Missouri prospect Blaine Gabbert stands a very good chance of being the first quarterback off the board come late April. His direct competition is the most polarizing figure in the draft in Heisman trophy winner Cam Newton. Gabbert however, believes his approach to the pre-draft process and football in general is what will make him the cream of this year's crop.
"I'm going to outwork everybody," said Gabbert plainly. "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 kind of the mindset I've taken to football and school. You've got to work for what you get in life. That's why I'm never going to stop working or be outworked by anyone else."
Proving one has a strong work ethic to NFL talent evaluators is easier said than done at the NFL combine, which is why the questions still linger about most of the top signal callers including Gabbert.
"I think Blaine Gabbert is a top 10 guy," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock. "For me every team in the top 10 that thinks they need a quarterback better be grinding on all of those guys, but especially Gabbert."
At 6'4" and change and 234 pounds, Gabbert has an NFL arm and above average athleticism for a quarterback his size. Posting 18 wins in two years as a starter along with almost 6,400 yards passing Gabbert chose to forgo his senior season. But Gabbert's physical talent and sizable statistics will only get him so far.
"The most important thing for me in a quarterback today is their ability to move to the next level with the sophistication involved. How hard a worker are they? Is he the first guy in the building?"
The reason that's important for prospects like Gabbert is because he comes from a spread offense and will need to make some noticeable adjustments to his game.
"If you look at the quarterbacks that are coming out now, you look at (Cam) Newton, (Blaine) Gabbert, (Colin) Kaepernick, those guys are all coming out of some kind of spread option offense and it makes the learning curve bigger no doubt," said Bills GM Buddy Nix. "Obviously that does bother you some and that's the reason you don't want to take one and have to throw him out there from day one."
"The transition from a college spread guy to an NFL guy is a lot harder than people understand," said Mayock. "The footwork is completely different, the reads are completely different so when I talk about football IQ I kind of talk about this kid's ability to transition from what he has been to what he needs to be and how quickly he can get it done."
Gabbert doesn't see it as a big step feeling his offensive system at Missouri was a bit more complex than some of the one read schemes that dominate the college landscape.
"I wouldn't necessarily say the reads are different," he said. "We're not really a one side read offense. We have three, four progression reads. Of course the footwork is different having been in the shotgun about 98 percent of the time. So that's what I've been working on and focused on. I've done a great job so far and haven't seen a problem one bit."
Gabbert has been working with former NFL quarterbacks coach Terry Shea to make his transition to a pro-style offense a successful one.
The Missouri product won't be showcasing his progress at the NFL combine however, as he has chosen not to throw in Indianapolis. Instead he will wait until his pro day in Columbia on March 17th.
"I look at Gabbert and I say on tape I see a better athlete than I expected," said Mayock. "I see a tough kid and a kid that can make all the throws. Those things are all important, but when you chart every throw he makes over a six or seven game period… he's a spread offense guy doing something completely different from what he's going to be doing in the NFL."
Most draft analysts have the top quarterback down to a two-man race between Gabbert and Newton. It's believed the signal caller that demonstrates the best football I.Q. and most promise in transitioning to the demands of a pro-style offense could be the first to have his name called on April 28th.
Gabbert doesn't see it that way.
"I think that's what you guys are making it out to be kind of me versus Cam, but no it's just an opportunity for us to get drafted as high as possible," he said. "I know Cam and Ryan (Mallett) and Jake (Locker) are all working to be the number one guy and it's going to be a fun few months."
Mayock admits he has more homework to do on Gabbert, but has seen enough of his games to feel good about the prospect's future.
"I like Gabbert a lot," he said. "I've seen seven of his games and purely on tape he reminds me of the guys that have done well the last couple of years. He reminds me of a (Sam) Bradford. He reminds me or a (Matt) Ryan."
And Gabbert has sought out the advice of NFL signal callers like Bradford to help ensure his own success as he awaits the start of his pro career.
"It takes more than what it did in college," said Gabbert of being a successful NFL quarterback. "Talking to guys that played at a high level in college, Eli Manning, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford… these guys were extremely successful in college, but it takes more in the NFL.
"It's a full time job and I realize that and I know that and the best thing about me is I love the game of football. That's been my goal to only do football. I'm going to be in the film room and I'm going to be in the weight room and I'm going to compete to be the best quarterback possible."