2011 NFL Draft: Learning from the Past; a Recent History of QBs in the Draft

Eric SamulskiCorrespondent IApril 18, 2011

Cam Newton is a lock to go in the 1st Round
Cam Newton is a lock to go in the 1st RoundJoe Robbins/Getty Images

As draft debates rage on regarding who will slot into what round with what team and who will suffer the inevitable plummet down the draft boards, perhaps the best place to find answers to the plethora of questions is to look back at past drafts. After all, history does have a tendency to repeat itself.

The most speculated on position in this year’s draft has to be Quarterback. Often found at the top of the draft board, this year features a slew of talented gunslingers, but nobody that has really separated himself from the group. Analysts have taken turns, singing the praises of Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton, Jake Locker and more. But while each of these young men may have their strengths, the harsh truth is that they all will not become valuable NFL signal callers.

In the last decade, only one year, the 2004 draft, has produced more than three solid NFL quarterbacks. That draft class featured, three future All-Pro’s taken in the first round, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers, as well as the third round steal, Matt Schaub. Like most drafts, the cream rose to the top, as those four QBs were among the top five drafted, with only JP Losman of Tulane failing to pan out.

Since that 2004 draft, there has never been a draft that produced more than three solid NFL quarterbacks and there has never been a draft in which more than three quarterbacks were taken in the first round. In fact, 2003 and 2004 were the only drafts since the turn of the century in which more than three quarterbacks were taken in the first round.

Looking at those numbers, and the yearly average of fourteen quarterbacks drafted, into consideration, let’s predict how this year’s board will play out.

First, let’s look at our three potential first rounders.

Gabbert and Newton seem to be locks. They have athleticism that is unheard of in NFL QBs not named Vick, yet also possess prototypical great size, solid college production and arm strength to match. While both have to make the transition from spread offenses to a pro style offense, there just doesn’t seem to be anyway that they drop out of the first round.

So who gets that last spot? Mallett and Locker seem to be the two next best bets for entering the first round, but both come with some major concerns as well. Locker has accuracy issues that stem from poor footwork and a suspect ability to read defenses, which has led to questions about whether or not he has the mental make-up to be a NFL QB. Mallett’s concerns aren’t so much on the field, with the exception of his inconsistencies when made to move his feet, but off-field.

Often the off-field concerns are given far more attention from NFL teams. At the combine, Mallett was grilled regarding rumors of his poor attitude, egotistical tendencies and potential drug use. With QB flame-outs being so common, those off field concerns are more serious, in my opinion, and I think Mallett falls to the second, while some team takes a chance on Locker late in the first.

So now that we have our three first-rounders, let’s look at the fourteen quarterbacks who are most likely to hear their name called in April (in no particular order).

1-    Cam Newton, Auburn

2-    Blaine Gabbert, Missouri

3-    Jake Locker, Washington

4-    Ryan Mallett, Arkansas

5-    Christian Ponder, Florida State

6-    Colin Kaepernick, Nevada

7-    Andy Dalton, TCU

8-    Ricky Stanzi, Iowa

9-    Greg McElroy, Alabama

10- Pat Devlin, Delaware

11- Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech

12- Josh Portis, California (PA)

13- T.J. Yates, North Carolina

14- Ben Chappell, Indiana

Lastly, and perhaps most inaccurately, we take a look at whom the three quarterbacks in this class are who will turn into solid NFL starters. It’s clearly an in-exact science or there wouldn’t be so many misses on signal callers, but for my money, the three QBs who have the best chance of turning into solid NFL pros are: Locker, Ponder and Newton.

In what’s becoming more of a popular opinion, I think Ponder has the accuracy, intelligence and mobility to really thrive in the NFL. I was not sold on Locker’s success until he started dropping down draft boards. I do not believe that he is currently the elite prospect that he was made out to be, but the talent is surely there. If he is given time to study behind a veteran and learn how to properly read a defense and get comfortable in the pocket, he could be a solid NF starter.

The last successful QB is harder to predict. I’m honestly not sold on Newton at this moment, but he has other-worldly athletic ability and I was impressed by his accuracy on his deep passes during his time at Auburn. Plus the fact that he carried his team to multiple impressive come-from-behind victories. I’m more of a believer in his long term potential than Gabbert or Mallett.

Gabbert comes from a similar spread system to Newton, but took far fewer chances down the field in college, relying instead on short dink and dunk passes or short routes. I’m not convinced that he can open up the field the way that Newton can. Mallett has off-field problems that really scare me. Going as far back as Michigan, Mallett has been rumored to think very highly of himself and not necessarily have the greatest work ethic.

Now, it might all be speculation, but when people have been saying the same things about you for years, its concerning. He has a bit of that Ryan Leaf attitude that could squash any physical talents, which for my money are really just his rifle arm. When asked to move his feet, he is a suspect passer. Additionally, I think Kaepernick might have too much work to do to become an NFL starter and if handled improperly, he may never each his potential.