For the most part, this was a statement of intent.
Not many people are talking about Blaine Gabbert as a first round prospect. That may begin to change after a largley impressive display against Iowa in the Insight Bowl, despite a 27-24 defeat.
I’ll qualify from the outset that this wasn’t a faultless performance by any means. A lot of questions remain unanswered from the article I published ahead of the Insight Bowl between Gabbert’s Missouri and Iowa. The Hawkeye’s didn’t do a good enough job taking away his first read which allowed Gabbert to throw a lot of scripted passes that look good, but won’t be so easily accessible at the next level.
When Iowa did get into Gabbert’s head, he tried to scramble out of trouble. He’s mobile (expressed with a solid touchdown run) but he isn’t a difference maker. On a couple of occasions he was too quick to bail on the pass only to lose yardage attempting to run.
The big mistake of the night came on a pick-six with 5:32 remaining. His first read wasn’t on so he chose to run. As he struggled to find space, he changed his mind again and decided to pass. The result was an ugly mistake that led to a turnover and the game winning score.
It’d be very easy to dwell on the error seeing as it essentially lost Missouri the game. It’s an issue he has to correct, but it doesn’t take away from a performance that most people were ready to compliment profusely before one big gaffe.
He also took a couple of unnecessary sacks in the game – further evidence of concern that sometimes he does hold on to the ball too long and that he isn’t always the coolest under pressure. He needs to know when to just save the lost eight yards (or avoid the pick six) and lob the ball into row F.
So what about the positives? There were lots of them and these shouldn’t be over shadowed.
The big arm is there for all to see and that’s never been in question. A lot of guys have a big arm and never make full use of it. Gabbert over shot a couple of passes, but overall showed unique touch for someone who owns a rocket arm. This was perfectly highlighted with 6:27 left in the third quarter when he threw a beautiful 30-yard touch pass over the middle into a zone covered by three defensive backs. Everything about the throw – the touch, the accuracy, the placement. Stunning.
You could pair this with a 20-yard bomb in the first quarter on 3rd & 19. With pressure in his face, this time he stayed composed with his eyes downfield and lobbed a perfect strike to his wide out for the first down. It flashed the quick, high release, accuracy and velocity that Gabbert is capable of.
A lot of prospects will trust their arm too much and it leads to mistakes. Gabbert makes a full range of throws and understands when to bring out the cannon and when he needs to tone it down.
Over and over again Gabbert was able to fit the ball into windows a lot of NFL quarterbacks couldn’t. He consistently found the soft-spot between safety and cornerback. He isn’t afraid to throw down the middle and whilst there were scripted plays and underneath completions – the Tigers could make any play callwith confidence. Gabbert flashed a full repetoire of passes.
Missouri pretty much abandoned their running game after going behind early. During the initial comeback Gabbert remained cool and unemotional and kept his composure despite being asked to make a number of difficult throws downfield. He was responsible for a confident comeback and managed the rest of his offense. His first turn over came off a smart tip from a cornerback, although the second interception was his fault and his only.
But what do you want from a franchise QB? Accuracy? Mobility? Character? Big arm? Gabbert has all of these things.
Make no mistake – this was a game that will catch every scouts eye. I cannot see anything but a positive review from the NFL draft committee, making it more likely Gabbert’s name will be added to those expected to declare for 2011. I put Gabbert at #13 in my Christmas Eve mock. Expect to see him in every other mock draft over the next few days.