Ranking the Top 5 Quarterbacks in the Draft Based on Key Attributes
This year's QB class is one of the most intruiging in recent memory. No one really stands out as the type of quarterback who can come into the NFL at play at a high level right away, like Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Sam Bradford. Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton, who are ranked by many as the top two quarterbacks in the draft, both came from spread offenses that did not require them to make the pre-snap reads and audibles required at the NFL level.
In this article I will be ranking the top five quarterbacks in the draft based on the following attributes: Arm Strength, Deep Accuracy, Short Accuracy, Leadership, Pocket Presence/Footwork, Scrambling Ability, Reads/Progressions and intangibles.
Points will be awarded in inverse order of standings, i.e. if you rank first you get five points, second you get four points and so on. Then the scores will be added up and they will be ranked based on what score they got.
The five quarterbacks that I will be ranking are Mike Mayock of NFL Network's top five: Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, Ryan Mallett, Cam Newton and Christian Ponder.
Arm Strength is not really crucial to becoming successful in the NFL, as proven by people like Drew Brees, but it certainly is helpful to be able to throw the ball 60 yards downfield. Arm Strength isn't really something you can work on or improve, it's basically just whether or not you have a strong arm.
That being said, this was difficult to rank. With the exception of Ponder, everyone on this list has very good arm strength.
1. Ryan Mallett-5 points: Has a literal cannon for an arm. He reportedly threw a football 78 yards into the wind once while in high school.
2. Cam Newton-4 points: Not too far behind Mallett In terms of being able to heave the ball downfield.
3. Jake Locker-3-points: Has very good arm strength, but not quite the other-worldly quality of Mallett and Newton. Shares a tie with Gabbert for third.
3 (tie). Blaine Gabbert-3 points: Blaine Gabbert has an incredibly strong arm, but he can't quite compare to Mallett and Newton. He comes very close to Locker and ties him at third.
5. Christian Ponder-1 point: Ponder is by far the weakest-armed of the group. He still possesses decent strength though and it shouldn't bother him too much at the next level.
It's all good and fine to able to heave the ball 70 yards, but the real issue is: can you hit your receiver in stride? It's pointless to have a strong arm unless you can actually get it to your receiver downfield.
1. Cam Newton-5 points: None of these quarterbacks are particularly impressive with their long-ball accuracy, but Cam Newton stands out a little among the rest.
2. Ryan Mallett-4 points: Mallett is actually pretty decent with his deep accuracy. If he is given time to set his feet and get comfortable in the pocket, he can make solid throws downfield.
3. Blaine Gabbert-3 points: This is definitely an area that needs improving for Gabbert. He can make some throws downfield, but is too inconsistent.
4. Jake Locker-2 points: Like Gabbert, Locker can make some pretty impressive throws sometimes, but not consistently enough.
5. Christian Ponder-1 point: Once again, Ponder brings up the rear. He doesn't throw downfield very much and when he does, he usually misses.
Downfield passing is great for picking up big chunks of yardage at once, but when it's 3rd down and 6, you need someone who can squeeze the ball into very small holes within the 5-15 yard range.
1. Blaine Gabbert-5 points: Blaine Gabbert excels at short and medium range passes. He can hit tiny windows even when on the run and can place the ball in such a way that a receiver will have a chance to pick up yards after the catch.
2. Christian Ponder-4 points: This is much more Ponder's style. He could fit well in a West Coast system, where quick, short, completions are crucial. Ponder completed an extremely high 68% of his passes last year, with most of them coming on short passes.
3. Ryan Mallett-3 points: Once again, if Mallett gets comfortable, he can make most of the throws. Make him uncomfortable and he is liable to float the ball.
4. Cam Newton-2 points: Cam Newton is reasonably accurate and can get the ball to the receiver most of the time, but the problem is how the ball gets there. Newton doesn't have a perfectly tight spiral and he often puts the receiver off-balance on shorter routes. Receivers have to make unnatural catches, meaning they lose a step or two regaining their balance.
5.Jake Locker-1 point: Locker's biggest concern by far is his accuracy. He is very erratic with the football, especially on shorter routes. He throws from his back foot far too much and doesn't take time to step into his throws.
This is a broad topic, so I will try and break down what I'm looking for in this category. What I am basically looking for is what a quarterback is doing with his feet in between the snap and the release. Does he drop back, plant his foot and step into his throw? Or does he drop back, see pass rushers, retreat and throw off his back foot? How is his footwork when he is forced to throw on the run?
1. Blaine Gabbert-5 points: Gabbert looks comfortable behind his line. When he has to scramble, he keeps his stride smooth while throwing. He can take a hit if it means completing a pass.
2. Christian Ponder-4 points: Christian Ponder has prototypical mechanics. He steps into his throwsand doesn't jump around too much in the pocket.
3. Ryan Mallett-3 points: Mallett does most of his work from the pocket, as he lacks the speed to throw much on the run. He can break a few tackles with his size. But when pressured heavily, Mallett retreats too quickly and lofts a high, floating pass off his back foot.
4: Cam Newton-2 points: Newton relies heavily on his ability to shed tacklers and make plays outside of the pocket with his feet. This strategy is not as effective in the NFL. Newton will have to learn to be patient in the pocket and to pass first, run second. Newton's footwork leaves a lot to be desired. When he is passing while on the move, he sometimes hops a little bit into the air before he throws. He will make unnecessary passes off his back foot when there is really no need to.
5. Jake Locker-1 point: Locker throws off his back foot far too much. He is antsy under pressure and has a tendancy to bolt from the pocket when he feels the heat. Like Newton, he also hops into the air when throwing on the run for no apparent reason.
