For Missouri quarterback prospect Blaine Gabbert it will all come down to today. His pro day will be the last great opportunity to showcase his talents to the balance of NFL scouts and personnel executives. It’s widely believed that he must show progress in his development as a signal caller coming from under center, but beyond that most league decision makers have their minds made up on Gabbert at this stage of the game.
Gabbert’s game tape is ultimately what has led to the widely held opinion that he’s one of the top two signal callers in the draft pool, an opinion shared by NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. But is he deemed to be a franchise type quarterback by the NFL clubs at the top of the draft board?
“All I’m going to tell you is Blaine Gabbert is a top 10 pick. That’s my opinion,” he said. “I believe in Blaine Gabbert and you know my belief in franchise quarterbacks. They trump every other need. If you don’t have one of those guys you don’t win in this league. You just don’t.
“Three years ago Miami took Jake Long and he’s a great football player. But that opened the door for Atlanta to take Matt Ryan and you have two franchises going in different directions based on that one pick. If you believe the guy is a franchise quarterback then you have to take him in my opinion.”
Gabbert took his 3:1 touchdown to interception ratio from his sophomore season in 2009 into the 2010 campaign, but saw his production drop with 16 touchdown passes against nine interceptions though he did increase his completion percentage (63.4%).
Some scouts point to his performance in the Insight Bowl against Iowa as one of his most impressive games as he went 41 for 57 passing for 484 yards and a touchdown, with another rushing touchdown of his own. But he also threw a pair of interceptions including an inexplicable toss late in the fourth quarter that was returned 72 yards for a touchdown for what proved to be the game-winning points in a 27-24 loss. Gabbert, to his credit, admitted that he forced that pass.
“Our offense was really clicking in that game,” he said. “Everything was working. We were seeing things before it happened. Our receivers were getting open sitting in the zones, but at the end of the day I made that crucial mistake and lost the football game. I learned from that. I made that mistake and I’m going to move on from it.”
What Gabbert has to prove at his pro day later today is that his footwork is making progress to cater more to a pro-style offense after being in shotgun almost every snap of his college career.
“He’s got a bit of a bigger transition than (Sam) Bradford or (Matt) Ryan,” said Mayock. “He’s a spread quarterback that never gets under center. Ryan, Bradford and (Matt) Stafford were occasionally under center and this kid never was. You never see it. Fifty percent of his throws are catch, rock and throw where there is no footwork whatsoever. The other 50 percent are three step and three with a hitch which means he’s never done a five step drop in his life except what he’s working on now.”
Gabbert has been working on his footwork with well-known quarterbacks coach Terry Shea, who has worked with former draft prospects like Bradford, Josh Freeman and Stafford.
Where Gabbert will defend himself is in Missouri’s spread offense. Most spread attacks predominantly throw quick strike passes out wide and underneath to allow their athletes to make plays after the catch. In the Tigers’ offense, Gabbert feels he was asked to do more than that.
“We’re not really a one side read offense,” he said. “We have three, four progression reads. Play action is an extremely important part of our offense at Mizzou as well. Albeit we were in the shotgun, but guys like Joe Flacco, Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow. I could go on and on about all of these spread quarterbacks in college that had early success in their careers in the NFL.”
Mayock still believes Gabbert will need time to adjust, but he does confirm that the quarterback prospect did throw downfield.
“Reading progressions and anticipating open windows will be an adjustment, but what I like about the kid is I charted every throw he made over six games and they do have an intermediate throwing attack so it’s not just under 10 yards like a lot of spreads,” Mayock said. “He throws that ball into that 11 to 20 yard zone, which to me defines an NFL quarterback. I don’t care about the 10-yard throws or the 50-yard throws. Arm strength to me is not a 50-yard throw, it’s the 18-yard comeback, the 20-yard dig, anticipating windows and all those linebackers and safeties.”
“We spread the football around. We didn’t just dink and dunk we threw it all over the field. That was an instrumental part of our offense hitting the seams and hitting the verticals on the sidelines to beat teams,” said Gabbert. “I had to make those throws. I was willing to make those throws and I did make those throws.”
Still NFL scouts and personnel people are trying to find chinks in the armor knowing it’s not a particularly strong year for quarterbacks. They want to guard against inflating Gabbert’s value too much in the absence of comparable talent.
“He benefited late in this process by the fact that there is another quarterback going through the scrutiny,” said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper. “Cam Newton throws at the combine and he doesn’t. He still has this pro day, but he benefited by going through the physical testing and the interviews. He had a good year, not an off the charts year.
“I thought there were times where he bailed out of the pocket too early, times when he took sacks, times when he didn’t get the ball to the receiver so he could do the most with the ball after the catch. All that being said I think there’s a chance he could be the first overall pick or the third overall pick. On my board I have him rated at number eight. I don’t have him as high as some people do.”
Kiper also pointed to Gabbert’s completion percentage of 45 percent on third downs in 2010. The draft guru acknowledged that the Missouri receiving corps wasn’t as strong as the previous year, but ultimately Kiper believes all the questions about Newton only helps Gabbert’s stock.
Gabbert doesn’t see it as a competition between himself and Newton to see who comes off the board first. He’s more focused on excelling on the field when all eyes are on him today and making sure NFL personnel executives understand he’s committed to the workload that lies ahead to be a premier NFL quarterback.
“I’m just going to go out there and have a great pro day, work my tail off and nobody knows what’s going to happen until draft day,” he said. “I’m going to outwork everybody. That’s how I was raised, that nothing is ever going to be given to you in life. You’ve got to earn everything you get and that’s the mindset I’ve taken to football and school. That’s why I’m never going to be outworked by anyone else.”