Call this the Year of the Terrifying Quarterback in the NFL draft.
Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker and Ryan Mallett have seemingly redefined one of the NFL's greatest nicknames. They are the modern Fearsome Foursome.
And not in a good way.
"All I will say is that I'm glad I don't need a quarterback this year," said an NFC general manager, who went on to say plenty more. That GM was one of three executives who had particularly harsh comments for the quartet of quarterbacks who are expected to go in the first two rounds.
"If you're telling me I have to bet the future of my team and my job on one of these guys, I would be really nervous," the NFC GM said. "It's tough enough to take a quarterback to begin with. But then you put these guys in the equation? No, thanks."
Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt put it a little more politely during a radio interview this week.
"There is nobody [at quarterback] that really stands out like Sam Bradford(notes) did last year," Whisenhunt said on XTRA 910 radio in Phoenix. "There are a lot of guys that are intriguing athletically like Blaine Gabbert, like Cam Newton, because of the skill set, some of the things they can do. But I don't think they have shown the ability to do some of the things that you have seen in the past by some of these guys like a Matt Ryan(notes) or, obviously, like a Sam Bradford."
Those comments come on the heels of some particularly harsh criticism of Newton by Pro Football Weekly draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki. In PFW's draft guide, Nawrocki wrote that Newton is "very disingenuous … has a fake smile, comes off very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup." Nawrocki went on to say that Newton "has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law."
To those in and around the NFL, Nawrocki's comments carry particular weight because he's not given to overstatement. Nawrocki has more credibility than many draft analysts because it's believed he doesn't grind axes; he truly believes what he's writing.
Most importantly, he may not be far off. As is the theme with the top four quarterbacks in this draft, Newton has many detractors. While not everyone is as brutal as Nawrocki, they aren't far removed.
Here's a rundown of comments from NFL executives on the top four QB prospects considered suspect in some significant way:
Newton: As Nawrocki conveyed in his critique, off-field issues are just as big of a concern as the on-field skill set with Newton, who was at the center of an investigation regarding the QB's recruitment during Auburn's run to the BCS title.
Newton takes a self-portrait during Auburn's send-off to the BCS title game.
(Cam Newton/AP Photo)
"When you talk to people who knew the kid at Florida, his personality is a serious problem …," an AFC personnel director said. "He goes to junior college, gets his act together and then has this great year at Auburn. Everything that people at Florida said he could be, he was and more. When Urban Meyer told people that Newton could be better than Tim Tebow(notes), he wasn't kidding."
"Now that he's had a taste of success, you're seeing some of the bad stuff come back. The stuff he said to Peter King about wanting to be a star and all that crap. Hey, what about taking care of business first? I give him credit for realizing what he said was stupid – or at least listening when other people told him he was being stupid – but the whole package is questionable. Is he going to go back to being a jerk and, if he does, how much work is it going to take to get him out of that, if you can?
"That's not what you want when you take a quarterback No. 1 overall, which is what could happen."
From a playing standpoint, the GMs expressed concern with Newton's single year of success, but didn't think it was as problematic as former first-round picks Akili Smith or Alex Smith.
"[Akili Smith] was in a system we didn't really understand, and he had horrible work habits. I think Newton will work. The question is whether he'll be focused enough to get all his talent out of himself," an AFC general manager said. "Alex Smith's problems are really about talent. He's not as good as what a lot of people thought when he was coming out. He's had a bad run with coaches, but he's just not that good."
Gabbert: The consensus opinion about Gabbert is simple: If you want a quarterback who could end up being pretty good, he's your guy. If you want great, you better take one of the other three.
"When I look at Gabbert, I think of Ken O'Brien," the personnel man said. Incidentally, O'Brien is helping prepare Locker for this year's draft. "That's the best you'll probably get, and that's not good enough if you're at the top of the draft. Are you really going to build the future of your franchise around that guy? To me, it feels like settling."
