NFL Draft 2011 Preview: Looking at the Quarterbacks

Joe UnderhillCorrespondent IIIApril 8, 2011

Gabbert will be a top five pick in the NFL draft.
Gabbert will be a top five pick in the NFL draft.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Don't tell Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert, but the 2011 quarterback class is missing the elite can't miss prospect. Don't let that fool you, this might be one of the deepest quarterback classes in recent years. Newton and Gabbert are sitting on top, but Ryan Mallet, Jake Locker, Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder and Ricki Stanzi could all end up as NFL starters. ESPN's Kiper and McShay said recently they wouldn't be surprised to see six quarterbacks selected in the first two rounds, doubling the average. 

Carolina, Buffalo, Arizona, San Fransisco, Tennessee, Washington, Minnesota, Jacksonville and Seattle could all use QB's. So, without further ado, lets take a closer look at my top six quarterback prospects for the 2011 class, and where they may land in the NFL draft. 

1. Blaine Gabbert: 6’5” 240 lbs. He completed 58.9% of his passes in 2009 and 63.4% of his passes in 2010. He has thrown for 6,822 yards, 40 TDs and 18 INTs. Gabbert comes from a spread offense, so will have to adjust to playing in a pro offense. He has good arm strength and accuracy, but sometimes throws too hard and needs to work on fine tuning his throws. Gabbert also has good awareness, but needs to do a better job of recognizing what the defense is giving him. He's a tough competitor and willing to play through pain (ankle sprain against NE, finished the game).

Gabbert has the size evaluators look for in a QB prospect. His mechanics are sound and fluid, he posses a quick release and has been accurate. There are two traits that transfer immediately to the NFL level from the college level–athleticism and accuracy. Gabbert posses both. As noted above, Gabbert played in a spread offense in college, however he was rated as one of the best pro-style QB's coming out of HS. Gabbert will be best served by spending a year on the bench working on tacking the snaps under center and adjusting to the pro-style offense.

Where he lands: Depending on who you ask, Gabbert could land anywhere from No. 1 overall to Carolina to No. 5 to Arizona. I highly doubt he will slip past Arizona and guarantee he will not drop out of the top ten. 

Carolina: May or may not have a need a QB. It all depends on how the organization feels about QB Jimmy Clausen, last year's second round pick. The Panthers have a lot of holes to fill,and may decide to go with a defensive player or trade down (an actual possibility with a rookie wage scale likely). They must also decide if they want to go with the high upside of Cam Newton instead of Gabbert.

Denver: Is a dark horse in the QB race. There is new leadership in Denver and they may want to go a different direction than Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton at QB. There has been some talk that Elway (VP of football operations) is enamored with Newton, so it will be something to keep an eye on. 

Buffalo: Has needs pretty much everywhere. Ryan Fitzpatrick showed some promise and upside, so Buffalo might decide to wait until the second round to try and grab a QB there. 

Cincinnati: May be in need of a QB if Carson Palmer does indeed force a trade. I think it is more likely they go with a receiver.

Arizona might be the most likely landing spot for Gabbert. Carolina is likely to go with DL or Newton. Arizona has weapons on offense and needs a signal caller who can throw to their talented receivers. Gabbert would fit well in the Arizona system as well.

Most Likely: Arizona No. 5 overall. 

2. Cam Newton: 6’5” 250 lbs. Completed 66.1% of his passes in 2010 for 2,854 yards, 30 TDs and 7 INTs. Newton has great arm strength and underrated accuracy. His biggest knock is only playing one year of FBS football. Also, at times, it appears that Newton is more of a runner than passer. He is one of the big upside/big risk players in this draft. The questions surrounding whether or not his father or himself asked for money in order to secure his comment to Auburn leaves more questions about his maturity. Newton strikes me as a player who is enamored with being a celebrity, which is concerning, because of the work that will be necessary to make the transition from college to the pros.

