Over the past week, I've moved relatively quickly through my expectations for the Jaguars 2011 rookie draft class. This analysis has looked at the Jaguars' struggling secondary and the team's young, ascending wide receiver corps and seen potential for instant improvement in each case. However, one thing anyone who knows football will tell you is that there is a huge difference between how you treat a 4th round receiver or a 3rd round guard, and how you treat a top 10 quarterback.
An NFL quarterback is the most important person on the field at every second he is on the field. It is impossible to gameplan for a team without looking at every in and out of an opponents signal-caller. Such an important piece as a top-10 QB must be looked at with an open mind and an eye for even the slightest insufficiency, because even the slightest insufficiency can be targeted and taken advantage of.
With that said, here are my prognostications and thoughts on the 10th overall selection in the 2011 draft, QB Blaine Gabbert out of Mizzou.
Unfortunately, this article ran a little on the long side, so I'm going to break up my breakdown into two sections: the first dealing with who Gabbert is as a QB, and the second with how I believe he will fit into the Jaguars plans in 2011 and beyond.
At the college level, some QBs throw changeups, most QBs throw fastballs, and a few QBs throw fireballs. It's something every good (or great) quarterback must do at the NFL level. If there is any throw you cannot make as a pro quarterback, defenses will force you to throw it. Here, I think Gabbert does well. To my eyes, more than any other QB in the 2011 draft, Gabbert threw fireballs. That's what made him a first round prospect: his good size/mobility and his arm strength. Would Gabbert have been a top ten pick if he were being compared to Andrew Luck? Not necessarily... Still, his arm strength is undeniable.
The mental aspect of football is often overlooked by many. However, we here in Jacksonville know that just having the skills does not make a quarterback great (see David Garrard). When I was looking at Mizzou game tape trying to make a decision on Gabbert, I found things I didn't like. He had a great arm, but he often tried to throw to covered players. At times, his linemen held their blocks, but Gabbert began leaving the pocket when he really didn't need to. He didn't seem to have that telltale "fear" of contact, but he didn't have much of a sense of where pressure was coming from and it led to mistakes that would be punished often at the NFL level.
Put plainly, my opinion of Blaine Gabbert is that he will play closer to Michael Vick than Peyton Manning at this point in his career, and I don't mean Vick 2.0. I mean the old Vick. The Vick who had questionable accuracy but a laser arm. The Vick who left the pocket every chance he got, took lots of sacks and fumbled often. Playing from the spread, Gabbert was often left in the shotgun with only five blockers (of questionable talent) against four or more rushers. With the Jaguars, he could find himself under center with a tackle eligible, a TE, and two backs behind him fairly often. That is a transition that needs to be considered when looking at Gabbert's effectiveness in the NFL.
None of these factors is enough to condemn Gabbert as a quarterback, but they are deficiencies in his game that will need time to be fixed.