Author's Note: There will be a Part I & and a Part II of this post. The first post will cover the top 5 perceived quarterbacks. Part II will cover the the back half of the top ten (5-10) tomorrow.
There's been a lot of stories out there that are glazed over with echoing comments regarding the quarterback class in the 2011 NFL Draft. There are only so many ways you can slice and dice an evaluation. But I haven't seen too many full evaluations. There are the good kind, there are the bad kind, and then there are the middle of the road types that can leave a players draft stock floating in deep waters of limbo.
This years class of quarterbacks have a lot of players that are stuck in those deep waters of limbo with out a paddle or an engine to propel them forward. Then there are those who are sailing on luxurious yacht's while riding on a media title wave. The purpose of this post is to take an in-depth look at the top ten guys pulling them out of the deep waters of limbo, and yanking them off of those proverbial yacht's and media waves they've been cruising on.
Cut and dry, black and white, plain and simple with nothing left to be wondered about in what a players strengths and weaknesses are... that is what will be displayed here.
Recently, I was asked by a Niners Nation member about the things I look at in order to evaluate a quarterback. The categories that are always looked at in order to determine strengths and weaknesses for me are this: Passing accuracy, arm strength, touch on passes, decision making, field vision, mechanics, pocket awareness, and finally moxie. Those eight things, if done well, will undoubtedly translate a hundred percent of the time in to a successful quarterback. However, it is an extremely rare thing to find a quarterback with all of these traits. Usually, a few of these are voids or weaknesses for rookie quarterbacks coming in. But this is not to say that the traits they are weak at cannot be implemented if a coaching staff is good enough to get through to a young player.
To continue reading, and take a look at the top five college quarterbacks entering the draft, click on the link below.
1. BLAINE GABBERT | MISSOURI | 6'5", 241 LBS
Passing Accuracy: In order for a player to be considered an accurate passer, they must be consistent. Gabbert struggled this year, and years before in the consistency department. As far as accuracy goes, Gabbert has his work cut out to be considered as such. There are obviously two elements that it takes to equate to a high completion rate. The first is obviously the pass, and on the other side of that takes a competent wide receiver to pull it in. Gabbert's wide receivers were more than competent in T.J. Moe, Wes Kemp, and Jerrell Jackson, and not a bad tight end in Michael Egnew. Out of the 12 regular season games that Gabbert played in, 4 of those games he threw for less than 60% which leaves concern with his consistency. On the flip side of that, there were 4 games where he threw for over 70%, however, 3 of those games were against lesser competition. He did not throw too many long balls because Missouri was more focused on the shorter, high percentage passes. I would not consider Gabbert the most accurate of passer's coming out, and there is work to do, but he possesses the capability.
Arm Strength: Arm strength is very important in the NFL. If you don't have it, opposing defenses will not respect you and stack the box with the secondary playing press coverage. If a quarterback can't fit the ball in to tight windows at the NFL level, he's gonna see a high interception rate. Gabbert has adequate arm strength. He is not considered to have a John Elway, or Dan Marino like cannon, but it's strong enough to make some difficult throws. You don't want a quarterback who guns the ball in there every time and understands the meaning of touch. Accuracy, arm strength, and touch all go hand and hand. When those three things are combined, a quarterback is set up for success, and that may be why Gabbert is being considered as the top rated quarterback coming out.
Touch Passes: As mentioned above, Gabbert can put touches on passes, but the consistency in this area needs some tender love and care. The speed of the NFL will definitely require him to make adjustments and get a better grasp on the meaning. Right now, at the college level, Gabbert displayed that he can drop passes in there, or fire them in there when need be probably better than any other college quarterback. In watching Oklahoma (who was ranked as the number one team in the nation at the time), get beat almost single-handedly at the hands of the Missouri quarterback, the media spotlight was instantly turned on.
Decision Making: This is an area that Gabbert could stand to get better at and in fact, may be his biggest obstacle. The Tigers quarterback has a tendency to stare down his receivers. He doesn't quite always go through the reads and progressions that he should. The end result leads to passes batted down at the line of scrimmage or by defensive backs lurking in the secondary. The 2011 Insight Bowl demonstrated this point in a nutshell. Even though Gabbert threw the ball 57 times, and had an above average 70+% completion rate, he still threw 2 interceptions and almost a third in that game. This is a major reason as to why teams need to take caution in taking Gabbert too high.
