Normally, this is the time of year referred to by some in the NFL as "business season," the time when free agents get paid. For now, their payday is on hold while the league and NFL Players Association try to work out a new collective bargaining agreement.
For rookies, it is the season of flaws, as NFL coaches and scouts travel the country assessing the physical skills of potential draft picks at their pro days. How bad is that quarterback's hitch? Can that one throw on the run? How is his footwork on five-step drops?
NFL Network's Mike Mayock isn't about to change his opinions on the top quarterbacks based off of a couple dozen throws made at the NFL Scouting Combine less than 10 days ago, but after watching them perform (all but Blaine Gabbert threw the ball there), he does have some opinions where some quarterbacks are weak and others are strong.
Mayock still believes in letting quarterbacks' in-game performances do the loudest talking, but when it comes to the quarterback position, it's also important to see them perform in person.
"I gotta see a quarterback live. I've got to see the ball come out of his hands," Mayock said.
Cam Newton had a rough Combine throwing the ball, but Mayock appreciated the fact that one of the top quarterbacks was even throwing in Indianapolis. Newton will get a chance to redeem himself with familiar receivers during Auburn's pro day Tuesday.
"He's got a big arm, better mechanics than Vince Young or Tim Tebow or any other of those big guys. I still have the same questions I had coming in on Cam Newton and for the next two months I'm going to try to answer," Mayock said.
"The two issues I've had are: A) He's coming out of a pass offense where it's fairly simple, not a lot of reads. He didn't have a lot of patience in the pocket, and I'm not hitting him on any of those things because that's what he did to win a National Championship. That's what he was supposed to do, but it's going to have to translate differently at the next level. And then secondly you've got to figure the kid out. That's the most important thing to me at the quarterback position.
While Newton is one of the most physically gifted at the quarterback position, most analysts consider Missouri's Gabbert the most polished and ready for the NFL, despite the fact that he, too, came from a spread offense in college where few of his snaps came from under center.
"He's got a little bit of a bigger transition than (Sam) Bradford, (Matt) Ryan. It's more similar to (Joe) Flacco, the transition that he's got to make, because he's a spread quarterback that never gets under. … This kid is never under center," Mayock said. "Fifty percent of his throws are catch, rock and throw, where there's no footwork whatsoever. And the other 5o percent are three steps with a hitch, which means he's never done a five-step drop in his life, except what he's working on now.
"His footwork has a transition period, no question about. Reading progressions and anticipating open windows. But the thing I like about the kid is I charted every throw he made in at least six games and they do have an intermediate throwing attack, so it's not just under 10 yards, like a lot of spreads. He throws the ball in that 11- to 20-yard zone, which to me defines an NFL quarterback. I don't care about the 10-yard throws; I don't care about the 50-yard throws. Arm strength to me is not a 50-yard throw. Arm strength to me is an 18-yard comeback, the 20-yard dig in between a window between all those linebackers and safeties."
One of the other potential first-round quarterbacks, Jake Locker, is much more accustomed to taking snaps under center. However, consistency with his throws is a problem.
"From what I saw of him, it looked like he hit that back foot and got the ball out," Mayock said of Locker's Combine performance. "It looked like he didn't worry as much about whether or not the wide receiver made the speed turn correctly or he didn't make it correctly. A lot of guys were stumbling.
Arkansas' Ryan Mallett had the best Combine performance on the field of the top quarterbacks, although he didn't handle his press conference well when asked about allegations of drug use. He didn't address those concerns, at least not publicly, but his performance in the pocket on the field was impressive.
"My opinion is that he's a first-round talent that will not be picked in the first round. … Based on my on-field tape-watching is that he makes every throw in the world, he's got a huge arm," Mayock said. But … "There was a two-play sequence against Georgia that sum up Ryan Mallett for me. He put about a 35-yard post on a wide receiver's helmet that was as beautiful a throw as I've ever seen. Almost an impossible throw to make and he made it in a tight window. The next throw, he threw like a 7-yard hitch that three defensive players dropped. It was a bad decision, it was a worse throw.
"When he gets pressure sometimes and the pocket collapses, I don' think he's got great feet to slide-move, find vision, redirect and throw the football, and I think you have to at the next level. I think all the off-field perceived issues are red flags. I'm not going to tell you I know anything more than anybody else. But there are enough red flags there that you've got to do your homework. What's real? What's perceived? Right now, my opinion is that he goes in the second round."
Mayock believes Gabbert, Newton, Locker and Mallett are the four quarterbacks with first-round talent, even if only three of them will be selected on April 28. He believes Gabbert is a top-10 pick and sees seven of the top 10 teams picking in the draft that need a quarterback.
The respected analyst also knows the importance of the position.
"You know my belief in franchise quarterbacks. They trump every other need. If you don't have one of those guys, you don't win in this league. You just don't," Mayock said. "I've used this example. Three years ago, Miami took Jake Long. He's a great football player, but that opened the door for Atlanta to take Matt Ryan. You have two franchises going in different directions based on that one pick. One pick!"
The Vikings are hoping their anticipated selection of a quarterback sends them in the right direction as a franchise.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Mayock analyzes QBs with first-round talent
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