Newton has the size and athleticism to turn into a nearly unstoppable force at QB. His athleticism might be his biggest asset and biggest drawback. Because he is so athletic, he sometimes relies to much on just being bigger and faster than his opponents. This won't be the case when he starts in the NFL. 

Newton comes from a spread offense which means it will take him some time to adjust to playing in the pro offense. Newton's mechanics are another reason why he needs to spend at least a year working behind an effective starter. His short and medium throws are where he struggles the most, a result of his faulty mechanics. Newton has the most upside of any quarterback in this class, but with upside comes risk and Newton has a lot of risk.

Where he lands: Newton might be one of the most polarizing players in recent draft history. Most experts agree, though, he will be a top ten pick and will probably be in top five.

Carolina: Again, it will depend on how high Carolina is on Jimmy Clausen. There are a lot of people who think Carolina will draft Newton and try and trade Clausen for a draft pick. Newton would bring a lot of excitement to a team who is in desperate need of an influx of talent. 

Denver: If Carolina goes with Gabbert or a defensive player the Broncos will have a difficult decision to make. There are some who believe Denver is really high on Newton and would draft him to be the QB of the future. 

Buffalo: The Bills would be a nice landing spot as Newton could work behind Fitzpatrick and smooth out his mechanics.

Cincinnati: Not real likely and not a real good fit.

Arizona: In need of a starting caliber QB with lots of weapons, but he will pretty much have to start from day one, and that could hurt his long term potential. 

Most Likely: Carolina at No, 1. They need talent and their run first offense will take some pressure off Newton. I think Newton has a much higher ceiling than Clausen. 

3. Jake Locker: 6’3” 230 lbs. Completed 58.2% of his passes in 2009, and 55.4% of his passes in 2010. Has thrown for 7, 639 yards, 53 TDs and 35 INTs. Though accuracy is biggest concern, Locker has good arm strength and shows good awareness and toughness in the pocket. He needs to work on putting better touch on passes, and recognizing when to force throws and when to throw the ball away. He has very good speed and is able to pick up first downs with his legs as well as with his arm. Part of his problem could be contributed to be under pressure often while throwing.

Locker was billed as the likely top QB and potential No. 1 overall prospect entering the 2010 college season. However, his sub-par senior year has hurt his draft stock dramatically. I have him at number three right now, but he could easily slip to number five, as there is little separating Locker, Mallet and Dalton.

The loss in completion percentage is very concerning and Locker has a bad habit of rushing throws and letting his mechanics slip. Like most of the quarterbacks in this class, Locker would be best served spending a year or two learning behind a starter. Locker has more experience under center and does a great job using his feet to buy time and pick up yards. 

Where he lands: Locker will end up being a first or second round pick. The difference will be decided by what team falls in love with him. Any of the teams in need of a QB could trade back into the first round to grab him or, in the case of Seattle, especially stay where they are and pick him. 

Carolina: This would have to be a second round pick assuming they go defense at No. 1, and no one trades up to get ahead of them. Not a very likely scenario.

Buffalo: A team who may be targeting the second round to try and find a quarterback. Locker will certainly be on the radar of the Bills, along with Dalton, Mallet and Ponder at the top of the second round. 

Arizona: Same story as Buffalo. If they don't get Gabbert or Newton, they will be looking for a QB in round two. 

San Fransisco: Need to upgrade the position. The 49ers are a likely candidate to trade back into the first round if they fall in love with a player. 

Tennessee: Need to find an answer to the QB question. Tennessee is likely to stay in the second round and draft the QB who is still at the top of their board. 

Washington: Its really hard to say what Washington will do because they have a ton of holes and not very many draft picks. I think there is a as good a chance of them drafting a QB as not drafting one. One thing we can pretty much bank on, they won't be trading back into the first round to draft a QB. 

Minnesota: They have Tarvaris Jackson and Joe Webb, but most annalists agree they could use an upgrade. The Vikings will probably look to upgrade their DL in the first round, but they're a candidate to try and trade down, if they are drafting inside the top 20 I think they go DL. 

