Of all the players mentioned in the same breath as the #1 overall pick none is more enigmatic than Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert. While I certainly don't see the appeal of Gabbert from watching his tape, I must admit there is a certain amount of mistique surrounding the pick, especially when scouts like Todd McShay and Mike Mayock believe he's the best QB in the 2011 draft.
Not many fans know much about the 6'5", 235 lb Gabbert, nor should they- he was never really supposed to be in the 2011 draft. There's good reason he hasn't been surrounded by the same level of hype as other players regarded as top picks, and that is because most thought that in a draft including Andrew Luck, Jake Locker, Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett there would be little chance for a true junior like Gabbert (he's only 21) to make an impact on boards. As we know, much changed when Andrew Luck returned to Stanford- and with Missouri's program in flux with a number of seniors leaving Gabbert took to opportunity to try and establish himself as the #1 QB in the 2011 draft.
Personally, I still think there are any number of safer picks that address more immediate needs for the Carolina Panthers, but we would be remiss if we didn't talk about Gabbert simply because of where is in trending at the top of the 1st round. So let's get to know Blaine Gabbert.... after the jump
Despite being from Ballwin, MO the University of Missouri wasn't Gabbert's original choice of school. After being rated as a 5-star recruit and best high school, pro-style QB by rivals.com in 2008 (ahead of even Andrew Luck who ranked #4) he committed to the University of Nebraska, but changed his mind to Missouri after Cornhuskers coach and QB guru Bill Callahan was fired.
Blaine was not redshirted in 2008 and other than playing spot time during blowouts he really did nothing during 2008. It wasn't until the first week of 2009 that Gabbert had the opportunity to start, and when he did he made a dramatic impact. On 9/5/09 against Illinois the then 19 year old Gabbert completed 25/33 (75.8%) for 319 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT.
Overall the 2009 season for Gabbert and Missouri was full of ups and downs. As a true Sophomore he struggled against some of the best teams in the country playing what can only be described as terrible games against Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma state. After spending some time talking to Missouri fans they believe much of this is unfairly pegged on Gabbert, when in reality it more had to do with a severe talent drain the program went through after losing Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin the offseason prior. Gabbert finished 2009 with 3,593 yards, 58.9% completion, 24 TD and 9 INT.
Gabbert and Missouri endured yet another talent drain in 2010 with WR Danario Alexander leaving for the NFL draft. Alexander was far and away Gabbert's #1 target during the 2009 season as he amassed 1,781 yards and 14 touchdowns. Any Mizzou fan you talk to will tell you that outside of the aforementioned Maclin and Alexander the Tigers have a cadre of mediocre receivers who have been prone to catching the 'dropsies' at the worst possible time. This was the case for 2010, as I've been told Gabbert actually looked far better than he did in 2010, but statistically he looks much worse due to bad WR play as much as anything else.
While he had several standout games in 2010 (Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Illinois), overall it was a disappointing season for Gabbert who finished with 3,186 yards, 63.4% completion, 16 TD and 9 INT.
Before Andrew Luck said he was returning to school most scouts agreed that #1 QB in 2012 was going to be Gabbert's to lose. It was shaping up to be a two horse race between Gabbert and USC's Matt Barkley, though many thought that Gabbert's size and arm strength would ultimately give him the edge.
However, it's not really about where Gabbert would have gone in 2012, but rather what does he represent in 2011? From where I sit there are three basic categories you can fit every prospective QB into:
1) NFL ready
2) Outstanding upside
No one group is better than another, and there are examples of both successes and failures at every level.
The NFL ready group are those who you believe are ready to step in immediately, and while you hope they will improve when they hit the next level you also have to resign yourself that you may not see huge improvements as they transition.
Successes: Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning
Failures: Ryan Leaf, Joey Harrington, David Carr, Tim Couch
The group that display outstanding upside are often times those with every measurable you want from a QB, but one or two issues that make you question their ability at the next level. They have a large chance to be busts, but you hope they'll make huge strides at the next level.
Successes: Josh Freeman, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler
Failures: Alex Smith, JP Losman, Kyle Boller, Jason Campbell
The 'X-Factor' group are those who are selected based purely on their ability to completely change a game, but they can't always be put into one of the other two categories. They aren't as prevalent as the NFL ready or upside guys, but they are legitimate game changers if they pan out.
Successes: Michael Vick
Failures: Akili Smith, Vince Young
If we imagine for a second that Luck, Gabbert and Newton were all in the same draft- then respectively you have one from each category. Luck is your 'ready' QB, Gabbert is your 'upside' and Newton your 'X-Factor'. Like I said from the outset of this article, I'm not advocating the Panthers take Blaine Gabbert, but rather give you the chance to understand the player better. As Ron Rivera said, they will explore all avenues to fix the position and he included the draft as part of that picture. We'll have to wait and see what the Panthers do.