Saturday, January 29, 2011

Boom or Bust: 1st Round Quarterback Options for the 2011 NFL Draft

Even with Andrew Luck's decision to return to Stanford for another season, the upcoming 2011 NFL draft could see as many as four quarterbacks drafted in the first round, a potential run on young gunslingers unlike any since 2004. While Luck was widely considered to be a lock 1st overall pick - and, according to many, the best quarterback prospect in a generation - the draft value of Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton, Jake Locker and Ryan Mallett will be hotly debated through April's draft and beyond.

Historically, less than half of the quarterbacks drafted in first rounds have panned out and gone on to careers ranging from solid to magnificent. Slightly more than half have become either marginal or resounding busts. Some years, everybody wins (Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco in 2008), some years everybody loses (Jamarcus Russell and Brady Quinn in 2007), and in some years, the relative boom to bust divergence is almost cruel (most infamously, Peyton Manning/Ryan Leaf in 1998).

Let's take a look at 2011's boom or bust candidates:

Blaine Gabbert, 6-5, 235, Missouri: (First round lock) In a rather rapid ascension, he quickly shot to the top of everyone's quarterback board in Luck's absence. He will likely be a top ten pick.
Positives: Great size, nimble footwork, strong arm, quick release, high intelligence.
Negatives: Product of a spread offense - hasn't learned to go through progressions and read defenses in a pro-style offense; hasn't taken snaps from under center. Modest 16 touchdown passes in 2010 brings knack for finishing drives into question. Marginal fitness level needs improvement.
Closest NFL type: Philip Rivers
Conclusion: The tools are there, and he could thrive with the right guidance in the right system.
Projected boom or bust ratio: 75% boom / 25% bust

Cam Newton, 6-6, 250, Auburn: (First round likely) The wildly polarizing Newton will most likely be drafted in the first round due to his high upside.
Positives: Incredible size and athleticism for the position, elite mobility, strong arm, good release, driven to win.
Negatives: Product of a run-first spread option offense - hasn't learned to go through progressions and read defenses in a pro-style offense; accuracy questioned; his character will be a concern for many teams due to allegations of theft and academic fraud at Florida and the much discussed recruiting scandal that shadowed his season at Auburn.
Closest NFL type: Vince Young
Conclusion: His upside is sky high, but his NFL adaptability is particularly difficult to project due to the simplicity of Auburn's spread option attack.
Projected boom or bust ratio: 55% boom / 45% bust

Ryan Mallett, 6-6, 238, Arkansas: (First round likely) Mallett is the most likely of this group to slip into the second round - scouts are very split on him - but I believe some team will pull the trigger in round one.
Positives: Great size (listed at 6-6, but actually 6-7), good vision, off-the-charts arm strength; excelled in a pro-style offense against the toughest college competition.
Negatives: Poor mobility and footwork, slow release; there have been questions about his character.
Closest NFL type: Joe Flacco
Conclusion: With his towering height, monster arm and bravado, he'll be fearless, for better or worse.
Projected boom or bust ratio: 55% boom / 45% bust

Jake Locker, 6-3, 235, Washington: (First round likely) Locker's stock slipped during his senior campaign, but he should dazzle at the combine to ensure a first round selection.
Positives: Good size, excellent arm strength, quick release, elite mobility, experience in a pro-style offense, unquestioned character and intangibles.
Negatives: Regressed during his senior season; alarmingly inconsistent; less than ideal completion percentage.
Closest NFL type: Donovan McNabb
Conclusion: His upside is tremendous, but it's hard to overlook the inconsistent play. Still, if he puts it all together, he could be special.
Projected boom or bust ratio: 50% boom / 50% bust

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