Breaking down the 2011 Quarterback Class

April 15th, 2011 | Written by Kip Earlywine

Quite the contrast

Posted by Kip Earlywine

There have been so many rumors about Seattle and the quarterback position.  There’s been enough rumors on Palmer and Kolb alone to outpace the circus we put up with for Brandon Marshall last year.

I won’t lie, its a little hard to make sense of it all sometimes.  So when things seem the most confusing, its probably best just to revert to the basic facts.   Matthew Hasselbeck and John Schneider were miles apart in their final negotiation, so Hasselbeck has probably taken his last snap in a Seahawks uniform.  Charlie Whitehurst only played in emergency circumstances last year and did not earn a starting job for 2011.  He’s a free agent (and 30 years old) in 2012.  As such, Seattle needs a quarterback, and has by no means even attempted to hide this fact.  Every coach wants to “win now”, but this is especially true for Carroll.  This, coupled with Seattle’s low draft capital, makes the thought of pursuing Kevin Kolb or Carson Palmer a very logical notion.

And yet, even on the heels of some very encouraging rumors I’ve heard on the trade-for-a-veteran front, its hard to see Seattle not drafting a quarterback in 2011.  Even if Seattle acquired a trustworthy veteran like Carson Palmer, they’d still need another quarterback in another 4 years at the latest.  You could draft a “project” quarterback with high potential hoping he’d be ready in 2014 or 2015, similar to when Green Bay drafted Aaron Rodgers with Brett Favre still playing with gas left in the tank.  Teams usually carry 3 quarterbacks, and there isn’t a single guy currently on the roster who I’d say is “likely” to still be here this time next year.

The draft isn’t very far away, but I thought I’d take a long look at the potential options.  Unfortunately, there is less video available this year compared to last, at least not without finding a new IP and pirating from a torrent site; something I’d really prefer to avoid.  However, there is a nice supply of freely available video on the quarterback class, so I feel pretty confident in giving quality evaluations in at least that area.

Here is my draft board, as of today, for the 2011 quarterback class.  Locker is the only QB I’ve already scouted, so don’t take this list too seriously, if anything its just where I’m starting from in this evaluation process:

#1:  Blaine Gabbert: Gabbert is the only quarterback in the entire draft to get a passing grade for all of the following: accuracy, ability to read a defense, mobility, character, “makes all the throws” arm, and mechanics.  He’s not a Matt Ryan “perfect prospect”, but he’s got what it takes in the areas that correlate to NFL stardom the most.  My only real concern, other than the 1 year wonder label,  is his lack of success on deep throws- so he might be more ideal in a short passing offense.  Grade:  Top 10 pick.

#2:  Cam Newton: Newton is a one of a kind prospect.  The closest comparisons would be Vick/Young, but Newton is bigger/less agile than Vick and figures to be a better passer than Young.  I’ve even read one comparison that called Newton (paraphrasing) “Big Ben with wheels.”  Newton has an obvious “diva” personality, but he wouldn’t be the first diva quarterback to experience NFL stardom.  Newton has some relatively small mechanical issues to work out and he needs to learn a pro style offense.  Boom or bust prospect with literally unheard of upside.  Grade:  Top 10 pick.

#3:  Ryan Mallett: I try to be upfront about my biases, and evaluating Mallett has really challenged my greatest bias with quarterbacks: mobility.  I love mobile quarterbacks, probably more than I should.  Its often forgotten that Mallett was only in his 2nd season of football with Petrino at Arkansas, and yet playing in the toughest division in college football, amassed some very good numbers and had some terrific performances.  Its not like his 5.37 speed prevented him from doing it either.  Mallett’s often talked about arm (which is one of the best arms of the last several years) is actually less important that his intelligence and accuracy on the field.  Mallett has the makings of a big time pocket passer and its hard for me to put him behind Newton.  Grade:  Top 15 pick.

