Blaine Gabbert fires back at his critics; asks, ‘Who’s Michael Lombardi?’

By just about any measure you'd care to take, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert didn't exactly take the NFL by storm in his rookie season. Per Pro Football Reference, Gabbert had the 10th-worst rookie season any quarterback has ever endured, and his 2011 season ranked at the very bottom of Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted efficiency metrics.  To be sure, it wasn't all Gabbert's fault -- he played in a Missouri offense heavy on spread offense concepts, and he may have played a handful of two-back sets before he hit the NFL. Running Iso Blast all the time in limited receiver sets? Not the optimal recipe for success when you trade up to select a quarterback, as the Jags did in 2011.

For all his early failures, however, Gabbert isn't going into his second season lying down. Former NFL executive Michael Lombardi, now with the NFL Network, recently opined that Gabbert did not have what it took to succeed at the NFL level. In an article written last December, Lombardi laid it out, chapter and verse:

In my 20-plus years in the NFL, I don't think I have seen a high first-round pick look as scared or as out of place as Blaine Gabbert. The game looks entirely too big for him. When the ball is in his hand, he treats it like a hot potato. His play was embarrassing, considering he was a top 10 pick. I believed Gabbert was a good prospect and wrote about it leading up to the draft. When everyone was concerned about his down-field throws, I thought he would be able to adjust. But never did I think his eye level would be this low, his unwillingness to hang in the pocket this bad. I readily admit my mistake. Now the Jags need to do the same. The longer they play him, they run the risk of losing the team. How can they expect the players around him to buy in? Gabbert cannot fool his teammates. If he continues to play like this, no one will want to play with him.

Yeouch. Recently asked to comment on Lombardi's evaluation by Pete Prisco, CBS Sports' resident agent provocateur, Gabbert pulled no punches.

"Who is Mike Lombardi? Every season a player is going to have a certain label. It creates buzz. It creates controversy and interest. Whatever the label is for the year, it's going to stick with you. He doesn't know what's going on. He doesn't know anything about me. It's comical. It's funny."

It's always tough to place a sure evaluation on a quarterback after just one NFL season -- the world is full of late bloomers at that particular profession, and Prisco isn't alone in believing that Gabbert can transcend a rotten rookie campaign to play well over time. I certainly liked what I saw of him when I reviewed his college tape pre-draft, and I still believe that in an offense tailored to his strengths, Gabbert can be a good player. Go back and look at the Pro Football Reference list of worst rookie seasons; you'll see Troy Aikman and Donovan McNabb in that top 10, as well.

That said, in talking to people around the league whose opinions I respect, I have rarely heard so many people so definitive in a negative sense about a rookie player -- it isn't just Lombardi saying this. People have told me that Gabbert is impossibly far away from being a functional pocket passer, that he looks ridiculously jumpy when under pressure, and that the balky nature of his mechanics could easily lead him to failure. Learning curve aside, there are quite a few people in and around the league who are extremely skeptical about Gabbert's prospects.

Gabbert is absolutely right about one thing -- this is all talk, and in the end, the only thing that matters is whether he can prove all the naysayers wrong.

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