Field Vision: This sort of goes hand and hand with the decision making. When Gabbert locks on to targets, it's a sign that he is not seeing the entire field before making that decision. There are things and techniques that a good quarterback coach can do to improve this. But this is certainly and area that Gabbert will need to get better at in order to become that "franchise quarterback" that everyone is predicting he can be.
Mechanics: Footwork for a quarterback is vital to their success. Gabbert is not the most fundamentally sound in that category, but it's not exactly sloppy like some of the other quarterbacks in this class. Gabbert took a vast majority of snaps out of shotgun which in a sense can hide a quarterbacks footwork. When a quarterback is not taking the 3,5, and 7 step drops from under center, like a majority of the pro's do, then there is some wonder and gray area that can raise some flags. This is an area that is difficult to evaluate on a quarterback like Gabbert because of the spread offense and the shotgun. When teams can get Gabbert on the run, he struggles with accuracy as well. When he is not pressured, he steps in to his passes with precision. But if the field vision and mechanics do not marry up, then that is potential for disaster.
Pocket Awareness: Gabbert has a great feel for pressure. He doesn't seem to get rattled when the walls are closing in, and he seems to know when it's time to get out. The problem here for Gabbert, is that once he is out of the pocket and his comfort zone, that's when he seems to panic. He is not going to outrun the quicker pass rushers and is often caught from behind when on the scramble. He's as far from a Michael Vick in terms of running for the first down as it gets. Most of Gabbert's success is predicated on the short, vertical, or screen passes which caused him to not have to go through thorough progressions since the team rarely went down field.
Moxie and Leadership: There are always those who scoff at the concept of any intangible. But the facts are this, if a quarterback does not possess a certain leadership quality, then it's hard to get the rest of the guys to follow. Body language, attitude, and perseverance are all qualities that should be heavily considered. The Missouri quarterback showed that he had it in him during the upset of the then #1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners. His poise was unmatched in that game out of any other quarterback all year. That game may have been the most complete of any quarterback all year long against a raging, and fierce, top ranked defense. The problem is that Gabbert did not play like that in the two weeks that proceeded that game. Sure those losses were team losses, but Gabbert was the orchestrator of the messy offensive play in those two.
Summary: Although there are some weaknesses in Gabbert's game, he has the least glaring holes out of any of the quarterbacks coming out. After digging deeper in regards to all of the quarterbacks, Gabbert seems the most ready to start right away. Particularly if he goes to an offense that earns it's bread and butter off of a short passing game. He may not have the highest ceiling out of every quarterback, but as things stand, he can make a difference on a team that desperately needs a quarterback. If you want to check out more on Gabbert's weaknesses, youtube Gabbert vs. Illinois, and if you want to see some of his strengths, youtube Gabbert vs. Oklahoma.
2. CAM NEWTON | AUBURN | 6'6", 247 LBS
Passing Accuracy: Considering that Cameron Newton only had 5 games where he threw 20 passes or more, it's really hard to get a difficult gauging on his passing skills. There were numerous accounts where Newton would flee the pocket before going through more than a single progression. He had some high completion rates in games, but there were some that he had only 14 or 15 passing attempts. It's such a small sample size considering he only had one year playing division one ball. No one truly knows for sure if Newton is going to be accurate or not. However, on the deep balls he did throw this past year, he seemed to hit those quite well. Out of the pocket, Newton seems to over think passes, but on the roll out, when he is playing instinctively, his throws come out crisp and on target. But it all boils down to the amount of times he actually did throw it per game which was not enough to get an accurate evaluation on.
Arm Strength: It's no secret that Newton has a gun. But sometimes that gun comes out like shotgun spray, just all over the place. He has what it takes to make the long throws, but sometimes has too much zing on the shorter throws causing bounces off his wide receivers hands or chest. Arm strength only goes so far if a player cannot grasp the meaning of a touch pass. Newton, again, when he is not over thinking things, is able to put touch on throws, but it is far from a consistent habit.
