It is no mystery the Buffalo Bills need a franchise quarterback in order to have any future success.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has fared far better than expected, and his mobility was a major reason why the Bills had any success on offense last season. But the Harvard alum is clearly not the future of the Bills and is merely a quality stop-gap before Buffalo finds their signal-caller of the future.
However, with an unstable offensive line and a defense that could use significant improvement, the Bills are more likely to choose a defensive playmaker like Von Miller with their third pick in the draft and selecting one of these next five quarterbacks in the second round or trading up into the first to snag the quarterback they feel best fits their system.
With that in mind here are five quarterbacks the Bills may select other than Newton or Gabbert:
1. Jake Locker
If by some highly unlikely chance Locker drops into the bottom third of the draft, the Bills would likely have to consider trading up in order to snag the former Washington Huskie.
Locker's natural talent, leadership and toughness would fit well on a Buffalo team searching for a true leader. His ability to throw the ball deep downfield would work well with wide receivers Lee Evans and Steve Johnson on the outside, and his ability to make the big play when needed was more than an ordinary occasion at Washington.
What separates Locker from other quarterbacks is his athleticism.
With quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers having success in the NFL, mobile quarterbacks are viewed as a premium package. Locker's ability to throw on the run will have teams in the first round looking at him as the full package in terms of talent.
However, Locker will have to ease injury concerns that built up during his college career and accuracy issues that involve his throwing mechanics. If Locker continues to work as hard as he did during college though, these concerns will be put in the rearview mirror, and the Bills would likely turn the reigns over to him after a year or two of grooming him behind Fitzpatrick.
2. Christian Ponder
Ponder was once seen as a future top-10 selection and franchise quarterback.
After wrestling with arm injuries throughout his college career at Florida State though, he has fallen far, but has done well enough after the season to boost his stock.
Ponder has shown the type of skill package that boasts NFL starting potential. He may not be a "great" quarterback in the future, but he can be above average.
Blessed with above-average size, arm strength and mobility, Ponder should be on the radar of any team looking for a quarterback who may be able to start as soon as this year if he remains healthy.
Like Locker, Ponder has shown more than enough mobility to fit smoothly into the Bills' offense. At times he may even be moving too quick for himself though, and he forces the ball in "Favreian" style as a result.
If he can watch a year and hold a clipboard while Buffalo builds an offensive line to protect him, Ponder may become less turnover-prone and learn that sometimes throwing the ball away and consistency are the keys to winning.
3. Andy Dalton
Dalton has little flash to his game, and his upside is definitely not as high as other quarterbacks in this draft.
However, upside has gotten many general managers/coaches fired and cost fans money they will never get back. The former TCU quarterback may not have that upside, but he does have the leadership, accuracy and football IQ to be a successful starting quarterback.
His arm strength and mobility are more good than great, and he'll probably find a balance between game-manager and very good quarterback, something of a rich man's Chad Pennington. Like Pennington, Dalton is a leader, and players will be more than willing to face any team in the NFL as long as he is leading them.
Dalton is a hard worker, has leadership ability and has a toughness you want to see in your QB. He still needs work as a passer though. Playing in the pistol offense was exciting to watch and allowed him to pile up numbers, but it has also hindered his development as a pro-style passer.
Dalton also needs work on his throwing mechanics. With the lack of fundamentals, there are some questions about his ability to conform, but also how quickly he'll adjust. All the tools, physically and mentally are there though, and he should hear his name called at some point within the top 100 picks.
4. Colin Kaepernick
Kaepernick is a player most people did not know about until the combine and bowl season.
Even I only saw him twice this season at Nevada; once in a thriller against Brigham Young and another time against Boston College.
Kaepernick is an interesting physical specimen, as he is legitimately 6'5" and one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the draft. Versus both BYU and BC, he showed he could be a dual-threat quarterback, as he took off downfield about 10 times each game.
However, despite his physical tools, the fact that he played in the pistol offense and had some accuracy issues because of his throwing mechanics will likely mean he will be developing for at least the next two years in order to work any kinks out of his routine. If the Bills have faith Fitzpatrick can keep the seat warm for the time being, then Kaepernick might actually be the best fit for the Bills' system as a big mobile quarterback who still has enough strength to throw downfield.
5. Ricky Stanzi
Stanzi impressed me and Iowa fans with his toughness from day one as a starter. The Hawkeye grad looked more and more like a pro as he progressed every season. His release is smooth and his mechanics are tight enough that his accuracy has improved significantly since his first start as a Hawkeye.
More importantly, he is quick enough to escape pressure in the pocket, while also keeping his head downfield.
Like Ponder though, Stanzi tends to try to fit the ball in tight spaces and does not have the arm strength necessary to do so, especially on deep plays. Those types of plays that resulted in passes deflected or incompletions could easily become interceptions in the NFL.
Stanzi is a leader and hard worker though, and along with the fact that he played in a pro-style offense in college, he is more than attractive for a team like the Bills who could be looking for a quarterback in the third or fourth round of the draft.
No matter who the Bills select in the 2011 NFL Draft, they will likely look to find a potential quarterback of the future to continue to build around.
If they do select Gabbert or Newton, then all five of these quarterbacks will be looking at other homes far from Buffalo. If they decide Fitzpatrick is more than adequate for the near future, they may even wait for next year's draft, while building an offensive line for a rookie to step behind.
Either way it should be interesting to see who will be holding the clipboard come next season in Buffalo.