2011 NFL Draft Debate: Blaine Gabbert vs. Cam Newton

Chris MaierCorrespondent IApril 20, 2011

SAN DIEGO, CA - FEBRUARY 10: 2010 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton of Auburn throws the ball during his workout routine for the media at Cathedral High School's sports stadium on February 10, 2011 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kent Horner/ Getty Images)
Kent Horner/Getty Images

No position gets more publicity leading up to the NFL Draft quarterback, as some variation of the following quote is uttered endlessly: "You have to draft a franchise quarterback if he is on the board and you don't have one." 

Of course the question this year is whether there is a franchise quarterback worthy of the No. 1 pick. 

One thing that has emerged however, is the status of Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert as the top two prospects at the position. 

We debate which one is better in today's Draft Debate.

Cam Newton by Chris Maier Senior Editor

I am not going to lie and tell you Cam Newton is the safest quarterback in the draft, but in the most wide open quarterback draft in recent memory, it is hard to find a quarterback with more upside than Newton. 

He is coming off one of the best college football seasons by a quarterback as he carried the Auburn Tigers to the national title. He has all the physical tools you look for in a quarterback headlined by a rare combination of size and athleticism.

Statistically, he not only ran for 1,473 yards and 20 TDs but also threw for 2,854 yards with a 30-7 TD:INT ratio.

The most surprising aspect of Newton's game is his fluid throwing motion. 

He possesses the arm strength to flick the ball downfield with ease, and does not have as many mechanical adjustments as you would expect for a quarterback known for his running as much as his throwing. 

Yes, Newton will need to improve his footwork and adjust to taking snaps from center.  He will also need to show that he can make reads and go through his progressions after playing in a rather simplistic offense at Auburn. 

While these are big adjustments, these are the same type of adjustments that Gabbert has to make.

The other aspect that stands out in Newton's game is his poise under pressure. 

After a horrific first half against Alabama in which the Tigers fell behind 24-0, Newton guided the Tigers back to a 28-27 victory. 

In all, Newton won multiple games for the Tigers in the waning moments, proving unflappable in the clutch.  He also failed to succumb to outside pressures during the NCAA's investigation of whether he received payment in exchange for playing for Auburn.

None of this is to say Newton has impeccable character or is a sure-fire NFL signal caller (there isn't one this year). 

Newton has to prove he has the work ethic and character to be the face of a franchise and a leader on and off the field, but compared to Gabbert he has the higher ceiling as a quarterback. 

Ultimately, I think that the keys for Newton will be landing in a situation in a smaller market, a strong locker room, a coaching staff that knows how to utilize his athletic skills and most importantly, where he is not forced to play right away. 

The biggest challenge Newton will face are the expectations.  It is for these reasons Newton's best destination may be Buffalo. 

It may slow his development as an icon and entertainer, but it would greatly enhance his development as a quarterback.

Blaine Gabbert by Jared Counterman Associate Editor

Missouri's Blaine Gabbert is the next in line to join the growing fraternity of spread offense QBs making the transition to the NFL.

As a two year starter in the pass happy Big 12, Gabbert racked up over 6,800 passing yards and 40 touchdowns. Even with the inflated stats that spread offenses have been known to create, Gabbert displayed a rare consistency in the accuracy of his throws.

Comparing his college career to that of Sam Bradford's, last year's No. 1 overall selection and a successful draft choice, is something that NFL evaluators are going to spend significant time doing.

Bradford carried the physical tools of your classic pocket QB, while Gabbert brings those abilities and more to the table.

Blaine Gabbert is the type of athlete that has been groomed to be a franchise QB his entire life.

The 6'5", 230 lb signal caller was rated as the nation's top "pro-style" QB coming out of high school and for his first couple seasons at Missouri, Gabbert studied under future pro Chase Daniel.

Once given the opportunity, Gabbert orchestrated the spread to perfection. He shows the ability to make any throw in the route tree that would be asked at the next level. To add to his above average arm and pedigree, Gabbert also has excellent athleticism.

Opposing prospect, Cameron Newton, often draws comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger for his ability to buy time, but in my evaluation Gabbert possesses "Roethlisberger-esque" features as well.

As a passer, Gabbert's pro-assessment will always come back to one word: "tools".

Like I had touched on earlier, Gabbert played in a spread offense where he was not required to make many NFL throws or deal with NFL blitzes or situations.

Resulting from his collegiate offensive system, questions of scheme adaptability have risen and will continue to come up.

With his above average athletic ability and passing skill set, I don't see the NFL transition being too big for his abilities.

In college, all Gabbert had to do from a footwork standpoint was set his feet. However at the professional level he'll have to adapt to three, five and seven step drops and feel the pocket on the move, all of which he has close to no experience doing at a high level.

I revert to his high school status as the top "pro-style" QB in order to remind you that the talent to make the transition is definitely there.

Gabbert may throw the best 20 yard "in" route that I've seen on tape in quite some time. He's got an elite sense of timing when attacking zone coverages and is an unquestioned leader. 

Let's also not forget, many of today's top offenses are incorporating many elements of the spread.

To tie up the ends on Gabbert's body of work, I believe he absolutely is the only QB worthy of a top-10 pick in this draft class, and he is by far the best pro prospect at the position.

This is a player that can start day one and manage an offense. It would be a mere impossibility for a player of this caliber, in today's NFL, to fall out of the top five selections.

Chris Maier is Senior Editor for NFLDraft101.com.  He can be reached at cmaier@nfldraft101.com.  Follow me on Twitter: nfldraft101


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