Touch Passes: As mentioned above in arm strength, Newton can put touch on passes, but he lacks the consistency. Newton's best bet is to sit and watch a year or more learning all the small little nuances of the NFL before being thrown out to the sharks. It's his best defense against getting chewed up right away deflating any confidence he may have riding in to the NFL. But it's most likely that Newton will be expected to start immediately which could possibly ruin his career before it gets off the ground.
Decision Making: This is where Newton will struggle at the next level. He is a one read then run type of quarterback. If teams can take away that first read, Newton will be destroyed because he'll be forced in to a run. NFL defenses are more complex and study opposing quarterbacks tendencies. If that first read is gone, and if one or more linebackers are spying on Newton, he is automatically out of his comfort zone and chances are he will be lit up. Again, a team that already has an existing quarterback may be the best place for Newton to go; a la Aaron Rodgers behind Brett Favre for comparison purposes.
Field Vision: This area is a plus for Newton. He may have trouble with reads, progressions, and decision making, but the potential for things to be corrected are good because of his field vision. Once he takes off, he is difficult to find and tackle. This is attributed to his above par field vision. If he can implement that in the pocket at his young age, the sky is the limit. It's going to take a very good quarterbacks coach to turn this in to reality.
Mechanics: He has a pretty good set of proper, prototypical mechanics. This is another plus on the pro's and con's board for Newton. It seems as though this may have been taught and learned at a young age. So there are a few things that the Auburn quarterback does actually have going for him. He steps in to his passes very well and has the right release point in most cases. That could translate in to better accuracy down the road.
Pocket Awareness: If there was a scale of one through ten, ten being the highest possible ranking, Newton would probably get a five here. He takes off way too quickly on passing plays which will get him beaten and his lunch stolen in the NFL. Newton will need to learn that passing is a quarterbacks number one priority at the next level. If the pocket starts to collapse and be ready to take a hit on a last minute release. A quarterback needs to go through all options before bouncing out. If he is a starting quarterback right away, it's quite conceivable that that team may need to customize a bunch of roll out passes for Newton.
Moxie and Leadership: There is absolutely no question that Newton is one of the more fiery, competitive, wants-to-win every game type of player. He is excellent at rallying the troops and getting the team fired up to go kick some butt. It's one of the reasons that Auburn was playing for a National Championship. To be that way at the quarterback position can go a long way. A lot longer than what some folks claim that it can or cannot. If the team's following the quarterback's moxie, that increases the chances of winning.
Summary: In essence, Newton may be better suited to play in a back up role for a couple years behind an established veteran. Unfortunately, there aren't a whole bunch of ideal scenarios for that to happen. He may be forced in to starting right away which in turn could prove to be a career killer for him. At least he got a record contract deal with Under Armour as a fall back if nothing else.
3. RYAN MALLETT | ARKANSAS | 6'6", 235 LBS
Passing Accuracy: Each year, Mallett's completion percentage has gone up. However, this is one of those cases that the perception based on stats is a bit misleading. There's no question that Mallett has improved on his accuracy from a few years ago. But his poor footwork leads to sailed passes on occasion's where there is pocket pressure. He throw's off his back foot often as well. The accuracy on his long ball is lacking quite a bit, but a lot of that can be chalked up to his not-so-great footwork. He does well with quick read passes and can go through more than one progression if he gets the time. Some folks have compared Mallett to quarterbacks like Dan Marino and Drew Bledsoe, but in order for him to even be in the same discussions as those two, Mallett has a very long way to go, accuracy included.
Arm Strength: Ryan Mallett has an exceptional arm. Possibly the best arm in this years rookie class. But at times, Mallett fires the ball much harder than he needs to. Another thing that ties in with the accuracy issues is that he tends to overshoot wide open receivers leading them by too much because of the arm strength. In the previous two season's, it seemed as though Mallett tried to force feed throws in to tight spaces because he had more faith in his arm than he should have. He's gotten better at realizing when to and when not to fit the ball in to a tight window.
