Coach's make-it QBs? Newton no, Locker maybe, Ponder yes

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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It's the Year of the Quarterback again. Not because there were so many good ones drafted, but because so many were drafted, period.

Four were taken in the first 12 picks. Five in the first 35. Six in the first 36.

The first overall choice was a quarterback, and no surprise there -- it was the ninth time in the past 11 years that happened. But when Minnesota made Christian Ponder the 12th pick, it completed the second biggest run on the position since 1970. (Only 1999 had more that early, with five.)

That tells you how much NFL teams value quarterbacks. It also tells you how desperate they were -- quarterback-hungry clubs jumped to fill holes at the most important position.

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I'm not sure what they gained, but I know an offensive coach who does. He worked out all of the top QBs in the draft, interviewed them and drew his own conclusions about them. I asked him for the CliffNotes version, and here is his response:

Cam Newton, Panthers

Positives: Great size. Strong arm. Off-the-charts athleticism. Confident. A threat to run or throw. Extraordinarily productive and extremely competitive. Wins wherever he plays, which is why I'd never sell this guy short.

Negatives: Verbiage will be a problem. Will have trouble after you get four or five words to a play because he hasn't had to do it. At Auburn he responded to hand signals from the sidelines or one-word play descriptions. Not sure he can make the throw that's not in front of him, and that's the NFL game. Character's another hurdle, though he's not a bad guy. Just immature. When one team held an audition for him, no receivers from Auburn showed up. You got to be kidding me. You're Cam Newton, and you can't get anyone from your offense to come to your workout? As I said, I wouldn't consider him a character concern, but there's always a me-me side to him, so you wonder: if you tell him to scratch a particular play and go with something else, will he do it?

Forecast: Cloudy. If Carolina lets him run the Wildcat, he could be successful. Unlike Miami, which ran it with running backs, he's a big-time threat to throw out of it. If they make him the 11th man in that offense and let him operate a system like that, he's going to be deadly. He's also going to get hurt. Newton averaged 20 passes and 19 carries a game last season, and, sorry, that will get a quarterback broken in the NFL. That's something that will show up over time.

Verdict: Doesn't make it.

Jake Locker, Titans

Positives: Terrific athlete. Can make all the passes. Experienced. Ideal arm strength. Can take the snap out of shotgun or under center. Moves well. In fact, is most dangerous when out of the pocket.

Negatives: Stands 6-feet-2 but plays like he's 5-10. He's always wired, and that makes for a lot of confusion in the pocket. Not sure which is the real guy: The quarterback who looked so good in 2009 or the quarterback who didn't look so good in 2010. Highly inconsistent. Also question if he can process the information at the next level.

Forecast: Cloudy. I wouldn't have taken him where they did, but I give him a chance because the offensive line at Washington was so bad last year. The guy didn't have a chance. At Tennessee, they have a great offensive line. Plus, they have Chris Johnson to run the ball and a defense to stop people. This could be Ben Roethlisberger all over again. The Titans can run 35 times a game and pass 25 times and be successful. But I'd sure feel better about his chances if he had a veteran quarterback to learn from.

Verdict: Has a chance.

Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars

Positives: Quick with the ball. Comes out of his hand very fast. Ideal height, weight and speed. Throws a nice, catchable ball. Very accurate. Extremely mobile but looks the part of a pocket passer. Respected leader.

Negatives: His wide receivers weren't very good at Missouri, but still would have liked to have seen more productivity. Not sure he can handle everything right now. The kind of guy who has to see something first before he gets it; in other words, the kind of guy who will swing second in a fight. Played in spread so will need some time under center. Think he came out of school a year too early. Still only 21. Needs a good two years of studying behind someone.

Forecast: Partly sunny. Has all the measurables and love his release. He's just so young. Needs to sit some. In Jacksonville, he might have a chance because the Jags already have a starter there, a pretty good defense and someone [Maurice Jones-Drew] to run the ball. But that looks like a contentious situation. I think with [David] Garrard there it could be a bad deal. It's going to be tense because he knows he's no longer considered "The Guy."

