Andrew Luck Isn't Everything: Breaking Down the 2011 NFL Draft Quarterback Class

Jonathan FrayneContributor IJanuary 18, 2011

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Cameron Newton #2 of the Auburn Tigers scrambles against the Oregon Ducks during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Earlier this month, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck surprised us all by making the controversial decision to stay in school.

With NFL scouts salivating over Luck all year, the Stanford signal caller's decision may be disappointing but having looked at the bigger picture, it certainly leaves the NFL draft wide open.

A virtpual lock for the No.1 overall selection, Luck's decision leaves a gaping hole at the top of the board.

The question is, which player will fill the hole which Luck left.

At this point, though still very early in the Draft process, it seems like the Carolina Panthers will become only the third team in 11 years not to select a Quarterback with the first overall pick.

Defensive End Da'Quan Bowers (Clemson), Defensive Tackle Nick Fairley (Auburn) and Wide Receiver AJ Green (Georgia) being the obvious choices.

Is there a Quarterback in this year's class good enough to fill Luck's shoes and be chosen first overall?

Let's look at the top quarterbacks available.

This time last year there was a similar hype around a certain Tim Tebow. Whereas it seemed no prospect could get as much hype as Tebow did, Cam Newton is giving his former Florida teammate a run for his money.

Straight off the back off a spectacular unbeaten season in which he led Auburn to a National Championship as well as winning the Heisman Trophy, Newton decided to forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.

At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, Cam Newton has more than enough size to take a pounding at the next level. Despite his size, he possesses great straight line speed and rare mobility for a man of his size. Newton's physical tools are intriguing to say the least.

To go along with a rare blend of size and speed, Newton has a strong arm and pinpoint accuracy on deep balls. His accuracy is sometimes poor on short to intermediate throws and this is down to his mechanics which need improvement.

Luckily mechanics can be coached, and he will learn at the next level.

The question is who is going to take the risk on Newton. Although a proven winner and a dominant player in college, coming from Auburn's spread system, Newton will need to adjust to become successful in the NFL.

A bit of a project, Newton has been labelled as a potential bust, with comparisons to Vince Young and Jamarcus Russell.

Another junior, Blaine Gabbert decided to forego his final season at Missouri.

At 6-foot-5 Gabbert has the prototypical size required for an NFL Quarterback.

He has susceptible speed as well, and is capable of tucking it under to pick up yardage on the ground.

Gabbert's arm is as good as any Quarterback in this class. He can make all the throws and possesses the arm strength to throw the deep out as well as the accuracy to complete short passes underneath.

His combination of arm strength, accuracy and timing is second to none and he also does a good job of adjusting to throw on the run when flushed out of the pocket.

His deep throw accuracy could be improved but overall Gabbert's arm gives him every chance of success at the next level.

What concerns me about Gabbert is the transition from college to the pro's. Like any college quarterback it is a big step up to the next level but Missouri's offense makes it an even bigger transition.

Gabbert spent most of his college career with four or five wide receiver sets and he rarely had to make multiple reads. His success at the next level will depend on whether he can be coached and adjust to the pro style offenses, and how well he learns to read defenses.

At 6-foot-7, Ryan Mallett is even bigger than Cam Newton and possesses a rocket arm.

A typical gunslinger, Mallett can make some outrageous throws.

He can make every throw and has a quick release but can also be inconsistent. He still has some strides to make with his accuracy, but he did improve to 64.7% completion percentage his final season at Arkansas, a vast improvement from the previous season.

He looks comfortable in the pocket but when he's forced out of thee pocket and made to throw on the run, his accuracy declines further.

Mallett still has a long way to go but it's likely that someone will fall in love with his size and potential.

One of the forgotten men of this years draft, Washington's Jake Locker was tipped to be the first overall pick not so long ago.

But while Locker struggled during his senior season, fellow Pac-10 Quarterback Andrew Luck emerged as the top quarterback. Although Luck decided not to enter the NFL draft, Locker still has work to do to reclaim the top Quarterback spot.

Despite his less than successful senior year, Locker still has first round talent.

He's a good athlete with the height you look for and also outstanding speed and agility. His arm strength is impressive and he has some of best footwork and mechanics out of any quarterback in the draft.

Outside of the pocket and throwing on the run, his accuracy is outstanding, but he has problems in the pocket.

What lets Locker down is his pocket awareness. He gets anxious and his vision breaks down. That's when he starts to make mistakes and we see some inacuraccies and misplaced throws.

It'll be interesting to see Locker at the Senior Bowl, as none of these other Quarterbacks will be attending, so he has a chance to boost his stock and start climbing up draft boards again.

With the absence of Andrew Luck, this class has no elite signal caller. But like I said earlier, it's still early in the draft process and there's every opportunity for one of these quarterbacks to become an 'elite' prospect.

Cam Newton is the Quarterback with the most upside in my opinion and if he can iron out his faults and erase the question marks with his mechanics, could he potentially be picked first overall?

I don't think there's a Quarterback that does warrant the first overall selection but that doesn't mean to say this class is without talent.

Newton, Gabbert, Mallet and Locker are all worthy of a first round selection and we could well see them all taken in round one. Although unlikely, the NFL is a Quarterback driven league and if you look at the amount of teams needing a franchise quarterback it could well happen.

The Panthers, Bills, Cardinals, 49ers, Redskins, Titans and Dolphins are all teams who arguably could need a new Quarterback.

Although the Quarterback class lost it's gem in Luck, it is still loaded with talent and even Pat Devlin out of Delaware could increase his stock, just like former Blue Hen Joe Flacco did.

Quarterback wise, The 2011 NFL Draft could well prove to be as successful as the 2004 NFL Draft which produced Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.


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