#4:  Jake Locker: I’ve seen all but 2 of Jake Locker’s games since he signed with the University of Washington, so he’s the one guy I could write a book on right now.  I think the 2nd round grade he’s often given is fair, and I think both his potential and risk are over-stated.  To me he’s not a boom or bust prospect, but more of a safe bet with a modest ceiling.  His accuracy is far better than his completion rate shows (thanks to a ton of drops, mediocre pass pro and college football’s toughest schedule), and there is potential for improvement with his pass location if he continues to improve his footwork in the pocket.  The reason I see Locker as being closer to the “good version” of Jake Plummer rather than John Elway is because of the simple fact that Jake Locker is a “mechanical” quarterback who follows orders and executes plays but isn’t fluid or instinctive like the greats of the league always are.  In a very controlled atmosphere, like what Mike Shanahan runs, Locker could be a good quarterback with flashes of greatness, but probably not a great quarterback overall.  Still, a quality, dependable quarterback is a good value in the early 2nd round, and worth the price at #25.   Grade:  Late 1st/early 2nd.

#5:  Colin Kaepernick: An excellent athlete with potential that probably exceeds Locker’s despite being less gifted physically.    Kaepernick’s pocket presence is special and I can’t help but be reminded of Josh Freeman watching Kaepernick dodge bullets in there and buy extra time to make plays.  Kaepernick didn’t face great competition and didn’t play in a pro-style system.  He has mechanical issues that must be improved or fixed.  He has an elongated and funky throwing motion which is somewhat made up for by some very impressive arm speed (he was a star pitcher in high school).  However, on shorter passes Kaepernick slows his arm down a lot to add touch, and this results in a fatally slow overall release time.  So improvement is not optional here- he has to either learn how to throw short passes faster without losing accuracy or learn proper mechanics- and either one will take time.  Still, I really like Kaepernick as a long term “project” and he’d make a lot of sense backing up a veteran like Carson Palmer or whoever.  I’d gladly take him at #57 should he last that long.  Grade:  2nd round.

#6:  Christian Ponder: There is quite a lot to say about this young man, so it will be hard to condense it into a single paragraph.  First, the positive stuff.  Ponder had a good season statistically in 2009, and this time last year was thought to be a future 1st round prospect.  Ponder has a warm, funny, charming and friendly persona much like Matt Hasselbeck- so he’s the perfect type of guy to be a face of the franchise in that respect.  Ponder has decent accuracy, at least on paper.  But there are some very big reasons I’m not a fan of Ponder despite these positives.  First and foremost is Ponder’s tendency to lock onto receivers and telegraph plays- something we saw a lot of with Charlie Whitehurst last year and we know how that’s going for him.  I’m struggling to think of a single prolific quarterback who overcame this tendency.  From this alone, I’d scratch Ponder off my board until the later rounds.  But Ponder also has arm issues.  He’s had several arm injuries/surgeries in recent months and he was floating deep balls even before that.  This isn’t a perfect analogy, but Ponder is a lot like old Matt Hasselbeck if old Matt Hasselbeck locked onto receivers like Charlie Whitehurst does.  In a pure west coast system where deep throws are rarely made, Ponder could make sense in the mid rounds for a coach who believes that with time he can beat the concept of multiple reads into Ponder’s thick skull.  Ponder has recieved a lot of hype lately and according to some he has a shot to be a 1st rounder despite his actual talent.  Grade:  5th rounder.

#7:  Andy Dalton: On tape, Dalton looks like this year’s Graham Harrell- a great college quarterback who is just that and nothing more.  Still, I like taking chances on guys like these ultra late in the draft, as rarely they become Tony Romos and Matt Hasselbecks.  I still need to take a deeper look into this guy, but I think anyone who says Dalton is a first two rounds player is overlooking too much.  Grade:  6th rounder.

