First off I think Blaine Gabbert was the best pro prospect available in the 2011 draft and could easily have gone first overall. I don't think it is even close between he and Cam Newton as to who will be the best NFL quarterback. What downgraded Gabbert prior to the draft was the so so season for himself and his team last year. Along with the exceptional success that Newton and Andrew Luck had by comparison. But up to the mid point of last season, Blaine had certainly outperformed the other two from a statistical standpoint. Newton played very little his first two college seasons at Florida, and dropped back to the J.C. level before coming through with his big year. Luck redshirted as a freshman and had pedestrian passing stats in 2009 before breaking through last year. At the mid point of 2010, Gabbert had the Missouri Tigers at 7-0, and 5th ranked nationally ahead of both Auburn and Stanford. His career record as a starter at that point was 15-5, and he was miles ahead of the other two in D1 career stats. Then the Tigers were clobbered by Nebraska, essentially ending their championship hopes, and Gabbert was severely roughed up by the Cornhusker defense. At that point I think he knew he was turning pro and decided his best option was simply to try to stay healthy for the balance of the season. Blaine is a smart guy and a finance major, so it was logical for him from a personal perspective. He had seen his teammate and friend Danario Alexander go from potential first round draft pick to undrafted free agent because of injuries suffered at the college level. Alexander caught on with the Rams and had a great rookie season, but the knee injuries cost him millions of dollars in potential contract money and continue to limit his pro career.
Gabbert was concussed in the Nebraska game along with aggravating leg and hip injuries. He didn't miss any playing time as result, but I think he was in safety first mode from there on out, and the team finished 3-3 after the 7-0 start. Subpar play at the tail end of his college career would cost him less in terms of draft position than a serious injury. I think he felt that with the direction of CAA, his agents, he could make up for that lull in play by aceing the off season draft process. He nearly did it as well, performing well at the Combine, at his pro day, and in the team interviews. Ultimately the Panthers went with Newton's higher profile and the subsequent fan interest they felt he could generate. So the downside for our blue eyed boy was lasting until the 10th pick of the draft, although that was what Tom Condon mentioned for him going in ("top 10"). He left substantial sums on the table with each passing pick as he sat in the Green Room, but did manage to land in the best possible spot for any of the top quarterbacks drafted.
Jacksonville is as low key as it gets in terms of pressure and media coverage among NFL cities. Despite the relative youth of the franchise, it is very stable from an ownership and management perspective. The Jags had the best record of any team taking a quarterback in the first two rounds. They have a respected and established starter at the position in David Garrard and there will be little chance of Gabbert being rushed into action before his time. At the same time Garrard is in his mid 30s and not an insurmountable obstacle at the position the way Tom Brady is for Ryan Mallett in Foxboro. Additionally the team is young overall and on the rise, with solid young players at several key positions from the quarterback perspective. The running game with Maurice Jones-Drew, Rashad Jennings, and Greg Jones at fullback is top level. Tight end Marcades Lewis excels as a blocker and safety valve receiver. The offensive line has superb bookend tackles in Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, both of whom are experienced starters already but just a couple of years older than Gabbert. Zach Miller is a young HB type of receiver with good upside, and Mike Thomas is a superb short area slot receiver. With an outside threat to complement the current pass catchers the talent level surrounding Gabbert would be as good or better than Pittsburgh had in Ben Roethlisberger's first couple of seasons. That was the last time you could safely argue that the best prospect in a draft landed in the best possible spot, although Sam Bradford seems to be in a sweet situation in St. Louis after his inaugural season.