For a quarterback, being able to run is not a requirement. Peyton Manning runs about once or twice in a season and is one of the greatest QBs of all-time. But if you have a quarterback like Mike Vick or Aaron Rodgers who is able to run with the football it just gives the opposing defensive coordinator one more thing to worry about.
1. Cam Newton-5 points: Cam Newton is almost like a power back or tight end when he runs. Rather than use his speed or moves to get around them like Mike Vick does, he prefers to just run hard and run over people in his way. He's kind of like a Ben Roethlisberger with speed. He can outrun the front seven and run over the secondary.
2. Jake Locker-4 points: Jake Locker is a very fast, shifty quarterback who spends most of the time running around. He can make defenders miss and has the size and weight to take a beating and keep playing. He is ridiculously tough and will be able to transition his scrambling game to the NFL.
3. Blaine Gabbert-3 points: Gabbert has good speed and is a dual threat outside the pocket. He is quite adept at throwing on the run and if that's not availible he can beat you with his legs.
4. Christian Ponder-2 points: Ponder is a fairly small quarterback (6'2", 220) but still a good scrambler. He, like Gabbert, is a dual threat on bootlegs with the ability to run or pass efficiently. He may have to adjust his game at pro level to avoid being constantly injured.
5: Ryan Mallett-1 point: Ryan Mallett is far and away the worst scrambler of the group. He has fairly good feet, but his lack of speed is what holds him back. He ran a 5.27 second 40, which is definitely far too slow to beat the elite pass rushers in the NFL to the outside.
Leadership not only encompasses your vocal leadership of the team, but also the example you set. Are you first to get to practice and last to leave? Do you play through pain and sacrifice yourself for your team? Will you do anything to help your team win? Do you always have a good attitude? Do you have a great work ethic?
1. Jake Locker-5 points: Jake Locker is the ultimate team player. He commands respect from everyone around him. He plays through pain and lays himself out for his team.
1. (Tie) Cam Newton-5 points: Cam Newton is in complete control of his team's huddle. He has a great work ethic and loves football.
3. Blaine Gabbert-3 points: Gabbert has the ability to rally his average team and win some improbable upsets.
4. Ryan Mallett-2 points: While some have concerns about his character, Mallett is a natural leader who wants to win. His teammates have publicly praised his work ethic. What remains to be seen is if he has the maturity to command a group of men at the next level.
5. Christian Ponder-1 point: Ponder is not a bad leader in any way. He is a great guy and a model student who plays hard.
Making the transition from the simplified spread offenses and the less-complicated blitz schemes of college football to the NFL is one of the biggest challenges all young quarterbacks face. Most college quarterbacks play in a pro-style offense as little as 10% of the time during their college career and some almost never.
1. Blaine Gabbert-5 points: While Gabbert spent almost all his time in the spread offense, he showed lots of promise in the times where he had to make reads. He goes through his progressions well. He is a good learner and should be able to figure out pro offenses in a relatively short time.
2. Ryan Mallett-4 points: Ryan Mallett's system allowed him to change the play at the line of scrimmage and he was fairly good at it. His main issue it reading complicated blitz schemes.
3. Christian Ponder-3 points: Ponder played in a relatively pro style offense in college. He can read blitzes very well.
4. Cam Newton- 2 points: Cam Newton played in an offense that pretty much just let him do what he wanted with the football. He was the biggest, best and fastest player on the field much of the time, so he could improvise and make plays even when a play fell apart, or a protection scheme failed. In the NFL, however, he will no longer be the strongest or fastest player and will need to learn his team's offense, as well as pro defensive schemes quickly.
5. Jake Locker-1 point: Locker was rarely called upon to make any changes at the line in college. He rarely went through his progression; he would usually just look for his primary receiver and try to force it to him.
Intangibles are those things you can't teach a quarterback. Things like work ethic, poise, being cool under pressure, etc. Intangibles are what make a quarterback who deosn't necessarily look good on paper great.
1. Blaine Gabbert-5 points: Blaine Gabbert is a proven winner, even with a mediocre team. He can win games he has no buisness winning. He works hard and learns quickly.
2. Cam Newton- 4 points: Cam Newton has a great attitude towards football. He, like Gabbert, knows how to win games. He works hard and loves the game of football.
3. Jake Locker-3 points: Jake locker turned an 0-9 team into a winner. He plays through pain and is a complete team player.
2. Ryan Mallett- 2 points: Everyone has a different opinion on Mallett. Some question his character and maturity and wonder if he will be able to withstand the tremendous exposure he will be under in the NFL. I think that he loves football—and his teammates vouch for his work ethic.
1. Christian Ponder-1 point: Ponder has great character and maturity, but can't quite carry a whole team on his back. His arm has never been the same since he had surgery on it, so injuries are a definite concern with him.
The final scores are:
Blaine Gabbert: 32
Cam Newton: 29
Ryan Mallett: 24
Jake Locker: 20
Christian Ponder: 17
Blaine Gabbert never scored less than three points, making him the most complete quarterback in the draft. Newton scored high on the physical skills, but not so well on technical issues. Mallett scored most of his points thanks to his arm strength and good deep ball, but his lack of short range accuracy and speed cost him. Locker didn't test well in the physical section, but his leadership and intangibles pushed him into fourth. Christian Ponder, unsurprisingly, comes last. He has maturity and knowledge, but sadly his arm surgery has affected his arm strength enough to keep him from becoming a star.