#8:  Ricky Stanzi: Stanzi is a hero in the eyes of the 26/27/60 rule, as were many hopelessly under-talented quarterbacks in previous years.  I’d be worried if my GM drafted quarterbacks based on things like games started and wonderlic scores.  That said, I think Stanzi is a very good investment in the late rounds if Seattle wants to go the late round route at quarterback while trading for a veteran starter later.  Stanzi is strikingly similar to Matt Hasselbeck circa 1997, but with a better arm.  Both have great intangibles and leadership, and a camera friendly persona (as well as similar political leanings).  Both are 6’4″.  Stanzi is 223 lbs; Hasselbeck 225.  Both had solid mobility despite NFL average speed.  Even the way Stanzi throws the football looks pretty similar.  And most similar of all (and this is why both will be late rounders), Stanzi like Hasselbeck has way too many brainfarts on the field.  Inconsistency and bouts of poor decision making is a big problem for Stanzi.  This is no knock on Hasselbeck, but would he have been a pro-bowl quarterback without Mike Holmgren’s guidance?  I really doubt it.  Similarly, I think it would probably take a quarterback guru on par with Holmgren to get similar results with Stanzi.  Grade:  6th rounder.

#9:  Mitch Mustain: Mustain was one of the most highly pursued quarterbacks in the country coming out of high school.  He initially played for Arkansas when Houston Nutt coached there, and after a flawed yet promising start in which Mustain put up mediocre stats but won all 8 games he played in, he transferred to USC to play for Pete Carroll.  Mustain wasn’t able to beat out top 5 pick Mark Sanchez nor likely future top 5 pick Matt Barkley for a job, but that shouldn’t be held against him.  Until very recently, USC was college football’s most talent rich team every year, placing capable NFL talents on the bench, as Matt Cassel can attest.  This isn’t to say that Mustain will be a repeat of Matt Cassel, but its not like the things that once made Mustain a top prospect have changed.  The biggest knock on Mustain is the unknown, but its a late round pick with relatively outstanding upside- and the head coach of the Seahawks would know better than anyone else if he’s a gamble worth taking.

Over the next several days, I’ll release full scouting reports for Ryan Mallett and Jake Locker, followed by less thorough player previews for Kaepernick, Ponder, Dalton, and Stanzi.  I’m going to avoid writing about Newton and Gabbert for now, because I think the odds of Seattle drafting either is exceedingly low, but if it happens, I’ll do a report as soon as I’m done partying like its 1999.  For the rest, be sure to stay tuned!

40 Responses to “Breaking down the 2011 Quarterback Class”

  1. seasalt says:

    McElroy is right there with Ponder. A safer pick further down the board. I don’t think he will make it out of the 4th round. he could go higher to a QB needy team.

    • Kip Earlywine says:

      I thought about putting McElroy in as the 10th guy, and I do think there is a decent chance he could be a mid rounder, but there isn’t a lot that separates McElroy from the rest of the bunch so I left him off. This list isn’t about where I actually think a player will be drafted, but where I personally rate each prospect. From what I’ve seen, McElroy looks like a UDFA level prospect, but as he’s won a ton of games, someone might like him enough to take him that early.

    • Rob says:

      I wouldn’t spend a pick on McElroy. UDFA for me.

      • Bret L says:

        There is a good chance that McElroy will be a UDFA the Seahawks were the only team to watch his workout.

  2. Mike says:

    I am completely with you. Locker or Mallet if they are available, but I don’t think I would trade much to get down low enough to get either for sure. Kaep if he is available in the second, otherwise a development guy in the 5th.

  3. Scott says:

    I like your take on Stanzi. He had such a statistically horrid 09 season, but was pure CLUTCH at the end of close games. 10′ was statistically much better season for him, but he was pretty bad at the end of games when they mattered. My conclusion? When he tries to be careful, he loses the “special” part of his game, which actually needs a little recklessness. He really does end up being a lot like Matt, doesn’t he?

    Kudos for doing a breakdown of Mallett where you don’t mention off field unknown, unproven media driven stuff.

    • Rob says:

      The more I watched Stanzi, the more he grew on me. He’s not a spectacular player but if there’s one quarterback outside of the first two rounds I’d invest in, it’s Stanzi. Kaepernick I’m desperate to see more of – I’ve seen two games. I want to watch the Boise game again. But I’m not touching Dalton, Ponder, McElroy etc. Stanzi’s the guy I look at if the top four are gone.

