Top QB Prospect Still a Question Mark

While Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert seems to be the top player in the NFL Draft at his position, he doesn't have the same level of hype enveloping him that some QB prospects have recently.


Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert won't put his skills on display this week in Indianapolis at the Scouting Combine and will instead wait for his Pro Day. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

A quarterback has been the No. 1-overall selection in 10 of the last 13 NFL Drafts, and it would have been 11 out of 14 had Stanford's Andrew Luck decided to leave school early instead of returning to Palo Alto for his redshirt junior campaign.

Be sure to read my

Intentional Hounding

But no Luck means the Panthers, who own the top pick this April, are probably going to address their D-line, choosing between the likes of Auburn's Nick Fairley and Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers. No matter how miserable Jimmy Clausen looked under center this past year as a rookie, new coach Ron Rivera is a defensive guy and won't reach for a QB when a $50 million investment that can make or break an organization is on the line.

A few days before the start of the annual Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert appears to be the top prospect on everyone's board at the game's most important position. He stands tall in the pocket at 6-5 and 235 pounds, has plenty of arm to make all the throws asked of a professional passer and also possesses many of the desirable traits that can't necessarily be calculated at Lucas Oil Stadium. Confident leader in the huddle, capable scrambler when the play breaks down, diligent student in the film room -- simply stated, by every reasonable weight and measurement, he looks like a franchise quarterback with a football in his hands.

Nevertheless, according to any mock draft you can find so far, including mine, Gabbert is no threat to go No. 1 to Carolina.

Dating back to 1998, selecting a signal caller has produced a mixed bag of results for the 10 teams that have had the privilege (albatross?) of handing the first card to the podium to be read by the Commissioner.

As for the success stories, Peyton Manning (1998) won a Super Bowl for the Colts and got them to another. His younger brother, Eli Manning (2004), brought the Giants to their third Vince Lombardi Trophy, even if it was the Chargers that technically called his name on Day 1 of the draft. Neither Michael Vick (2001) nor Carson Palmer (2003) produced a title for the Falcons or Bengals, respectively, but each has been selected to multiple Pro Bowls and made his club a force to be reckoned with offensively more often than not.

On the other side of the coin, some would say the Browns are still yet to recover from the decision to draft Tim Couch (1999), as they have been to the playoffs but once ever since and had the immortal Kelly Holcomb at the helm that January day in Pittsburgh. David Carr (2002) was just as big of a disaster for the Texans, although one can argue he didn't have a chance lining up behind an offensive line that subjected him to more hits than Casey Kasem. Alex Smith (2005) of the 49ers never lived up to the legacy of Steve Bono, let alone Steve Young. JaMarcus Russell (2007) might have had a better run with the Raiders had he played left tackle instead of quarterback.

According to any mock draft you can find so far, Gabbert is no threat to go No. 1 to Carolina.

The jury is still out on Matthew Stafford (2009) of the Lions and Sam Bradford (2010) of the Rams. Stafford has a cannon attached to his shoulder and his teammates love him, but injuries have held him back thus far. And while Bradford was recently named the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year, so was eventual bust Rick Mirer in 1993 with the Seahawks.

The communicable disease in the collegiate game known as the spread-option offense is the main reason why scouts still have their doubts when evaluating Gabbert.

He completed 63.4 percent of his passes in 2010 for the Tigers, but that number is far less impressive since most of his throws were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He delivers a tight spiral with plenty of RPMs, although there isn't a lot of tape clearly confirming he can consistently fire the 18-yard deep out required in a typical pro-style playbook. He must also prove that he can read a defense, as the spread features so many pre-determined decisions -- "Throw it here… now!" -- like on those bubble screens that work so well on Saturday but tend to get sniffed out on Sunday.

Despite the fact that Gabbert spent the majority of his collegiate career in the shotgun, in high school he showcased the skills to be a classic drop-back passer.

"Gabbert was the No. 7-ranked quarterback prospect overall and No. 4 pro-style quarterback in his 2008 class," said Scott Kennedy, the director of scouting for Scout.com. "He was a big kid at 6-5, 200-plus with a quick release and a strong arm. There wasn't a lot of wasted motion, as he went from cocked to released in a hurry. He was a good athlete that could run the ball but whose footwork wasn't always what it needed to be in the pocket."

He is a much better prospect than his Columbia predecessor, Chase Daniel, who went undrafted and is now a backup with the Saints, even if Daniel was more celebrated, both in terms of statistics and notoriety.

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"The pluses are all the same, with his great frame and arm, but his footwork has improved and he's much stronger through his legs and hips," Kennedy said of Gabbert. "He's a more consistent passer on the move now because he gets his feet positioned much more quickly. Running won't be a big part of his game, but he has enough mobility and strength to keep a defense honest."

After the Panthers at No. 1, the Bills (3), Bengals (4), Cardinals (5), 49ers (7), Titans (8), Redskins (10), Vikings (12), Dolphins (15) and Jaguars (16) can all justify drafting a QB in Round 1. Book it: Gabbert is going to one of these teams. Just don't expect any general manager to aggressively put together a package of picks to move up and grab him. There's nothing that suggests "can't miss." While Luck has that going for him, Gabbert doesn't.

But don't blame Gabbert. Blame the spread. Or Alex Smith.


John Crist is an NFL Analyst for Scout.com, a voter for the Heisman Trophy and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America.


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