Touch Passes: The Arkansas quarterback really needs to hone in on the concept of a touch pass. It's not that he is totally incapable because there's times where he has. But he has a tendency to get anxious and get the ball to the receivers quicker than he has to more often than not. He has to work on this or he will continue to struggle with the accuracy issues, or lack there of. He rely's on his strong arm more than any of his other traits.
Decision Making: One thing you can say about Mallett's decision making is that it has done a complete 180 from where it was in his first year starting. The progress in a few of these categories shows that it's possible for him to continue to improve. Whether that translates to the NFL or not is another story. Mallett goes through progressions quite well when there isn't pressure. In fact, this year, the offensive line for Arkansas, as well as the ground game, was much improved opposed to the previous two seasons that Mallett started. So that has definitely helped Mallett fall in to a bit more of a comfort zone. On the other side of that, he has problems with his decisions when the heat is on. If he is a day one starter in the NFL, the best policy for opposing teams would be to bring the house at Mallett fast and often.
Field Vision: It appears that Mallett has improved here as well, but still has trouble on occasion with the pre-snap reads. It will be interesting to see how well he responds to the firing squad in the interviewing process at the combine upcoming on February 23rd. Once the play is in motion, Mallett's instincts take over. Sometimes his instincts can mislead him. This is with no question an area that Mallett will need to improve on for his game to translate well.
Mechanics: Mechanics can be the cornerstone to any single players success or downfall. Mallett get's mixed reviews regarding his mechanics. One thing that is completely apparent is Mallett's lack of mobility and lack of ability to slide in the pocket when the artillery is firing in at him. In watching Mallett closely, it seems like there are cement blocks attached to his feet, and that he is moving in slow motion if he does actually manage on rare occasion to escape from the pocket. This again, will hinder him at the next level when defensive coordinator's game plan against him. His throwing is less of a concern, but the footwork is no question a bit sloppy.
Pocket Awareness: It's hard to tell if Mallett has much pocket awareness because of his lack of mobility. He is in plenty of ways a sitting duck back there. Whether he is aware of what is coming or not is a bit of a mystery. And who knows, it may be to him once until he is on his back. So really, pocket awareness is a moot point when speaking about Ryan Mallett. The other thing that is very difficult to gauge is whether or not Mallett will be able to learn how to slide in the pocket. He may just not have the athletic ability to do so, but time will tell on that.
Moxie and Leadership: Nobody has ever questioned this area when speaking about Ryan Mallett, including Ryan Mallett. In his own mind, Ryan Mallett is in Ryan Mallett's mind already a living legend. Ryan Mallett has even gone as far as to say that Ryan Mallett "the legend" will do everything Ryan Mallett can do to be a legend. Exaggerations aside, the Arkansas quarterback better learn humility pretty quickly... particularly before he steps foot in to an NFL locker room. If he doesn't earn the respect of his veteran teammates first and foremost before bragging, his career will fizzle as fast as a 4th of July fire cracker fuse... similar to another Ryan (last name rhyming with Leaf).
Summary: It's hard to say after doing a complete evaluation of Mallett if he will be a good NFL quarterback or not. However, if there were odds in Vegas as to whether or not he will do well, they may not be in favor of him to succeed. The lack of mobility and poor footwork are major concerns and possible setbacks. There's some big time question marks and red flags that "the legend" Ryan Mallett will have to put to rest with hard work and a closed, humble mouth.
4. JAKE LOCKER | WASHINGTON | 6'2", 232 LBS
Passing Accuracy: Out of the considered to be top five , Jake Locker may be the least accurate passer of them all. Jake is able to hit anything within 10 yards in stride. But anything outside of 10 yards seemed to have been an issue for the Washington quarterback. It almost seems that he needs a prescription for better sight (like Rick Vaughn - Major League), and who knows... he just might. In his career, Locker has never had above a 60% completion rate for the season which didn't seem to be the toughest thing to do in the formerly known Pac-10. Locker really has issues hitting a guy in stride down field. Normally when Washington has gone deep, receivers are often left hanging.
Arm Strength: Average, on par, adequate would be the best ways to describe Jake's arm strength. He doesn't have the most brilliant of arms, yet, he can get enough on it to make the pro throws. This may be the shortest and most simple ways to illustrate Locker's arm.
