When the quarterback position enters any conversation, it quickly becomes a lightning rod for strong opinions. Cleveland's current situation behind center is far from settled, thus it opens the door to potential prospects becoming viable targets for fans, who fall in or out of love with those players who have yet to set a foot on a NFL field.
The brass in Cleveland hasn't helped the situation. They have publicly supported Colt McCoy as the team's starting quarterback, which he seemingly earned on the field when he showed tenacity, toughness, accuracy and playmaking ability. He stumbled to the finish line, but his play showed he can compete and his team can compete with the right components around him. Yet, it hasn't stopped his team from studying each and every quarterback prospect they can lay their eyes on, which may just be a nervous habit of team president Mike Holmgren and the newly named head coach Pat Shurmur. Fans can also believe that general manager Tom Heckert wasn't in McCoy's corner when he became the team's selection in the third round of the 2010 draft.
Thus, one has to ponder all of the options.
Newton lacks basic quarterbacking skills including anticipation, consistently throwing into tight windows, throwing receivers open, or even running a semblance of a NFL caliber offensive scheme. He is a great athlete pretending to be a quarterback at this juncture. His natural ability is alluring, but he will have to be in the right situation to succeed, which isn't Cleveland. The Browns are a team implementing the west coast offense. They have taken the proper steps for this franchise to be on the same page from Holmgren down through the coaching ranks. Newton's abilities are the exact opposite of what they will be looking for to fit said system.
Gabbert is a more natural passer than Newton, but like his counterpart, a selection of the Missouri product is not the ideal situation. His pocket presence is questionable, and he can be seen bailing out of the pocket even if a faint pass rush is implemented by the opposing defense. Gabbert also lacks the benefit of playing in an NFL caliber system.
Either prospect could eventually land No. 1 overall. In fact, if either fell, Cleveland better be fielding every call possible to enact the best trade down scenario feasible with quarterback starved San Francisco and Tennessee looming directly behind.
As the scenarios play out in front of Cleveland, real (potential) interest in possible quarterback prospects will begin in round two. A round that has seen multiple talents continually move up draft boards, as the value of the position always drives up the class late in the process.
TCU's Andy Dalton has invoked comparisons to Aaron Rodgers, however unlikely. Arkansas' Ryan Mallett is as naturally gifted a passer as any in this class. Washington's Jake Locker has the ideal athleticism and arm strength, but never improved his accuracy as a senior. Florida State's Christian Ponder has come full circle as a potential late first rounder early in the process and once again in consideration after his medicals checked out. Nevada's Colin Kaepernick is nearly as physically gifted as Newton was described, but he has produced long term and will have the luxury of seeing bench and develop time early in his career.
Of those Kaepernick is the most intriguing. He has the raw physical ability of a Newton, the production of a Tim Tebow, and he won't be drafted high enough to demand early playing time. Coaches love his attitude and when they get him on the chalkboard. He has a cannon for an arm, but he has improved his touch as his career commenced in Reno. He clearly needs work with technique issues, but his value compared to his natural talent may give whatever team selects him the most return. (Note: Cleveland has worked out Kaepernick throughout this process.)
The most prudent action for the Browns would be to wait past rounds two or three. Clearly a talent drop off will be significant past said point, but some intriguing talents will be available that are ideal fits for the west coast offense.
Iowa's Ricky Stanzi is a player, when watching his film, he absolutely screams west coast quarterback. As a senior, he tremendously improved his passing accuracy and touchdown to interception ratio. He was no longer the type of quarterback one would anticipate making the crucial mistake in the game. He showed timing and the ability to throw in tight windows between the numbers. Stanzi should be available in round three.
Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor is similar to Stanzi in that he has continued to evolve as a passer during his time in college. He still lacks a great feel for the position, but his accuracy and playmaking ability were top notch as a senior even in a limited passing offense. Taylor is also an outstanding athlete who can really threaten the edge of a defense when he starts to scramble. He should be available in the mid to late rounds.
Finally, let's not completely overlook the fact Cleveland is a team with multiple needs. Needs such as wide receiver and defensive line which will require immediate attention. If none of these quarterbacks are considered significant upgrades over McCoy, which I do not believe they are, there is no reason to spend an early round selection on any (unless an extra pick or two is accumulated).
While anyone can expect Holmgren and his crew to eventually select a prospect at the position, because he believes in doing so every year, it would be in the team's best interests to wait and see McCoy can do before truly addressing the position further particularly when starting to weigh the talented 2012 class.