Verdict: Makes it.

Christian Ponder, Vikings

Positives: Always, always accountable. Graduates high school early. Graduates college early. Is working on his second MBA. Very sharp guy and someone who can extend plays. Really, really good athlete and quick. Mobile. Didn't run that much slower than Newton or Gabbert. Tough guy too. Played through injury last season and really impressed me. Like his experience. Decent arm strength. Accurate. Can step in tomorrow. May have the quickest release of all the guys. The ball really comes ripping out of there.

Negatives: I just think the weight of being the 12th overall pick could crush him. He wasn't expected to go that high, and I wouldn't have taken him there. Injuries concern some people. Not me. This guy is tough. Doesn't always feel the pressure. Must do better job at not staring down primary receiver.

Forecast: Partly sunny. Another guy who may be going to the right team. He has Adrian Peterson and a decent offense around him. If he doesn't have to carry the load he should be OK.

Verdict: Makes it.

Andy Dalton, Bengals

Positives: Experienced four-year starter. Highly successful. Accurate. Productive. Extremely competitive. Very smart guy who called audibles at TCU. Accurate. Mentally tough. Well-rounded. Solid character. Throws to opposite sidelines with accuracy. Nice touch.

Negatives: Must learn to read on drop-backs after spending time in spread. Size. Is 6-2 but looks smaller. Not an elusive runner. Doesn't have exceptional physical tools. Needs time to grow.

Colin Kaepernick, a second-round pick out of Nevada, will wait to see whether the Niners re-sign Alex Smith. (Getty Images)  
Colin Kaepernick, a second-round pick out of Nevada, will wait to see whether the Niners re-sign Alex Smith. (Getty Images)  
Forecast: Partly sunny. Is going to the right team if he wants to start. The Bengals have Carson Palmer, but he swears he won't play another down for them. I believe him, and I think the Bengals do too. Otherwise, they wouldn't have drafted Dalton. There was talk of Dalton or Mallett with the third pick of the second round, and the Bengals made the sound decision. This guy has talent and character. The other has talent. If Cincinnati can find a veteran who can school Dalton as Jon Kitna did Palmer in 2003, he should be OK.

Verdict: Makes it.

Colin Kaepernick, 49ers

Positives: Marvelous athlete who, like Locker, excelled in both baseball and football. Terrific runner. Strong arm. Accurate and productive passer. Charismatic. When he steps in the huddle and has something to say everyone believes him. Nobody questions him. There's just something about the guy on the field where he commands his teammates' respect. Off the field he's quiet and humble. Terrific personality. But when he speaks up on the field, you better listen.

Negatives: It's sort of like Cam Newton. He's half quarterback, half running back. While productive, there's no lateral movement with him. Everything is in a straight line. He has a big windup to his delivery, too, which you'd expect from a baseball pitcher. That will have to be corrected. An inconsistent passer, especially outside the pocket.

Forecast: Cloudy. If the 49ers re-sign Alex Smith and use him 15 plays a game, I think he could be great. But why would you trade up in the second round to get someone like that? I just think he has too far to go to be a starter. He's going to be a project who takes time to straighten out.

Verdict: Doesn't make it.

Ryan Mallett, Patriots

Positives: Excellent size. Best arm in the draft. Good pocket passer. Can make any throw that he wants. Very football smart. Knows all the Xs and Os. Outstanding physical ability.

Negatives: Extremely limited in his movement skills. Can't make plays with his feet. Brash personality. I don't consider him a bad guy, but I do have character concerns about him.

Forecast: Partly sunny. He's going to the right place for him. There are a lot of teams that couldn't handle a guy like this, but New England isn't one of them. Sitting behind [Tom] Brady and not having to play immediately will help him mature and help him be a better quarterback. This is the perfect place for him.

Verdict: Makes it.

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