With the 2010 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before the 2011 scouting combine begins on Feb. 24, we'll be taking a closer look at the 40 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue our series with Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The top draft prospect quarterback listed on many boards, Gabbert was also one of the most heavily recruited high school quarterbacks in recent years, choosing to stay close to home after a standout career at Parkway West High in Ballwin, Mo. In his two full seasons and five extra games as a true freshman, Gabbert established himself as a team leader and potentially great pro quarterback. Questions persist regarding certain schematic and mechanical adjustments to the NFL, but the more you watch Gabbert on tape, the easier it is to become convinced that he'll do what's needed to be productive at the highest level.
In 30 games for the Tigers, Gabbert completed 527 passes in 876 attempts for 6,388 yards, 39 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. He also ran 208 times for 465 yards and seven touchdowns and took 43 sacks.
Pros: Played in the shotgun at Missouri, but Gabbert – like Joe Flacco(notes) – seems to have the tools to transcend the easy negative categorizations automatically given to spread offense quarterbacks. Looks comfortable in three-, five-, and seven-step drops, sets up very well mechanically for the throw. He has no problem making intermediate stick throws (18-25 yards) under pressure or when rolling out; his arm doesn't lose velocity when he's on the move. Keeps his eyes downfield when running.
Gabbert has excellent anticipation when throwing any kind of crossing route – he generally throws his receivers open. Can throw hard on a line and will get the ball into tight windows – he has already developed this extremely valuable skill. Sells play-action reasonably well the few times he's asked to do so. Throws darts underneath with a nice, compact motion; his delivery gets a little out of hand on longer throws at times. Big enough (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) to absorb hits in the pocket or on the run, though he'll be told by his coaches to live to fight another day on certain types of plays at the next level.
Cons: His last five games are points of concern. Gabbert completed just 53 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and four interceptions. Needs to tighten up a delivery that can get long and sloppy at times. Occasionally makes inaccurate arm throws, a common problem with spread quarterbacks (Cam Newton does the same thing).
Can read across the field, but it's a little frantic – so many of his college formations were trips, quads and stacks to one side. He's used to having the advantage with those sets and he tends to use motion to create time to find open receivers instead of sitting in the pocket and using progressions. Has arm strength enough to throw across his body, but such throws are generally inaccurate at this point. Not a pure runner in the traditional spread style – tends to be slow to get up to speed and is blocky on the run and in space.
Conclusion: When Andrew Luck decided to stay at Stanford, Gabbert benefitted more than anyone else. He's closest to success in a pro-style (heavy on the shotgun) offense because he's got command of different types of intermediate throws, and he's got the kind of arm strength that can be honed by the right kind of coaching. Add in his excellent mobility and ability to roll out of the pocket and make every throw with both feet on the ground, and Gabbert looks more and more like an exceptional pro prospect.
He'll have to learn the things spread quarterbacks don't do that often – snaps under center, play-fakes and play-action – but like Flacco before him, Gabbert is far more than a spread offense washout. He's more mobile than Flacco, and Flacco has a better arm, but it's a decent comp for that reason alone.
NFL Comparison: Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
More Shutdown 40
#40 -- Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State | #39 - Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee
| #38 - Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor | #37 - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas | #36 -- Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami | #35 -- Danny Watkins, OL, Baylor | #34 - Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State | #33 -- Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State | #32 - Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida | #31 - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado | #30 - Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame | #29 - Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois | #28 - Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State | #27 - Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA | #26 - Brandon Harris, CB, Miami | #25 - Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin | #24 -- Jake Locker, QB, Washington| #23 -- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado| #22 - J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin | #21 - Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois| #20 - Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State | #19 - Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland | #18 - Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue | #17 - Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama | #16 - Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa | #15 - Tyron Smith, OT, USC | #14 - Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri | #13 - Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College | #12 - Cam Newton, QB, Auburn| #11 -- Cameron Jordan, DL, Cal