Gabbert, Newton both look like franchise centerpieces
If you're looking for consensus, you've come to the wrong position.
When it comes to the top quarterback prospects in the 2011 NFL Draft, there really is only one fact not in dispute among most analysts: Blaine Gabbert of Missouri and Cam Newton of Auburn are the head of the class.
Beyond that, however, lies a plethora of opinion but a dearth of agreement.
Both have prototypical size for an NFL star: Gabbert is 6-5, 230 pounds, while Newton is 6-6, 250.
Both were highly accomplished on the field: Gabbert completed just under 61 percent of his passes for 6,822 yards and 40 touchdowns, starting 26 games in his Missouri career. Newton completed 66.1 percent of his attempts for 2,853 yards, 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions in leading undefeated Auburn to the national championship in his only season.
And both will have to answer the same question: will their skills fully translate from college systems that bear little resemblance to what they will see in the NFL?
Newton worked exclusively out of the shotgun at Auburn and had the freedom to take off and run if he didn't like his first read.
"I think the hardest thing now is the college game has moved further away from the pro game," said NFL Network Draft Analyst Michael Lombardi. "The college offenses, Cam Newton's thrown what, 285 passes? In an offense that doesn't resemble anything in pro football. Now you say he's in shotgun. But the shotgun is completely different than the shotgun in our league.
"It's a completely different league. So you have to spend time understanding what they're going through and what they're taught and how their reads are. Because the college game is vastly different than the pro game. And it's going in another direction."
Gabbert worked in a spread offense at Missouri, another system largely foreign to the NFL.
"I look at Gabbert and I say, OK, on tape I see a better athlete than I expected. I see a tough kid, and I see a kid that can make all the throws. Those things are all important," said draft analyst Michael Mayock of NFL Network. "But when you chart every throw he makes over a six- or seven-game period, he's a spread offense guy. Completely different than what he's going to do in the NFL.
"So I'm talking about the transition from a college spread guy to an NFL guy which is a lot harder than people understand. The footwork's completely different, the reads are completely different."
Gabbert believes there's enough evidence suggesting the transition might not be the challenge some of the experts project.
"There's no question," he said. "Tim Tebow. The knock on him was he was a 100 percent shotgun quarterback. And he started the last few games at Denver, had success. Sam (Bradford). Same way. He was in shotgun a lot in college. Colt McCoy, same way.
"These guys all have had success in their rookie seasons, so I really don't see the problem with being a spread quarterback in college, because if you're good, you're good, and you're going to play wherever."
Because he played just one season at Auburn, there is less known about Newton. But most everything scouts have seen they have liked. He had some accuracy issues when throwing at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis but seemed to answer those in his pro day.
To be sure, his combination of size, strength, skill and athleticism are rare. But NFL teams are just as curious about what is not obvious to the casual observer, what goes on behind the scenes in a prospect's life on and off the field.
"Cam Newton is a very, very talented player and he's done some remarkable things in an offense that is unique," said Lombardi. "But I think he's going to have prove to the NFL people that he's committed, he's willing to work hard, he's really not an icon yet, that he's going to have to take some time to develop his game … and that there's an offense that he can fit around in and he can develop within.
"That's a difficult question to answer. And here's the other issue. If you can answer all those, he still needs 10,000 hours of reps to hone his skills. The NFL is not like the NBA. You don't go from high school and start playing really good. The NFL takes time. And especially at quarterback, which you're almost like a fighter pilot. You have to be in the in the plane, you
have to train yourself. It's very difficult. The game moves very fast and your confidence goes down."
Newton understands that concern and said he intends to spend the necessary time to prepare for the NFL.
"I admire the guys like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, who are professional at what they do," he said. "No offense to those guys, but they might not run the fastest 40, they may not jump the highest in this year's combine, they might not jump the farthest in the broad jump, but I guarantee you from what I've heard from their teams, you're not going to outwork them. They're in the film study or they're watching film before the offensive coordinator is watching film. So I respect somebody that treats their job they way they go about handling it each and every day."
When compared physically to Newton, Gabbert knows he finishes second. A highly confident player who said he intends to start right away for whichever team selects him, Gabbert said there will be no question about his work ethic.
"I'm going to outwork everybody. That's how I was raised," he said. "But nothing's ever going to be given to you in life. You've got to earn everything you get. That's kind of the mindset I've taken to football, the mindset I've taken to school, that you've got to work for what you get in life.
"That's why I'm never going to stop working, I'm never going to be outworked by anybody else."
Many project Gabbert may be the most NFL-ready, but Newton appears to have a high ceiling as well. With as many as four of the five teams picking at the top of the draft interested in the quarterback position, their names could be called early on the Thursday of the draft.
But whose will be first and when that will come will remain up for debate until April 28.
BREAKING DOWN THE 2011 NFL DRAFT'S TOP QUARTERBACKS
With so many teams near the top of the draft having pronounced need at quarterback, Newton and Gabbert both are likely to be gone within the top eight picks, possibly the first five. Either could be No. 1 overall, though there are mixed opinions about Carolina's intentions at No. 1 considering the Panthers drafted Jimmy Clausen last year. Beyond the top two, Washington's Jake Locker projects into the bottom third of the first round while Arkansas' Ryan Mallett could be a late first-round or second-round choice.
THE LAST FIVE
The last five quarterbacks drafted by the Colts . . .
2009: Curtis Painter, sixth round, Purdue.
2004: Jim Sorgi, sixth round, Wisconsin.
1998: Peyton Manning, No. 1 overall, Tennessee.
1996: Mike Cawley, sixth round, James Madison.
1990: Jeff George, No. 1 overall, Illinois.
Gene Benhart, 12th round, Western Illinois.
THIS YEAR'S DRAFT
An alphabetical list of 15 quarterbacks expected to be selected in the 2011 NFL Draft . . .
Andy Dalton, TCU
Nathan Enderle, Idaho
*Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
Mike Hartline, Kentucky
Colin Kaepernick, Nevada
Jake Locker, Washington
*Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
Greg McElroy, Alabama
Mitch Mustain, Southern California
*Cam Newton, Auburn
Christian Ponder, Florida State
Ricky Stanzi, Iowa
Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech
Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin
T.J. Yates, North Carolina
Note: The content in this story and in the series of draft-eligible players that appears on Colts.com in no way reflects the position of the Indianapolis Colts.