The biggest problem for Gabbert is one that has been discussed at length: His accuracy on deep throws is simply not good enough to make him the kind of big-play quarterback necessary to be successful on the biggest stage.
Locker (left) and Gabbert during the NFL scouting combine.
(Darron Cummings/AP Photo)
"Look at the top quarterbacks around the NFL," the NFC GM said. "They may not all have great arms, but they get big plays down the field and that's what you need to change games. Look at what Aaron Rodgers(notes) [of Green Bay] can do downfield. He puts fear in a defense. If you're not on top of your game on every play, he's going to kill you. Same goes with [Tom] Brady, [Peyton] Manning, [Ben] Roethlisberger, [Drew] Brees and [Philip] Rivers."
Locker: The interesting thing about Locker is that all three executives (not to mention numerous scouts) don't really understand why he's so inaccurate. He didn't necessarily help his cause Wednesday in the eyes of draft analysts Mike Lombardi, Charley Casserly and Todd McShay for going through a pro-day workout that was deemed too easy.
"If you're going on a ten scale, the degree of difficulty was probably a three or four," McShay said Thursday on ESPN.
"He's a great athlete. Truly great. The subtle movement in the pocket, the ability to throw on the move, the vision, it's all there," the NFC GM said. "I like so much about this guy. But I'm stunned with how bad his senior season was. I thought he'd make this big jump from his junior year, when we all thought he could be a top-five pick. … He went backwards."
The AFC GM was even more direct.
"When I saw him at the Senior Bowl, he was a mess. There were throws, simple throws, where he wasn't even in the area code. I remember this out pattern in practice, no coverage or anything, just him and the receiver. He almost threw the thing into the stands."
"He's a great athlete and maybe with better receivers he won't be so bad. Those guys he threw to at Washington were awful. … [But], generally, if a quarterback isn't accurate, you cross him off your list. It's not worth the time. Baltimore tried with Kyle Boller(notes). Tennessee tried with Vince Young(notes). You can go on and on. The only way I'd take Locker is at the end of the second round."
Mallett: Of the four, Mallett is the one who causes the most concern because of rumors about drug use in college and a general concern about his personality. At the same time, Mallett possesses a right arm that seems heaven-sent.
Mallett watches second half of loss to Auburn after suffering a concussion.
(Dave Martin/AP Photo)
"The right arm of God," the AFC GM said. "There isn't a throw he can't make. Not one single throw."
Then again, the same things were said about the likes of Jeff George and Jim Druckenmiller.
"That's a pretty good call," the AFC GM said. "I would put Mallett right there with those guys. Except that he's probably not as good an athlete as either of those guys."
Comments by McShay in a recent conference call reinforced the dilemma of drafting Mallett.
"But here's the problem, in two parts: First of all, he really struggles handling pressure, and part of that has to do with the mental side," McShay said. "How quickly he's able to digest things and how quickly he's able to make reads. And also, his feet. Being so tall, he struggles, but I know he can get out and throw on the run. When you see him make a quick move and then reset his feet in the pocket, which is something you have to do all the time as a quarterback in the NFL, you've got to be able avoid the rush, reset your feet and make accurate throws, he struggles.
"And the second part is the off-field stuff. To be honest, that's going to come down to NFL teams and whether they're comfortable with him as a leader, with his football character, some of the concerns off the field. And right now there's no indication positively or negatively where that's going to go."
For example, Mallet ran a 5.37 40-yard dash at his pro-day workout in Arkansas. Afterward, he expressed no concern about it, telling reporters that day, "I'm not Michael Vick(notes), everybody knows that."
"Pretty typical of his attitude," the AFC personnel man said. "He doesn't understand that sometimes you have to run in this game. Unless you're Dan Marino, you have to at least be able to get a couple of yards here and there."
That likely means that many executives and coaches will not want to put Mallett on their teams.
"I would never take him. Never. He's irresponsible, selfish and not a leader," the AFC GM said. "I don't care how great he throws it – and he throws it great – but there's no way."