Blaine Gabbert (left), Jake Locker (center) and Cam Newton are among the quarterbacks battling to be drafted high for needy teams.
To hear everyone predict, Cam Newton will be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.
Lately, it seems that Blaine Gabbert – attached to the Cardinals many times over at No. 5 in weeks previous -- won’t make it past the fourth pick.
Other quarterbacks, like Jake Locker or Andy Dalton, seem to be destined to be first-round picks when the buzz was anything but for most of the spring.
The destination of quarterbacks has been the overriding story line of the upcoming draft. Part of that is the overwhelming need for most of the teams picking early to find a new QB. Part of it is the uncertainty of all the prospects – “These quarterbacks all have red flags,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper said – to translate into solid pros. Part of it is the relative inability to separate their talents from one another.
An NFL team needs a good quarterback, even if you aren’t sure there a good quarterbacks to be had.
“When a guy can do something well at that position, it brings a little more value than maybe another spot,” Cardinals offensive coordinator Mike Miller said. “It’s supply and demand for the most important position.”
Put more simply by former NFL general manager (and current NFL Network analyst) Charley Casserly, “You do overvalue them, because if you don’t have one it can get ugly for you.”
This year has been one of the hardest years to decipher what quarterbacks should go where. Analyst Greg Cosell doesn’t believe there is a quarterback worth a top-20 pick. Casserly won’t put Gabbert above recent draftees Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford, but he does think he is better than Mark Sanchez when Sanchez came out. Some think Dalton and Locker have the best chance to be long-term successes.
Yet most think Newton will end up being the Panthers’ choice at the top of the draft, even though Carolina took Jimmy Clausen in the second round last season. And one of the rumors percolating as draft day nears is the Redskins – holding the 10th overall pick – will trade up to No. 2 just to make sure they nab Gabbert.
“How many elite quarterbacks are there? Six? Seven maybe?” Cardinals director of player personnel Steve Keim said. “From there, everyone else is doing a revolving door or looking. That’s what you have to do, because if you get one, you could potentially be set for eight, nine, 10 years. Sure makes you look a lot smarter.”
So teams might reach a little for a quarterback, swing for the fences when there is a chance for a franchise guy. The bust factor might not be appreciably higher at the position, but everyone knows how a quarterback pans out. You hope for a Bradford or Ryan or Ben Roethlisberger. But if you chase a QB early, it’s not just avoiding a JaMarcus Russell or Akili Smith. You can’t have a Vince Young or Matt Leinart either.
Knowing exactly what a quarterback is and what it’ll mean on the pro level is all but impossible. To know he can get the play out of the huddle, identify the defense, know what checks and hot reads to use, be cool enough under pressure to handle to rush, have the arm strength and mobility to play and the technique to use it – all of that is a guesstimate.
That doesn’t include the work ethic and leadership necessary to be a quarterback.
“You’ve got to try and develop an urgency and respect in terms of preparation with every young quarterback,” former NFL coach Jon Gruden said. “They’ve got to walk in day one and feel that urgency to improve, whether it be fundamentally or from a knowledge standpoint.”
Do any of these candidates – and the post-top-10 group like Ryan Mallett and Colin Kaepernick are among those included – have all those abilities? Waiting around isn’t usually an option.
“You are going to be aggressive in going after him,” Casserly said. “I don’t know if overvaluing means you think (a QB) is better than he is but you are aggressive in going after him in your thinking. It’s hard before a draft to think ‘We’re going to get our blue chip quarterback in the fourth round’ because you don’t do that. You can’t say, ‘We’re going to get our guy in the second round’ because he may not be there in the second round.”
Quarterbacks will always go early, and sometimes earlier than they should. Sometimes, that may pay off on the other side.
“I do recognize the fact it tends to happen in the results of the draft,” Cardinals general manager Rod Graves said. “Sometimes quarterbacks go a little bit higher … but it has the effect of pushing other very good football players down and sometimes that can be beneficial to you.”