I'll start by saying I'm not a Panthers' fan (I'm a Lions' fan, so I feel your pain), but I live in Charlotte, work in sports and am a Missouri alum. I'll add that I'm not necessarily endorsing Blaine Gabbert for the No. 1 pick or saying that he's better/worse than Cam Newton, Ryan Mallet or any other QB in the draft. I'm simply trying to offer a different view since I've been reading a lot of slanted opinions of him on various Panther message boards.
I've watched pretty much every game he's started, and the one prevailing thought I've had ever since his starting debut is that he'll be a better pro QB than a college QB. The reason is pretty simple: he's not a typical spread quarterback. He can play in the spread, as he showed, but his makeup is more of a drop-back passer. Why did he choose Mizzou? I'm not sure, but either way, I firmly believe he'll be better in the pros once he adjusts a little to playing under center. To me, a lot of the questions about his pocket presence, accuracy on deep balls and even his footwork are a result of him "playing out of position," so to speak. Missouri's spread, while not quite as basic as, say, Auburn's, is still timing based. If the initial one or two reads aren't open, almost everything breaks down. Perhaps Gabbert didn't adapt as well as his predecessor, Chase Daniel, but he kept plenty of plays alive with his mobility, and his strong arm made up for some of his slightly slow progressions.
As strange as it sounds, I think an NFL offense, though more complicated, will allow him to use his instincts and natural talent more, which will actually help him. He likely won't master that in his rookie season (who does?), but I think he'll develop nicely at the next level.
The laziest knock on Gabbert is that his stats weren't great in his junior season. OK, maybe they weren't great, but you do realize he played a sophomore season, too, right? Too often, sports fans react to what just happened instead of taking into account the bigger picture. Gabbert played well both years, and while his stats were better in '09, it's important to remember that he lost the nation's leading receiver from '09 (Danario Alexander), and his top receiver in '10 (Jerrell Jackson) was injured for most of the preseason. Everyone seems obsessed with the fact he threw "just" 16 TDs last year. That's not a great number, but keep in mind that Mizzou had 13 more rushing TDs in '10 than in '09. The offensive philosophy close to the goal line changed during the season, and that was, at least in part, a reason for Gabbert's TDs going down.
To me, the more impressive feat is that he threw the same number of INTs (9) despite attempting 30 more passes and playing without a true deep threat.
Ultimately, he did what was asked of him in Missouri's offense. Could he have been a little better, particularly on deep balls? Yes, he could've been, but at no point during his two-year tenure did I think he was a "poor" downfield thrower or decision maker. Also, keep in mind he played through a severely sprained ankle for most of the final eight games of his sophomore year.
The bottom line is he's big, he's mobile, he has a strong arm, he's proven he's great at short and intermediate routes, and he's been preparing to be a starting QB in the NFL his whole life. He's a legitimately good player. He's not some media creation. Could he bust in the NFL? Of course! Anyone can. Jimmy Clausen probably had a similar scouting report coming out last year, and he obviously struggled. But don't knock Gabbert just because you haven't seen or because you read one negative report about him somewhere. Again, I'm not sure he's worthy of being the No. 1 overall pick, but I really do believe he has the talent to succeed if that's the case. And I also think he has much "upside" as anyone, including Newton. He's not quite as big, but he's just as fast and has just as strong of an arm. And based on what I've seen, I think he's a little more accurate, at least on the intermediate routes.
I wish the Panthers luck with whoever they draft. As a Lions fan, I know what's like to see your team take a QB No. 1 overall that you're not too sure about (Stafford). That hasn't exactly worked out so far, partly because of injuries, but I'm very optimistic about his future after watching him develop. Hopefully the Panthers find a QB they can be optimistic about, too.