      • Dawn says:

        If you’ve only seen two games my guess is you didn’t see the game against California. After that game I was convinced he was the best quarterback prospect in this draft. He looked like a total stud. I became less convinced after his mediocre performance against Boise State and his less than impressive performance in the bowl game. He is actually MORE athetic than Locker. Faster, a boatload of rushing yards, and has a rocket for an arm. My main concern with Kaepernick is: rushing means less than nothing in the Pros unless you’re Vick fast, and he has relied so heavily on rushing in college I don’t know if he’ll be able to break the habit. This is also why I wouldn’t touch Newton with a ten foot pole. Everything that made him an incredibly dominant college player, I don’t see helping him at all at the pro level.

        • Rob says:

          Thanks for the info on Kaepernick, Dawn. The two games I’ve seen are vs Boise State and vs Boston College. My initial reaction was a R4-5 level prospect.

  4. woofu says:

    Nawrocki (PFW) mock was interesting up untill #25.

    http://www.profootballweekly.com/2011/04/15/2011-mock-draft-50

    I’m more interested in scheme stable Qb fits than the relative merits between the Qb class. For instance Mallett makes sense for pocket teams with good running games like Cinn or Miami. While this is true for Dalton to Seattle with Bevell, it’s not true enough to take him at #25 vs. say McElroy at the top of the 4th round, thusly paying attention to what Pete said about getting better on the OL/DL at @25 and 57.

    What Sark said about Locker being a 2nd year pro-style Qb comming out of UW is of importance because he is the kind of project that is best seated behind a veteran in his last year or two. Scheme wise that fits Washington better than anyone else.

    • Rob says:

      I think the scheme argument is one of the most repetitive and largely redundant we’ve had to listen to. The simple fact is, the team’s without franchise quarterbacks are not going to be strict enough to ignore better overall talents. Dalton and Ponder are lumped into the WCO description because they aren’t physically great quarterbacks. That’s the only reason. You don’t take those guys in round one – period. The Seahawks at the moment don’t have a strict offensive scheme. They aren’t going to pass on a guy they like because he’s not an exact scheme fit.

      I’d also say – the talk of improving both lines was contradicted somewhat when Carroll said at the end of that presser that re-signing Hasselbeck was ‘the’ priority. He’s not re-signed. Thus, the priority remains open.

      • woofu says:

        Interesting. I assume that means Shanny will be desperate enough to go after Mallett?

        • Matt says:

          Shanahan has proven over the years to go after mobile QBs. I think Rob is debating the merits of pigeon holing a QB due to scheme not talent preference. Shanahan preferring a mobile QB is significantly different than assuming a team like the Hawks want a dink and dunk QB with the assumption that they want a strict WCO which there has been no indication of (besides media assumption with the hiring of Bevell).

  5. Dude says:

    Recently I started to think about what QBs were the Seahawks the most familiar with. So for the last few days I have been looking hard at Mustain as well. Do you think a Fith round pick is to high for him? Carrol knows him better than anyone and has shown that he will pass on his own players (Mays). Really Mustain and Locker are the QBs that you would think Seattle knows best.

    Also is there any chance we move up high enough to get Gabbert?

    • Rob says:

      You’d have to get up to #3 to get Gabbert.

      • Dude says:

        Haha, I would like to point out Rob that is very hard to pinpoint any player to the Bills. They had two good running backs on the roster last year when they took Spiller. They and the Raiders are Mock busters every year. I would almost put 1 dollar on Von Miller or Aldon Smith going at 3 haha.

    • Kip Earlywine says:

      The feeling I’m getting is that across the board, NFL front offices are really warming up to this class of QBs. Not very long ago I thought Newton or Gabbert had a slight chance of dipping into the teens. Not anymore.

