While reporting from the East-West Shrine Game in Orlando, Florida, NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay remarked that there was an outside chance the Carolina Panthers could select Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert with the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
This is astonishing, considering just one month ago, Gabbert’s meager draft buzz was being overshadowed by fellow quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Jake Locker, Ryan Mallet and Cam Newton.
Now, obviously Andrew Luck’s decision to return to Stanford for his junior season benefited Gabbert, but what can be attributed to the Missouri quarterbacks sudden climb up NFL executive’s draft boards?
Let’s analyze why many NFL teams are buying stock in Blaine Gabbert:
At 6'5", 240 lb, Gabbert has the type of height and weight that scouts love to see at the next level. His 6'5" build throws out any worries or speculation that the quarterback might have trouble scanning the field or seeing over NFL defenders. You might remember Gabbert’s predecessor Chase Daniel also had a storied career under center with Missouri that ended with Daniel throwing 39 touchdown passes as a senior.
Ultimately though, Chase Daniel’s small 6'0", 225 lb-build scared off many scouts, and as a result, he was not selected in the 2009 NFL Draft. Gabbert is obviously not dealing with the same issue; in fact, Blaine Gabbert’s prototypical NFL size has become one of his selling points.
If you look at the statistics from some of Blaine Gabbert’s games last season at Missouri, you will find he is not a “statue” in the pocket. Blaine had 89 rushing yards against Kansas State, 74 rushing yards against Nebraska and finished the season with four rushing touchdowns. Now, of course, those statistics are modest in comparison to the rushing yards draft prospects such as Cam Newton and Tyrod Taylor put up. Those numbers do show you he can keep defenses honest with his legs, and if the play breaks down, he has the ability to improvise.
This is another aspect that bodes well for Blaine in terms of his draft prospects. Blaine Gabbert won’t be Tim Tebow bull rushing head first on the goal line, and he won’t break off 60-yard rushes from the shotgun a la Mike Vick, but he has just enough mobility and quickness to take off and go when needed.
One aspect of the drafting process NFL executives heavily scrutinize is a prospect's character and off-the-field history. Obviously, Cam Newton is going to get absolutely grilled in the interviews by executives in regard to his father trying to arrange money for his signature and for allegations he cheated on tests as a student at Florida.
Ryan Mallet has also admitted he got too emotional during games two years ago. Now, Mallet has since said he has worked on the problem and is more composed. Ryan will surely be fielding questions about his composure and calmness on the field though.
Blaine Gabbert meanwhile has never been arrested and has no serious “character flags” against him to speak of. It can’t be understated how much NFL scouts, executives and coaches love kids with high character—especially at the quarterback position.
The negative - Missouri’s offensive scheme =
If there is one thing that has NFL teams nervous about Blaine Gabbert, it’s the offensive scheme he played in while at Missouri. Gabbert spent the majority of his college career in the shotgun with multiple wide receivers lined up on both sides of him. He almost played in a system that was comparable to what Mike Leach ran at Texas Tech where they would spread you out with that same sort of shotgun look.
That system is not used in the NFL at any level; in fact, the Panthers rely heavily on running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Under head coach John Fox, they ran a lot of their offense out of the I formation though it’s unclear if there will be a philosophy change under new coach Ron Rivera. So NFL teams in general and the Panthers in particular are nervous about Gabbert making the transition from sort of a “gimmick” college offense to a pro style NFL offense.
Going back to what Todd McShay said earlier about Gabbert possibly being selected with the first overall pick by Carolina, as farfetched as it may sound, it’s still possible this scenario could occur. Remember, Carolina was almost certainly going to take Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick had he remained in the draft so you know they are not certain about their quarterback prospects.
Yes, Carolina did draft Jimmy Clausen in the second round last season, but Clausen’s four-year deal is only worth $6.3 million max. This is not a case of Al Davis and the Raiders paying JaMarcus Russell a ridiculously high rookie salary and then being determined to get a return on their investment. If you also throw in the fact that Clausen battled injuries and only threw three touchdowns and nine interceptions last season, then you can see why they are not exactly sold on him just yet.
Now with all this talk about quarterbacks, I should also mention Carolina allowed opponents to rush for 123.8 yards per game last season. They really had trouble stopping the run, and they want to upgrade their talent on the defensive line. That is why they are so interested in defensive tackle Nick Fairley out of Auburn and defensive end Da'Quan Bowers out of Clemson. Right now, I would guess Fairley in particular and possibly even Bowers are higher on the Panthers draft board than Gabbert.
The one thing that could change the wheel back in Blaine Gabbert’s favor is the fact that he is most likely going to get a workout with the Carolina Panthers. Gabbert would have to absolutely wow new Panthers head coach Ron Rivera and Carolina executives to have any chance of leapfrogging Fairley and Bowers for the top spot though.