Jacksonville: Another team not likely to draft a QB in round one, but would certainly consider Locker if he was available in round two. 

Seattle: Maybe the most likely landing spot for Locker. Seattle will have a need a QB very soon, right now they have a solid QB who Locker can learn behind (lesser extent of the Farve/Rodgers combo).

Most Likely: Seattle at No. 25. They need a QB for the future, and will have time for Hasselback to mentor Locker.

4. Ryan Mallett: 6’7” 240 lbs. Completed 55.8% in 2009 and 64.7% of his passes in 2010. Career totals of 8, 388 yards, 69 TDs, and 24 INTs. Mallett has great height which is also one of the concerns about him. Because of his height it takes him sometime to get his feet reset. Often when he is forced to move in the pocket his accuracy suffers. Mallett does not have the speed and running ability of a Newton or Locker. He has an extremely strong arm and is accurate. Mallett also has a lot of experience in a pro-style offense. He needs to continue to work on moving in the pocket and his accuracy down field. Mallett is definitely another big risk/big reward QB.

Mallett's height is both his biggest asset and his biggest draw back. His height makes his drops a bit sketchy, but it also allows him to look over his OL and see the whole field. It also makes it very difficult for defensive lineman to tip his passes. Mallett will need to spend some time refining his mechanics and might be better suited to a team which will allow him to throw from the shotgun (for example Pittsburgh and Green Bay throw a lot of passes from the gun). The improvement Mallett made in his completion percentage is encouraging, but there are some concerns with how he handles pressure. Mallett also has some concerns with his leadership and maturity. Mallett has the potential to be good, but needs to land in the right situation.

Where he lands: Mallett is a second round NFL talent, however, he could end up at the end of the first round if a team like Tennessee or San Fransisco falls in love with him and doesn't think he will be available at their pick. 

Carolina, Buffalo, and Arizona: Not a very likely landing spot.

Cincinnati: Has a need for a QB even if Palmer is resigned. Mallett could be a nice compliment in the second round to the receiver they grab in round one.

Tennessee: Mallett has a big arm and some mobility. Collins could provide some mentoring if he is resigned. 

Washington: Mallett could be a nice fit behind McNabb, giving the 'Skins a big arm to develop. Its possible the Redskins draft a QB in round one, but its more likely they will wait till round two. 

Minnesota: The Vikings are in need of someone who can stretch the field to help balance the running of AP.

Jacksonville: The Jags need a QB to develop. Mallett would fit well and would have the opportunity to learn behind Garrard. 

Seattle: Needs a QB to build around. Seattle is another possible landing spot with a veteran who can help guide Mallett's development and maturity off the field. If Seattle wants Mallett, they will probably have to use their first round pick or trade up in the second round. 

Most Likely: Tennessee. They need to find a VY replacement. Mallett's big arm will be a benefit to Kenny Britt and Randy Moss (if he resigns) and will open up things for Chris Johnson. Second round pick.

5. Andy Dalton: 6’2” 217 lbs. A four-year starter who has thrown for 10, 314 yards, 71 touchdowns and 30 INT’s. Dalton has also rushed for 1,611 yards and 22 TD’s. Dalton lacks the ideal size for an NFL QB, but that shouldn’t make him ineffective at the pro level. There are quite a few NFL starting QB’s who list at 6’2” or less and several have found a lot of NFL success (Drew Brees 6’0” and Mark Brunell 6’2”). Dalton’s completion percentages have generally increased and his TD/INT spread has improved every year. After watching Dalton throw in post season workouts, he has looked like a young man who will be able to complete and succeed at the NFL level.

Dalton doesn't come from a program that plays in a major conference, so the level of competition he faced is considered to be less. However, when you look at how he has performed against "premier" competition, he has played very well. Dalton has been a winner and has found a way to win in big games.

