Tale of the tape: Gabbert vs. Newton

We've heard it all the way through the pre-draft process. There are no true No. 1 overall pick prospects at the quarterback position this year, but given the glaring needs many NFL teams have, some lucky quarterbacks will be overdrafted – perhaps one with that first overall selection.

This year, the top two quarterbacks come from spread offense systems, which indicates the ever-increasing use of the formation in the NCAA, and the NFL's gradual willingness to adapt to the spread from a schematic perspective. Missouri's Blaine Gabbert looks more like a "traditional" signal-caller, while Auburn's Cam Newton could be the most dominant athletic quarterback we've yet seen. Which player projects better in an NFL sense?

Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
Photo Gabbert

Height: 6-4
Weight: 236
40 time: 4.65
Games: 30
Attempts: 933
Completions: 568
Comp. pct.: 60.9
Yards: 6,822
TDs: 40
INTs: 18
Rushing attempts: 221
Yards: 458
TDs: 8

Cam Newton, Auburn
Photo Newton

Height: 6-5
Weight: 248
40 time: 4.56
Games: 13
Attempts: 292
Completions: 191
Comp. pct.: 65.4
Yards: 2,908
TDs: 30
INTs: 7
Rushing attempts: 285
Yards: 1,586
TDs: 24

Accuracy: Gabbert has good pinpoint sense and timing on the kind of quick underneath routes that comprised the majority of his passing offense at Missouri, but he's also fluent with intermediate crossing routes (he finds his receivers open on directional passes) and vertical seam throws. May regress to a degree in a deep-ball offense just because he doesn't make a lot of those throws, but he's got the arm to play in that type of offense. Aims for the numbers and doesn't force his receivers to mend out of motion to catch a bunch of errant throws.

Accuracy: Newton has good accuracy on tosses in which he's throwing more on a line. Outstanding consistency as a move thrower. Struggles with timing and touch in every direction and distance; he simply hasn't been asked yet to make consistent, repeatable throws under fire that would be expected in the NFL. Has learned to "cheat" to a point with arm throws. Is not always accurate with his deeper throws; this was very evident at his pro day, where vertical passes sailed on him. Still struggles frequently when asked to put touch and arc on throws to a specific distance and with timing.

Arm strength: While he wasn't asked to throw 40 yards downfield that much in his college offense, Gabbert does have the extremely valuable ability to make stick throws from 15-25 yards downfield with enough velocity to time passes between defenders to the open receiver. Doesn't lose velocity on the move or under pressure. Functional ability to make any throw he needs to make.

Arm strength: Outstanding raw velocity; Newton can throw the ball 50 yards on a line without even setting his feet. Can throw accurately across his body with surprisingly good touch. No discernible decrease in velocity on the move; he can make stick throws on the run, though not yet with ideal consistency.

Playbook: Gabbert played in a system with a lot of short clear-out routes – he'll need time to adjust to a full multiple-read offense. Frequently rolls to his right to cut the field in half, and he'll have to get more familiar with sticking in the pocket and going though his reads. Will need to learn to look the safety off and be more effective with eye fakes overall. Overabundance of bailout routes at Missouri means that he'll need time to read and react to more advanced blitzes.

Playbook: Because he was often used as an extra running back, and didn't have a full three or four years in the same system, Newton excelled at Auburn with a combination of read-option, Pistol, and some play action – basically a potpourri of spread offense concepts. While he's not entirely unschooled in the aspects of quarterback play that will best transfer to a traditional NFL team, the franchise that drafts him will have to adjust from a schematic perspective if they want to get him on the field in the first two seasons.

Mobility: Excellent mobility, but Gabbert is more a functionally mobile quarterback than a pure runner; it's not likely that he's going to scare NFL defenses with his wheels. Big and athletic enough to stretch the play for a first down. Not especially agile in space.

Mobility: Obviously his strongest trait. Not only is Newton a great runner who gained important yards on the ground, but he's also functionally mobile as a passer. He will get up to speed in the pocket with alarming quickness and he has a second gear you'd expect from better speed receivers. Very nifty feet and great elusiveness in the pocket and in space.

Intangibles: Gabbert is a respected leader and tough player who works hard and seems to grasp new concepts quickly. Had a rough patch down the stretch of his junior year (four touchdowns, four interceptions, and a 53 percent completion rate in his last five games), but the majority of his game tape shows a poised quarterback who's hungry to improve. Well-spoken kid who prefers fishing to anything glamorous and chose to attend college in his home state despite offers from numerous major colleges.

Intangibles: Newton's off-field issues have been dissected to the point where we're almost numb to them, but between getting arrested at Florida for stealing a laptop computer, the pay-for-play controversy with his dad, and multiple questions about his football IQ and devotion to the game, any NFL team looking to put a $40 million marker on Newton will have to do an enormous amount of due diligence. Impressed impartial observers with his 2010 on-field consistency in the face of controversy, but the repeated nature of the controversy is a problem.

Conclusion: When Andrew Luck decided to stay in school for the 2011 season, Gabbert became the primary choice among draft-eligible quarterbacks for those who are looking more at NFL-transferable skills as opposed to sheer college dominance. There are mechanical issues for Gabbert to overcome at the next level, but he comes to the pros at a perfect time, when even formerly smashmouth teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers are running trips, bunch, and heavy shotgun. He seems primed to meet the challenge and could be a franchise quarterback in the next couple of years.

The Aaron Rodgers(notes) comparison is more for the quarterback Gabbert is now (and the quarterback Rodgers used to be), but Gabbert does have the raw skill set to combine mobility and deep accuracy to an elite degree as Rodgers has.

Conclusion: Newton's athletic and football upsides are so ridiculously high – we've never seen a player with elite receiver size and athleticism throw a ball like this before. In the right system, and if he meets his NFL team more than halfway from a leadership standpoint, he has the potential to redefine the quarterback position as we know it. Teams will simply have to do a serious risk/reward analysis with him.

Newton has a longer and more arduous adjustment to a traditional NFL offense than Gabbert does; the questions are whether an NFL team will adapt to meet his skills, and whether Newton himself will put it all together once it's entirely on him to do so.

Pro comparison: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Pro comparison: Vince Young(notes), Tennessee Titans

Doug Farrar is a writer for Yahooâs Shutdown Corner blog, and a senior writer for Football Outsiders.

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