Touch Passes: Locker may try too much to put touch on the ball. In other words, he tends to over think his passes from time to time. He is very streaky with this. At times he has seemed like the most fine tuned field surgeon ever to play college football, and other times he has seemed like the king of duck hunting or wobbly spear chucking. The consistency just isn't there.
Decision Making: This area has been Jake Locker's largest of set backs. It is why his completion rate has been as low as it has been over the years and it is precisely why his stock as fallen so much from previous years. He also tends to flee the pocket prematurely. In hindsight, Locker should have come out a year earlier when his stock was at it's peak. Seemingly, decision making is a very important element to hold heading in to the beginning of a career in the NFL. It's quite possible that Jake Locker winds up a 2nd round selection due to his poor decision making.
Field Vision: There's belief that Jake has decent field vision. But the end results are what is measured the most. Good field vision can only take a guy so far. The vision of a quarterback has to be there. If not, it is unquestionably a recipe for disaster. So at least Locker has this going for him. If he can get out of over-thinking every tiny detail, and just play the game letting the natural athlete out in him, there is potential that he could turn in to a half decent quarterback in the end.
Mechanics: Locker's mechanic's are easily his strong suit. He is very polished and refined in his throwing motion and footwork. There has obviously been time spent on these two things throughout the years because everything appears very fluid. The reason why he has not succeeded and got beyond this point is because of the over thinking of things and not letting the game come to him naturally. Locker does set his feet very well when he does decide not to take off like a gazelle and pass the ball. The throwing motion is nearly flawless. If you want to teach younger kids how to pass the football, Locker would be the perfect model for this.
Pocket Awareness: Locker is a lot like Newton in this regard. Auburn's offense was much different than Washington's. Auburn featured a lot more run first plays with the quarterback opposed to Washington's pro-style offense where running first is frowned upon. Washington had it's fair share of boggled protection, but there were games where Locker had plenty of time and still managed to screw the pooch... so-to-speak.
Moxie and Leadership: It doesn't appear on the surface that Jake Locker has the natural born leadership qualities. He seems like a fighter, but the poise and moxie just doesn't show up on gameday. Although he seems to have a great attitude and likability, the extra "it-factor" is not apparent. People argue all the time, "what is the 'it-factor'?". It's really a simple answer. Take a look at the Peyton Manning's, Tom Brady's, Matt Ryan's, and Aaron Rodgers of the league... they all posses that extra drive to win a game and wear it on their sleeve. In turn, they make the team as a whole, much, much better. So if there is any confusion as to what an intangible is, and how it effects a game, then maybe you're the type that says God doesn't exist because you can't see him? Or believe that certain "unseen" other intangibles like love or hate don't exist either. Whatever your specific belief is, there is such a thing as the "it-factor". It is something that cannot be proved or disproved, but you either see it... or you don't. And in Jake Locker's case, "it" just doesn't seem to be there.
Summary: Doubts in the media's minds, scout's minds, and coaches minds of Jake Locker have eaten away at his stock like the bubonic plague. He plans on participating in the drills at the combine but has not said whether or not he will throw. It seems to becoming more and more of a trend for quarterbacks to opt out of throwing during the drills. Locker may not be able to do enough to impress a team to take him in the first round. However, he is extremely athletic though and it takes just one team to find that appealing. However, a 1 and 32 chance is not favoring Locker to be taken where he should have been last year.
5. COLIN KAEPERNICK | NEVADA | 6'4", 233 LBS
Passing Accuracy: Some of the pundits and respected analyst's across the nation have argued that Kaepernick's accuracy was inflated by playing in a gimmicky offense. Whether that is true or not would be very hard to prove or disprove. In watching the throws that Colin Kaepernick has made, he appears to be above the bar where accuracy is concerned. It was rare that you saw an over-throw mistake by the Nevada quarterback this past year. The problem that Kaepernick has had, is that he sometimes tries to strong arm it in to open areas when his receivers may have been expecting a softer, lighter pass which catches them by surprise. But as an overview, he seems to put the ball on the numbers and hits his receivers very well in stride.