Where he lands: Dalton is moving up draft boards and now has a second round grade. He probably fits best in a west coast style offense.

Buffalo: Dalton would be a good fit in Buffalo, because he's a winner and has good accuracy. Drafting him in the second round would also allow Buffalo to draft someone like Von Miller at No. 3.

Cincinnati: The Bengals need a QB for the future and Dalton would be a good fit with his winning attitude and accuracy. 

San Fransisco: Dalton would be a good fit in the 49ers West Coast scheme. Christian Ponder will be another player Dalton was compared with,  if both are on the board when the Niners pick in round two. 

Tennessee: I think Mallett would be a better fit for the Titans, but if he's not available, Dalton would have a chance to start for day one, even though he would be better off sitting for a year. 

Washington: Another West Coast type offense in which Dalton could be very successful. Washington doesn't have a lot of picks, so picking Dalton in round two would allow them to target another area of need in round one. 

Minnesota: Ditto to Washington. Minnesota needs to upgrade its defense and there are a lot of quality defensive lineman.

Miami: The Dolphins could be a player for a QB, but would have to trade back into the second round to draft Dalton.

Jacksonville: I think Jacksonville ends up holding off and not drafting a QB, unless they truly fall in love with one of the prospects. 

Seattle: Need a long term answer. Dalton's accuracy would be a good fit in the Seahawks offense.

Most Likely: I think Dalton ends up in Buffalo. He fits the need and can compete with Fitzpatrick from day one. Second round pick.

6. Christian Ponder: 6’2” 220 lbs. Completed 68.8% in 2009 and 61.5% in 2010. Career totals of 6,872 yards, 49 TDs, and 30 INTs. Ponder is a little on the shorter side, but has great speed and pocket mobility. He sets quickly and is able to pick up first downs and make defenders miss. Ponder's arm strength is not elite and he gets into trouble for trusting his arm too much. He forces too many throws and has to learn when to throw the ball away. Ponder's overall accuracy is good, but needs continued work on recognizing what the defense is giving him. Also, he needs to improve his check down reads. He’s a good developmental QB and the team that drafts him needs to plan on having him sit for at least a year before he’s ready to deliver results at the NFL level.

Ponder is a QB who is best suited for a West Coast offense. In the right situation, he could provide good competition for the starting spot, but he will be best suited by having a year to learn behind an established starter. 

Where he lands: Ponder is another player who has been moving up draft boards. I think he is a late second or early third round prospect. However, I think there will be a quarterback run at the top of the second round and that's where he will be drafted. 

Buffalo: I think Buffalo grabs a QB in round two, but it's just a matter of who they like the best. This is not a likely landing spot unless they trade back.

Cincinnati: Ponder would be a good fit, but I think Cincinnati is looking a different direction. 

Arizona: I think they will have already addressed their QB need, but if not, I think they still go a different direction, unless they move back a few spots. 

San Fransisco: Needs a QB and I think is most likely to address that area in round two. Ponder is a good fit and I think this is a pretty likely spot for him to be drafted. 

Tennessee: I think the Titans would prefer a QB with a bigger arm, Ponder could go here if they are sold on his potential. 

Washington: Another West Coast system in which Ponder would fit well. I think there is a good chance they go QB in round two, so what teams ahead of them do will have a major impact.

Minnesota: Ponder has the accuracy, but again I think the Vikings are looking for a player who can stretch the field more than Ponder can. 

Miami: Possible they grab a QB to develop and Ponder would be a nice fit. I think Miami targets a veteran in free agency (when/if it happens) and uses the draft to fill other needs.

Jacksonville: Same story as Miami, unless they are blown away by a prospect, I don't think that they draft a QB. 

Seattle: I think Seattle might trade up into the top of the second round to grab the QB they like. Ponder would be a good fit in Seattle.

Most Likely: San Fransisco. He fits the offense and Kiper and McShay have compared his style to that of current head coach Jim Harbaugh. Second round pick. 


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