Miami Dolphins' Early Round Draft Targets: Quarterbacks

Luke TaylorCorrespondent IIFebruary 16, 2011

Gabbert: Ranked the Best Quarterback in the Draft
Gabbert: Ranked the Best Quarterback in the DraftChristian Petersen/Getty Images

This is the first in a serious of articles I am writing on Miami Dolphins' possible draft targets. This means the articles will focus solely on the needs of the Dolphins, so less emphasis will be put on positions such as the defensive line (although it may get a mention).

The idea isn't to say who Miami will select, but to give an insight into the potential targets' strengths and weaknesses so you can all make your own minds up on who you want to see in aqua and orange.

So, who is going to bring their talents to South Beach?

I start by taking a look at a number of quarterbacks who may be on the Dolphins’ radar in the early rounds of this year’s draft.

(Just to clarify, I might be missing some players. That's either because I don't see them as a fit in Miami or I overlooked/forgot them. I can't put every player in unfortunately, and it takes a while to write these articles too!)

(Oh yeah, and last year I said Miami should take Sergio Kindle in the first round, so please don't take my word as gospel! I'm trying to get as much info on the players mentioned as possible from a number of sources, but feel free to disagree!)

Blaine Gabbert, Missouri (First Round)

The main beneficiary of Andrew Luck’s decision to return to school was Blaine Gabbert. The Mizzou standout became the top rated quarterback in the draft when Stanford’s Luck realised that he wanted to graduate, or didn’t want to play in Carolina.

A two-year starter, Gabbert played in a spread-style offense in Missouri. He has good arm strength, and is capable of threading a pass in between cornerbacks and safeties in cover-two. He also has the mobility to extend a play when under pressure, which is something the Dolphins lack. Although he is inconsistent, that is to be expected from most college quarterbacks; he also struggles with his accuracy on some short passes, and has a tendency to stare down receivers.

However, he is the best quarterback in the draft at this point. He certainly has the poise and ability to become an elite quarterback, and has the leadership skills and work ethic needed to become a top NFL prospect.

Unfortunately, he is unlikely to be available when the Dolphins pick at 15. With a number of teams above them considering drafting a quarterback, such as the Bills, Cardinals, 49ers, Titans, and Vikings, Miami would have to draft up to select Gabbert.

With more chance of the Dolphins trading down, don’t expect to see Gabbert in aqua and orange next year. Instead, fans should hope that he doesn’t end up playing in Buffalo, as most fully expect him to go on and do great things in the NFL.

Cam Newton, Auburn (First Round)

What is there to say about this man that hasn’t already been said? Cam Newton set the world of college football alight last season, but scouts are torn on the prospect of him playing in the NFL.

Some recognise his incredible athletic ability and size as a gift that will benefit any professional football team. He also throws an excellent deep ball with great touch and power (can make 70-yard passes), and offers outstanding leadership. However, despite his excellent physical tools, his inconsistent accuracy could be an issue as it would affect his passes in all the important intermediate areas.

His elusiveness, acceleration, size, and strength, mean that he is a very dangerous runner, and is capable of avoiding tackles while keeping his eyes downfield in the hope of making a play. Newton will probably wow scouts at the Combine, but his accuracy passing the football is still a concern. There is a very small window of opportunity to hit targets in the NFL, and without solid accuracy, he may struggle to make the adjustment from college.

He has also never taken snaps from under center, and was never asked to make multiple reads of a defense in Auburn. He usually made a couple of reads at most for the Tigers before he took off on the run, and was never challenged by blitzes in college, as most teams looked to defend against the run. All of this will change in the NFL.

Furthermore, there are off-field concerns surrounding Newton. Some have questioned his work ethic, he was arrested in Florida for stealing a laptop, he racked up a huge number of traffic violations in Florida, and the dodgy dealings of his father (which he may or may not have known about) are a concern. There is a chance that even more skeletons emerge from Newton’s closet before the draft as he comes under more scrutiny, but there are also signs that he has matured, as there have been no known issues with Newton for the last year of two.

Finally, there is that overwhelming concern that Newton could just be Vince Young 2.0, or even worse, JaMarcus Russell 2.0. Both were outstanding college players, but neither have succeeded in the NFL. While the Dolphins are looking for a more stimulating offense, it would be a risk investing in “Project Newton”.

Newton will also likely be off the board by the time Miami pick. Both the Vikings and Titans are possible landing places, and it would be silly to rule such a gifted player out of the running for the number one overall pick.

However, the Dolphins are interested in Newton, and with Stephen Ross promising a new, quick, exciting offense, could the Dolphins pass on Newton if he was on the board at 15? Furthermore, would they consider trading up to get him if he falls out of the top couple of picks. He is high risk/high reward; it remains to be seen whether Miami will take that risk though.

Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (First Round)

For now Ryan Mallett is a first round talent, but there are growing concerns about his ability and off-field actions that have resulted in many predicting he will experience a Jimmy Clausen-esque draft slide. CBS’ NFL Draft Scout even has him predicted as a second or third round talent today.

He shows good accuracy on short and intermediate throws, has a good touch on fade route passes, and would be able to make any throw in the NFL. However, his accuracy on deep throws is questionable, despite his excellent arm strength being the best part of his game.

His size is a big plus too; at 6’6’’ he is the perfect size for an NFL quarterback, and this allows him to see over lineman, allowing him to see the entire field and read the defense well. Unfortunately, this does somewhat limit his mobility, and he takes time to reset his feet if necessary, and this means he sometimes struggles if he does not read the blitz.

