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The 2011 NFL draft class may have been the strongest we have seen in years. It will certainly stand to produce two reasonably successful quarterbacks who will go on to accomplish great things with their respective teams.
Unfortunately for Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker, they are not those two.
Jerseys flew off the shelves after the most recent draft. Quarterbacks from small schools, from large schools, from fashionably popular underdog schools and from perennial powerhouses all made the transition from Saturdays to Sundays this season. The quartet of Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Gabbert and Locker was supposed to be this era's answer to the bright star quarterbacks from the 1980s and 1990s.
Many argue that the success of Newton and Dalton over that of Gabbert and Locker is due to the teams to which they were drafted.
Nothing is further from the truth.
Dalton leads a Cincinnati Bengals team fresh off an underachieving 4-12 record from a year ago with a head coach whose seat may not have been hotter in quite possibly the strongest division in the NFL. Newton takes his first snaps as a professional with the Carolina Panthers, a team that has experienced nothing but disappointment the past several seasons due to a mass exodus (and aging) of talent.
Meanwhile, Gabbert finds himself on a Jacksonville squad that has produced the best rusher in the NFL for the past two seasons in Maurice Jones-Drew. MJD is a ground-based weapon who should have provided Gabbert enough breathing room to excel to some noticeable degree.
However, 166 completions on 330 passing attempts and nine interceptions is not good enough—not good enough to keep pace with the rest of this freshman class, at least.