One of the major questions heading into the 2011 NFL Draft is where the top signal callers will be selected. Much is being made about the No. 1 overall pick, and whether the Carolina Panthers will pick Auburn's Cam Newton or Missouri's Blaine Gabbert.
On the other hand, some draft experts think Carolina needs to go defense with the top pick and can wait until the second round to grab their passer.
That, or they can skip on a quarterback altogether, roll the dice again with Jimmy Clausen, and draft Andrew Luck in 2012 if it blows up in their face for the second year in a row.
Outside of the top pick, many draft experts are not so quietly pondering a mid-to-late round shuffle between quarterback-needy teams that could field trades to land the passer they like.
However, as is the case with most drafts, some of the teams picking outside of the top 10 may have to reach for a guy that wasn't originally on their list, or a guy who was "supposed" to go to one team will go higher because of a trade or a sudden rise in stock.
Of course, that's assuming any of the top five passing prospects are still around after the first half of the first round.
Many things will change between now and the actual draft, but one thing has been perfectly clear: several NFL teams badly need an upgrade at the quarterback position, and the first round of this year's draft could be exactly where those upgrades take place.
Here's a crack at predicting where this year's top five passers get selected, and you guessed it, they're all going in the first round.
Mocks have been differing everywhere between Gabbert and Newton, but one consistency for the most part has at least been this: that Carolina knows they have a problem at quarterback, and now is the time to address it.
Jimmy Clausen is not the answer, and Carolina can't go through the motions for another season and expect the rest of their team to believe in Ron Rivera's system without a face to the franchise.
Other than disgruntled wide receiver Steve Smith, the Panthers are severely lacking a true representation of their organization from a player standpoint. Landing a potential revolutionary quarterback prospect cures two major diseases for this team.
Newton is flawed, both in character and mechanics, but he still has the elite size, athleticism, and confidence. Throw in an NFL arm and last season's national title under his belt, and you've got yourself a bona fide NFL superstar in the making. That, or you have your next JaMarcus Russell.
But we're not here to predict whether these guys are going to pan out. The fact remains that Carolina needs a new face of the franchise, and they need an upgrade at the most important position on the field.
The revolution in Carolina starts where it should, and that's with the franchise drafting the most talented quarterback in this year's class, Cam Newton.
The smoke screens will tell you Buffalo is drafting defense, but Buffalo is in a similar situation that Carolina is in. However, unlike the Panthers, they actually have a competent stop-gap passer in Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Still, as productive as Fitzpatrick was in 2010, he's not the long-term solution, and he's not exactly the type of quarterback Chan Gailey normally rolls with.
Gabbert gives Buffalo something they haven't had since what they thought they had in Rob Johnson; a true successor to Jim Kelly. Sure, J.P. Losman and Trent Edwards didn't pan out, but this isn't the time for back-tracking and second-guessing.
No matter how many defensive players the Bills select, they still need to get a marquee quarterback who has the talent and potential to dig them out of the mediocre hole they've been stuck in for the past decade.
This especially rings true when Bills fans think about the idea of their team landing another so-called elite defensive prospect, when that player could easily turn out to be the next Aaron Maybin. Shrieks, gasps, and horror, I know.
Gabbert is arguably the most NFL-ready quarterback in this class, and he has just about as much athleticism as Cam Newton. He has a lively arm and a cool demeanor, and while he needs some work, he could be highly productive in the right system. That system might just be in Buffalo.
Mike Shanahan was sitting pretty in Denver when he had Jake Plummer as his quarterback, and then was able to slowly bring on his coveted prize, Jay Cutler. Unfortunately, he had his time cut short with Cutler in Denver, and now he is on the lookout for his new pet project.
You can put the emphasis on "project" if you like, in reference to Locker, but I'm not about to doubt Locker's talent, nor Shanahan's clear approval of his potential.
Locker has the elite athleticism and tools every offensive coach looks for in their quarterback, while his size and arm are above NFL requirements.
Sure, Locker's accuracy, mechanics, and decision-making are highly in question (as they should be), but few quarterbacks are drafted into the league without flaws that need correcting.
Regardless of his knocks, no one has ever doubted Locker's potential, and with a great offensive mind like Shanahan watching his every move and molding him along the way, this could be a match made in heaven.
The Brett Favre experiment is over, and the Joe Webb experiment probably should have never started. Clearly, this means the Vikings need an answer at quarterback.
While it could be a smoke screen that leads to a Favre return or the signing (or trading for) another veteran quarterback, something tells me Minnesota is simply telling the truth when they say that they're in hot pursuit of the next Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco.
There's no guarantee that they will find the league's next great passer in Mallett, but there's also little doubt in regards to his sheer talent. Mallet's main knocks are to his character and off-field decision-making, and really have little to do with his actual ability to play the position.
Minnesota needs a big, strong pocket passer who has the intelligence and moxie to learn on the go and still help a fairly talented team remain competitive.
While Minnesota would probably love to land Cam Newton or Jake Locker with this pick, they'll likely prepare themselves to be looking at Mallett at this spot. And according to Mallett's own perception of meetings with the Vikings, that wouldn't be such a bad thing.
It wasn't too long ago that Ponder was one of the top-rated quarterbacks in the nation. However, here he is now, still getting mixed signals from draft gurus everywhere, as some have him going somewhere in the first round, while others grade him as a third- or fourth-round prospect.
While Ponder may lack elite athleticism and arm strength, he more than makes up for it with his excellent leadership, cerebral play, and accuracy.
Ponder is one of the smartest decision-makers at the quarterback position in this class, as he can make all the throws and routinely makes the right play.
Ponder may be a level or two below some of the other prospects in terms of potential, but there is arguably not a more NFL-ready passer in this draft.
Miami is clearly more than just a little bit on the fence with Chad Henne as their future at the position, so grabbing a quarterback early to send a message is key in deciding Miami's future on offense.
Either Ponder pushes Henne toward greatness, or he's the Dolphins' next attempt at finally replacing Dan Marino.
Obviously some teams need to change their tune and things need to fall into place the right way for these picks to stay true. However, I don't believe the hype that the Denver Broncos want to draft a quarterback early. If they do so, it will likely be in the second or third round.
Next on the list in need of a quarterback would be both Arizona and Cincinnati, although the Cardinals have been said to want to draft defense in the first round, while the Bengals have had their eyes on A.J. Green.
Also, talk about trading Carson Palmer away and possibly landing Kevin Kolb softens the immediate need for a passer so early.
The only other team that could (or should) really have a chance of messing this up is the Tennessee Titans, but if defensive tackle Nick Fairley slips to the 10th pick (as many experts have been predicting), I don't see how the Titans pass up on a new, younger version of Albert Haynesworth.
Ultimately, the five teams above are all in need of a quarterback upgrade, and all make perfect sense to pull the trigger on said quarterbacks if those quarterbacks are available when they make their selections.
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