      If PC is a big believer in Mustain then a 5th is a small price to pay. However, PC didn’t draft Jeff Byers, a USC product who fit a need, instead waiting to sign him in UDFA. Ultimately, it was probably for the best as Byers didn’t stick, but I suspect Pete will probably wait for UDFA to give Mustain a call, if even then.

      Its pretty much impossible to know how good of a NFL prospect Mustain is, we can only guess based on some very limited information. PC is pretty much the only guy who would know anything, so I guess we’ll just have to see what he does.

  6. Matt says:

    Great read. I pretty much agree with everything except I do believe Locker has a higher ceiling than you suggest. Remember the same knock on Rodgers coming out was the looking “mechanical” issue. The only reason I hold that hope for Locker is that there were plenty of times he looked completely natural. It just wasn’t consistent. Because he’s been a passing QB for only 2 years, I still think he has a chance to overcome that. Yes, I’m a bit of a homer, but there were too many times in big moments where Locker looked like a very natural QB (think OSU, USC, LSU, Cal). Obviously not consistent as you’d like, but he has shown flashes. Otherwise, I think he’d firmly be a round 2 guy if he didn’t show those flashes in the first place.

    Great work Kip! Glad to have you back.

    • Kip Earlywine says:

      Thanks.

      I will say this- Locker is completely natural outside the pocket. He’s John-Elway-good on his bootlegs.

  7. Brian says:

    Although I was never a believer in Charlie Whitehurst, I will admit that he did better than I expected him to do. He also seemed to get better as the season went on. I still don’t think that he will ever be a good QB, but I’d be OK with him starting a couple of seasons while a more talented QB develops in the backup role.

    The sad thing is, at #25 I doubt we have much of a choice. We can debate Locker vs Mallet but it seems unlikely that the ‘hawks will find them both available at #25.

    • Rob says:

      Which is why I’d argue Brian that trading up should be a consideration. I have no idea whether the Seahawks rate either highly enough to make a move up the board, but then they’ll have to become a very poor team to have a shot at the big guns in any draft. The ambition should be to pick this late every draft from now on – and for that to be the case you have to be proactive because a Marvin Austin or Muhammed Wilkerson won’t help define the future of Seahawks football, but a quarterback like Mallett can do.

    • ChavaC says:

      Wow. I really hope they know something we don’t. I really llike Kaepernick but he could be in for a long wait. Hopefully the article is correct about the AFC west team and someone takes him in the first. For his sake I really hope he bombed the Oakland interview.

  8. Will says:

    Have to disagree with part of your assessment on Locker. He’s not the most instinctual QB out there, but I don’t believe that instincts can’t be taught/learned, at least not at the QB position. As he gains more experience at the NFL level, I believe that Locker will develop better instincts, just like he’ll develop better field vision and decision making. I do agree that he’s a late first to early second, but only because he needs time to develop pocket awareness and footwork.

  9. Vin says:

    Kip, thanks for the write up. Its always a pleasure reading what you and Rob have to say, regardless on whether I agree or not.

    I really hope the Hawks trade up to draft Mallet or Locker, especially Mallet. I wish there was even more dirt on him to sway the other 31 teams from touching him with a 6′ pole. Everything Ive read on the guy says that he’s got the goods to be a great QB in the league. And I hate how there all these snipets on how he’s a bad leader, cocky/arrogant, drug use, etc,etc……From what Ive, I’d say 95% is untrue. Of the 4 QBs, I think he will have the best career.

  10. Matt says:

    My god, now Rob Rang is saying Dalton is a target at 25. Are we trying to suck? That’s what will happen with this kid at QB. The only positive would be we can get Luck next year.

    • Rob says:

      Rob Rang had the Seahawks taking Jimmy Clausen at #6 in his final 2010 mock.

      • Matt says:

        Still get freaked out by this. Dalton is terrible.

        • Carl Shinyama says:

          I’d like to know your basis for calling Dalton terrible.

