2011 NFL Draft: Carolina Panthers Can't Draft Blaine Gabbert on Intangibles

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2011 NFL Draft: Carolina Panthers Can't Draft Blaine Gabbert on Intangibles
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Blaine Gabbert shouldn't be a top 10 pick, but every year a darling quarterback emerges in the draft and becomes the poster child for pre-draft over-hyping.

This year, Gabbert is that guy.

Last year at Missouri, Gabbert put together a good, not great, season in which he posted 16 touchdowns to nine interceptions in the spread offense and led Missouri to the Insight Bowl, which his team lost, 27-24.

But ask any expert who the top quarterback in this draft is and the words "Blaine Gabbert" are a knee-jerk reaction.

Gabbert's mechanics are rather unspectacular, and after just a few minutes of watching film of his games, it is easy to see that the young quarterback has trouble setting his feet in the pocket.

While the folks at Missouri said that Gabbert had experience taking snaps from under center in practice, evaluators can only go by what they see on film. Gabbert is content to become a rusher too quickly when the pocket breaks down, and he simply doesn't have the raw athleticism for that to fly in the NFL.

After a very scripted, smooth pro day, Gabbert's draft stock rose. The quarterback made all of his throws and admittedly showed nice touch on some deep throws.

NFL evaluators are aware, though, that throwing the ball around in a scripted workout with gym shorts and a tee-shirt is much different than standing in the pocket and threading the needle between NFL cornerbacks.

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Recently, I watched a segment on NFL Network where Charley Casserly, whom I respect as an evaluator, ranked the top seven quarterbacks coming out of college in the last three years.

His list was as follows: Sam Bradford, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Blaine Gabbert, Mark Sanchez, Joe Flacco, Josh Freeman.

I was intrigued by the list, but gave Casserly a chance to back himself up.

About Matt Ryan, "Gabbert in my opinion is a better athlete, better arm."

I can understand Gabbert being a better athlete, as Ryan has never struck me as the type who gets by on athleticism, but where are all of these rave reviews about Gabbert's arm coming from?

Ryan ran a pro-style offense in college and had the benefit of making actual NFL throws. Gabbert shows a limited ability to throw a consistent deep ball and a lack of touch on throws over the middle.

About Matthew Stafford, "Accuracy is pretty even between the two of them. Coming out of college, I give Gabbert an edge on athletic ability."

His accuracy is that of Matthew Stafford, according to Casserly. That's a fair assessment since Gabbert isn't the top quarterback prospect for no reason.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Matthew Stafford isn't a great athlete in the first place.

Then, though, we see another comment about being a better athlete than Stafford.

It's not exactly an achievement for a spread offense quarterback to be a better athlete than Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford.

About Gabbert himself, "Athletic ability, I think, is excellent. The guy can move out of the pocket, he can throw on the run, he can make those kinds of plays. His arm is good enough to make all the throws. The Iowa game stands out to me. He made a number of terrific downfield throws in that game. Also, the guy can read a defense. He can pick from one to two. He can decipher things. [He] didn't have a great receiving corps so he had to check off and go to the second and third receiver a number of times. Smart guy, leader, this guy, I think, can be a star in the league."

Gabbert's athleticism is starting to become a focal point of the discussion. Really, most of the comments were about his athleticism and smarts.

There were only two comments about Gabbert's arm and neither of the two sold me on the Missouri product.

"His arm is good enough to make all the throws," says Casserly.

If I'm drafting a quarterback in the top 10 of the draft, I don't want him to be just "good enough."

Neither do NFL teams.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
The Jets win in spite, not because, of Mark Sanchez.

Yet we see a paradox here. Gabbert is a top quarterback prospect and no one wants to talk about the kid's arm.

Then come the comments about his ability to make plays outside of the pocket, which will be only a fraction of his throws in the NFL.

To get a sense of how good he is outside of the pocket, look no further than Casserly's comparison of Mark Sanchez and Gabbert.

About Mark Sanchez, "I think him and Gabbert are equal [at making plays out of the pocket]."

So we're talking about a quarterback with the accuracy of Matthew Stafford and the ability outside of the pocket of Mark Sanchez.

I'm really not sold.

Casserly goes on to talk about Sanchez and Gabbert, saying, "I think [Gabbert] has a better arm than Mark Sanchez and can make more downfield throws, that's why I rate him ahead there."

I'm not a huge Mark Sanchez fan, and having a better arm than Sanchez isn't exactly selling me on Gabbert.

About Joe Flacco, "Gabbert is a better athlete. He has more versatility, and can make more plays on the move."

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Joe Flacco is no great athlete, either.

Again with the athleticism.

After Mark Sanchez came in and crippled the Jets' offense, no NFL team wants to draft a quarterback to be the franchise guy if his best asset is making plays out of the pocket.

Gabbert will come in and be a Sanchez-type with a more polished arm, but remember that Sanchez also had the benefit of playing in a pro-style offense.

To put that in perspective, Sanchez made better reads in his first year than Gabbert will.

To me, that's no reason to draft a quarterback in the top 10.

The media gives Gabbert a great grade as a leader and says that he has great intangibles.

So do Andy Dalton, Greg McElroy and Christian Ponder.

But Gabbert will be a top 10 pick and some team will be unhappy that they bought into the hype of his athleticism and intangibles, despite a lack of collegiate production and a prodigious arm.

Hopefully, for the Panthers, they won't make this mistake with the first selection.

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