Arm Strength: Kaepernick could very well possess the strongest arm in the draft. It's really a toss-up between him and Ryan Mallett. He lasers passes in to tight windows when those throws need to be made. Figuring out touch a bit better would be the best way to go for Colin. He has no problem getting the ball down field, and most often these passes are coming down with the precision that a red-tailed hawk darts down after its prey... not "like a punt coach". Kapernick will not have any problems in this department, but will need to get better at understanding of where and when not to gun the ball in there.
Touch Passes: He's not the worst in this department, and he's certainly not the best. But he has shown promise before in games and in real time that he can finesse a pass. He's not quite where he needs to be in this category and it could have something to do with the quirk in his throwing motion. Or it could just be that he only knows one way... fast.
Decision Making: This is where Kaepernick can make a case for himself and move up in the pack. He makes great decisions when in the pocket. He knows when to run and when not to. There were times this year where he may not have needed to run necessarily, but with the God-given wheels that he possesses, it may be that sometimes it made more sense to run for 12-15 yards and pick up the first down, than to throw it down field in to coverage with a higher risk factor involved. There is a time to run, and a time to pass; Kaepernick seems to comprehend the difference between the two.
Field Vision: The Nevada quarterback doesn't miss a beat. He understands reads and defensive schemes. When sitting down with Mike Mayock before the Senior Bowl, Mayock expressed just how surprised he was with Colin's comprehension as well as his quick ability to absorb knowledge. Field vision is a hard thing to put accurate placement on due to the fact that we, as critics, are not inside a guys head. But the on-field play can paint a relatively accurate picture of how and when a quarterback throws it, who he throws it to, how long it takes to get there, and when to pull it down to run with it. Kaepernick seems to have a good handle on when to do all these things at precisely the right moment. He's not perfect in this area, but all of those things go hand and hand. They are the most important elements for a field general (a.k.a. quarterback) to have.
Mechanics: This is the part that people rip on the most. Yes, Colin Kaepernick has a bizarre release of his passes. The exaggeration's have been expressed in that it takes too long for the ball to get out and all of that. However, no time in his career has it ever been a problem. Yes, he played at Nevada, and yes, it was college football, but does that equate to him not being capable to repeat success at the next level? It's not a certainty, either way, nothing is until a guy is actually out there putting out results. We will just have to wait and see. But it seems as though he has had a bunch of success thus far. There have been false allegations that he has poor footwork as well. But upon reviewing as much as I could, and watching him for the last three years, it could not be further from the truth. Even at the Senior Bowl game and during practices, Kaepernick showcased that he had no hiccups whatsoever in taking snaps from center. He in fact looked as if he had been doing it for years.
Pocket Awareness: Kaepernick was known to get a little jumpy when the pocket began to collapsed earlier on in his career. On occasion he would hop out of there like a jack rabbit and run before making even a single read. But more than not, he would hang in there for as long as possible on a given pass play. As his career progressed, so did he in this area. It appears as though the little bit that he still does that could be a quick fix at the next level. Especially considering his willingness to listen, learn, and implement. But this one's "spidey-sense" is definitely there... it just needs some fine-tuning.
Moxie and Leadership: There's no question mark next to Colin's name when it comes to leadership, moxie, and poise. As a freshman, Kaepernick got thrown in with the wolves and came out of it with a drive to be one of the best in his conference. Since then, it's been an uphill battle each year, but there's a reason that he broke nearly every single school record and led the Wolfpack to their best season in school history this past year. He plays the game with passion and fire. Losing is not an option for Colin Kaepernick. His time at Nevada has been a true character builder for the young talented prospect.
Summary: Kaepernick is perhaps the most debated over player in college sports right now. I imagine that if he had gone to a larger, more prestigious school, he would have been receiving not only the same attention, but the same controversy that Tim Tebow did last year. Tim Tebow may not have the biggest sample size, but he showed last year that moxie, poise, and leadership can go a long way over some of the shortfalls he does have; like his strange throwing motion.
Last year's top five quarterbacks that were drafted were: 1. Sam Bradford (STL), 2. Tim Tebow (DEN), 3. Jimmy Clausen (CAR), 4. Colt McCoy (CLE), 5. Mike Kafka (PHI).
That's it for the top five. Stay tuned for the rest (5-10) in tomorrow's part 2.