          • Matt says:

            For a first round QB pick he’s terrible. Little physical talent. Goofy offense, so calling him accurate is a very risky assumption when he attempted very few difficult passes. His whiteboard session with Gruden alone was brutal and I can’t imagine an NFL GM coming away impressed by him. Watching him during the senior bowl was pretty terrible. Poor accuracy and his arm strength was consistently exploited in the wind. He consistently played against low level competition. The simple act of watching him (in my opinion) left me very much uninspired as I didn’t see anything that made me think of him as an NFL caliber QB. Basically I see a guy whose ceilings a low level game manager. Call me crazy but I’d like a difference maker with the potential to turn our franchise. Physical tools aren’t everything but I’ve seen zero from Dalton that makes me think he’s worth anything more than a 4th rounder. I could care less about a guy winning on a stacked team in college, which seems to be his best trait. I could keep going I think I gave a little bit about why I don’t think highly of Dalton.

  11. ChavaC says:

    Why exactly does Gabbert get a passing grade in “reading a defense” from playing in Missouri’s spread?… his Jr TD/INT ratio rates second to last on this list, behind only Mustain. In terms of accuracy sure he dropped a 60%… but he did it at a 6.7 ypa… in a spread offense. He lost Alexander and his stats dropped significantly in his Jr year.

    And on a side note this is the second time this week I’ve heard Matt Ryan referred to as having been a “perfect prospect”… really? Does no one remember the 2008 draft?

    • Matt says:

      My thoughts exactly regarding Ryan. The perfect QB goes #1. Heard the same thing about Rivers despite him coming from a goofy offense with questionable mechanics and an attitude problem. Hindsight is 20/20.

    • FWBrodie says:

      Hindsight.

    • Kip Earlywine says:

      I think it was Mike Mayock who nailed it at the time about Ryan. You can find little nitpicky things about every QB, but Mayock GUARANTEED Ryan would be a star and thats just something he almost never does for a QB.

      In hindsight, more people have been saying it though. Ryan should have gone #1, but the Dolphins needed a tackle badly and were optimistic they could get a QB later, and the Rams were still clinging to Marc Bulger.

    • Alex says:

      good catch there. The funny thing with people is that if it works in hindsight, they’ll go back and say “Oh, he was such and such a great prospect.” Little do people remember that the QB prospects of the 08, 09, 10 draft had just as many weaknesses as the QBs in this draft.

      Matt Ryan in particular was criticized for his decision making and taking too many chances (high INT).
      Flacco was strong armed, but the competition was weak and his accuracy at the time could use a lot of improving.
      Stafford had an amazing arm, but accuracy could use improvement.
      Sanchez played in the pro system, but had only one year.
      Freeman is essentially Locker right now. Suspect accuracy in the pocket, bad team, great physical talent, great leader, great work ethic.

      Even last year, people were getting on Sam Bradford and I’ll admit I was part of that group. Now, people talk about Bradford like he was a near perfect prospect. Funny how short memory works.

      I never had any issue with accuracy. His accuracy (ball placement) was about as highly as you can rate a college prospect. His arm strength was sufficient. There were some legit concerns about the transition to the pro system and most importantly, at the time, I was absolutely fearful that he would be injured considering A) his frame, which is very light and B) his injury history in college. To his credit, he bulked up IMMENSELY for Pro Day and injuries haven’t seem like an issue since.

  12. FWBrodie says:

    I was watching some Ricky Stanzi highlights the other day and thought to myself “Matt Hasselbeck with a little more zip” so I’m glad someone agrees. The Hawks could do worse than Stanzi if they don’t pull the trigger on a Day 1 or 2 QB first.

    • Kip Earlywine says:

      Yeah I’m starting to think Stanzi would be a great pick in the 5th if he’s still there.

  13. Ivotuk says:

    Was there an article saying that Schneider and Hasselbeck were “miles apart”.

    • FWBrodie says:

      There’s been a lot of speculation… Clayton said they were very far apart and even speculated on the numbers, Carroll himself said they tried and just couldn’t come together in the past tense as if they were done trying.