernick was a big play waiting to happen in the WAC and co-conference player of the year as a senior. No quarterback threw with more velocity than Kaepernick at the Combine, and only the smallish Taylor ran a faster forty. Incredibly durable, Kaepernick never missed a college start despite 600 career rushing attempts.

Negatives: Kaepernick played in Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault's Pistol offense, in which he lined up 3-4 yards behind center and took quick shotgun snaps. He did not take snaps from center, though the Pistol involves play-action fakes. Kaepernick has nearly 34" arms and a pro-caliber baseball background, contributing to an elongated delivery. Though his completion rates have risen every year, it's been speculated that Kaepernick's unique motion will affect his deep-ball accuracy. His passing precision in the short and intermediate areas is still a work in progress.

Outlook: The top three QBs on this list are all "developmental," and Kaepernick may be to the highest degree if an NFL staff tinkers with his delivery. Working in Kaepernick's favor is a rare blend of arm power, athleticism, coach-ability, and smarts (he scored 37 on the Wonderlic). It's fair to wonder if Nevada's offense ultimately limited Kaepernick late in his college career. He can power the football downfield, and was rarely given that opportunity in the Pistol.

4. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas

Height/Weight: 6'6/238
College Experience: Fourth-year junior
40 Time: 5.37
Comparison: Kerry Collins
2010 Stats: 266-of-411 (64.7%) for 3,869 yds (9.41 YPA), 32 TD/12 INT; 4 RUS TDs
Draft Prediction: Titans, No. 39 overall

Positives: Mallett has just as strong an arm as Kaepernick with much more established long-ball accuracy. Among quarterbacks in the 2011 class with at least 15 college starts, Mallett's 8.78 career yards-per-attempt average is second to none, and no NCAA quarterback completed more passes of 30-plus yards in 2009 and 2010. Mallett played in pro-style offenses at Michigan and Arkansas. He has an over-the-top delivery and is considered a natural thrower of the football. Mallett went 21-8 in 29 career starts, compiling a 69:24 TD-to-INT ratio and setting the Razorbacks' all-time records for passing touchdowns, passing yards, and 300-plus yard games.

Negatives: Mallett's character red flags are well documented, but he is similarly flawed on the field. No quarterback in the draft took more sacks over the past two seasons, nor is any as lacking in mobility. Mallett has drawn comparisons to Dan McGwire and a late-career version of Drew Bledsoe for poor escape ability. A subpar athlete, Mallett posted a 26" vertical and ran a 5.37 forty at his March 8 Pro Day. Rumors of drug abuse and addiction plagued Mallett in Fayetteville, perhaps explaining his surprising decision to not enter last year's draft. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino has a history of deceiving the NFL with quarterbacks he's coached up in college. Petrino has tutored Brian Brohm, Chris Redman, Stefan LeFors, Jason Campbell, and Doug Nussmeier, and all either failed to pan out or fell well short of expectations.

Outlook: Doug Farrar of Football Outsiders recently described Mallett as "a statue with a cannon attached," likening him to Derek Anderson and saying Mallett would require "a top-five pass-blocking line" to fulfill his potential. It's probably a good thing, then, that Mallett's off-field issues will push him down draft boards, giving him a better chance to land with a good team with a good line.

5. Christian Ponder, Florida State

Height/Weight: 6'2/229
College Experience: Fifth-year senior
40 Time: 4.65
Comparison: Chad Pennington
2010 Stats: 184-of-299 (61.5%) for 2,044 yds (6.84 YPA), 20 TD/8 INT; 4 RUS TDs
Draft Prediction: Dolphins, No. 15 overall

Positives: Ponder's 61.8 career completion rate ranks second among elite draft-eligible quarterbacks, behind only Cam Newton. (Old pal David Lewin would like Ponder). Ponder's high percentages are especially impressive because he played in a pro-style offense, making much tougher throws than those required of spread QBs. Ponder may be the most NFL-ready quarterback in this year's class. He's highly intelligent (3.73 GPA, graduated in 2 1/2 years), considered technically sound with outstanding footwork, and an above average athlete. Possessing an ideal skill set for a West Coast offense, Ponder has followed up a red flag-filled Chick-fil-A Bowl with a perfect offseason, winning Senior Bowl MVP and generating glowing reviews at the Combine.

Negatives: Ponder's junior season ended after nine games due to a Grade 3 separated throwing shoulder suffered on a post-interception tackle. He had surgery, and needed two more on his throwing elbow to repair burst bursa sacs as a senior. Ponder's arm looked shot in the aforementioned bowl game. He lasted one quarter and several of his passes sailed well above his intended target's head or into the dirt. Ponder has recovered, but his arm strength was never elite. His 7.12 career yards-per-attempt average is among the worst in this class, and Ponder struggles to connect outside the numbers. His 49:30 career TD-to-INT ratio is average at best.

Outlook: Ponder isn't an elite talent, and his production never matched his hype at FSU. But as a heady, accurate passer with a pro-style background, Ponder is the perfect example of a prospect who could move up draft boards in an extremely quarterback-needy year. Without free agency on the horizon, teams will be in a rush to fill out their QB depth charts in late April.


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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva



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