There are also personality concerns surrounding Mallett. He was arrested in 2009 for public intoxication, and has a brash personality which many see as an issue if he has to handle an NFL offense and potential diva-receivers such as Brandon Marshall. He is considered to be overconfident by many, and some have questioned his work ethic. He was also never a team captain for the Razorbacks; something that many teams prefer their quarterback to be. Allegations of drug use refuse to go away too.

While Mallett has some issues, he is closer to an NFL-ready quarterback than most in the draft class. The Dolphins will surely take a look at him if, as expected, he is still available at 15. However, with a potential draft slide on the cards, Miami may wait and see if Mallett becomes available if they trade back into the second round.

Off-field concerns are again an issue, but the potential is there. If Mallett can be developed correctly, improve his accuracy, and learn not to force passes when under pressure, he could be an excellent addition to the Dolphins. If he does slide (and it is a big "if"), he will be a steal in the second round based on his ability, but is he mature enough to lead a team?

Jake Locker, Washington (First – Second Round)

A very divisive talent, there are a lot of question marks surrounding Locker’s play, and many question if he will ever become a starting quarterback in the NFL. While he is a terrific athlete with estimated 4.5 speed, and a real dual-threat, it is the passing areas of his game that has come under the most interrogation.

Locker often fails to read defenses, and stares down his preferred receiver. He struggles with his accuracy, and often over/under threw receivers in college. This will lead to interceptions in the NFL. While his arm is strong, and he can throw deep, his short pass accuracy is the main concern.

However, Locker has taken snaps from under center and out of the shotgun. He possesses good mobility, and is dangerous when throwing on the move.

Locker is a leader, and was highly respected by fans, coaches, and teammates with the Huskies. However, some scouts question whether he will remain in football if he does not experience immediate success; he has signed a six-year contract with the MLB’s LA Angels of Anaheim (however, the contract includes a clause stating he will choose football over baseball).

There are genuine concerns surrounding Locker, and these might be an issue for Miami, who are looking for immediate impact at the position. Locker is more of a project, and this means he may not be a fit for the Dolphins. However, if he falls down the draft, he will likely come under consideration from most teams.

Due to his experience playing in poor weather and strong winds, he could be a target for franchises that frequently play in bad weather. Seattle anyone?

Colin Kaepernick, Nevada (Second – Third Round)

This scrambling quarterback is another outstanding athlete who warrants consideration in the second round, but may still be on the clock in the third. Kaepernick is a three year starter, with a strong arm, and excellent mobility. He reads defenses well and has a nice touch on passes.

Furthermore, he has tremendous ability to avoid the pass rush, and can throw accurately on the move. His good footwork is the main draw to this talent, as he can extend plays with his good footwork in the pocket, is a real dual-threat quarterback with his speed and size.

However, there are issues with his mechanics, and his throwing motion is inconsistent. He also has a windup in his motion which leads to a lot of throws being batted down. Some NFL teams will insist on putting this right.

While he is accurate in patches, his accuracy is inconsistent, which, as previously mentioned, is a big issue in the NFL. He didn’t take many snaps from under center in college either, and is known for making a lot more plays with his feet than his arm. His failure to secure the ball well on the run will be an issue if he comes face to face with big linebackers in the professional game, and his tall thin frame, may not be great for taking a lot of hits.

Kaepernick is durable, tough, and determined. He has a good work ethic, and is a team leader too; all characteristics that the Dolphins’ Front Office love. He has already drawn interest from some teams due to his impressive Senior Bowl practices, and the Dolphins were among potential suitors; ESPN reported they would consider parting with a second-round pick (if they acquire one) for his services.

This man is definitely on the Dolphins’ radar, and would be a good prospect with a late second, or early third-round pick. As with any rookies, there will be areas of his game that require improvement, but his personality traits suggest he will be driven enough to improve himself. Do not be surprised if this is the path Miami takes on the second day of the draft,

Christian Ponder, Florida State (Second – Third Round)

Another quarterback who has risen up the draft board is Senior Bowl MVP, Christian Ponder, who many believe may now warrant second-round selection. Ponder is one of the more accurate quarterbacks in the draft, and his arm has been compared to Chad Pennington by some scouts.

Although he does not have great arm strength, he has enough to make every throw in the pro-game. He is able to throw 50-yard passes or more with good trajectory and velocity, even if he does not have the arm strength of a player like Mallett or Newton.

Ponder has good technique and footwork, is mobile, and has enough speed to scramble for a new yards. He does not mind taking a hit if it means hitting a target or making an extra yard or two, but this could leave him open to more injuries in the NFL. However, this dedication is one reason he was a very highly respected team captain at Florida State, and scouts believe he has the right character for an NFL quarterback. He is a vocal leader who is not afraid to run, tackle, or block if required, and he has no off-field concerns at all, which will appeal to many teams.

There are concerns over Ponder though, and many scouts believe that he stares down his primary target, sometimes does not feel pressure while looking for an open receiver, and has made some critical mistakes late in games which cost the Seminoles dear. (All those issues sound familiar to most Dolphins’ fans don’t they?)

Like Pennington, he also has durability concerns. In 2009 he suffered a separated throwing shoulder, and he has suffered more injuries to that arm since, requiring two more surgeries on his elbow in 2010. However, these did not affect his performance in the Senior Bowl, although they will put off some scouts.

Ponder will likely appeal to the Dolphins due to his attitude, and he is in the mold of quarterbacks who are successful in the NFL, with a good, accurate arm, and enough mobility to make plays with his feet when needed. He could be the sort of player that Miami are interested in, but his durability is an issue.

Next Article: Quarterbacks Available in Later Rounds