After declaring for the NFL draft as a junior, former Mizzou quarterback Blaine Gabbert found a suitor early in the the first round of selections Thursday in the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars traded up and plucked Gabbert with the 10th pick, obtained from the Washington Redskins.
Do not expect Gabbert to threaten David Garrard’s starting job; expect him to instead make a realistic push at the second position on the depth chart. Should that happen, Gabber would have the opportunity to take hundreds upon hundreds of reps under center as he learns the Jaguar’s offense without suffering through the physical onslaught of professional defenders. He falls into an ideal situation for a quarterback transitioning away from the spread offense, as Gabbert must do.
Mock drafts across the nation expected Gabbert to land in the bayside shadows of Steve Young and Joe Montana, but the 49ers surprised the majority by selecting Mizzou pass-rusher Aldon Smith instead. The Titans’ selection of former Washington quarterback Jake Locker further rattled the veracity of the pre-draft hype hailing Gabbert as the close second to Cam Newton at the position.
Gabbert’s relative draft stock may have shifted when he ran non-throwing portions of the workout at the NFL Combine. He recorded a 4.61 second time in his 40-yard dash, just .02 slower than Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. Newton, at 6-foot-5, 248 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds after a collegiate career defined as much by his ability to run as pass. Gabbert, listed at 6-foot-5 by MUTigers.com but standing an inch shorter according to official Combine measurements, is an underrated scrambler who nevertheless frequently over-relied on his legs by darting away from his protection at the first whiff of pressure.
However, Newton completed just over half of his passes at Auburn and struggles throwing to his left. Gabbert dispersed the ball relatively evenly en route to assembling a much more impressive 63 percent completion percentage, but has very few in-game reps from under center, a pivotal skill for any NFL quarterback.
Locker, like Gabbert, regressed statistically between 2010 and 2011. He never amassed more then 2,800 yards in four seasons at Washington. Although he did not play in a passing yardage machine like Mizzou, he nevertheless boasts a strong arm that he can unleash as effectively on the run as he can with his back foot planted. Like Newton, Locker did not hit the 60 percent completion benchmark last year, nor has he ever done so in collegiate play.
Gabbert threw for more than 3,000 yards during both his sophomore and junior seasons at Mizzou. Although his team’s production per passing play dropped along with his total yardage between 2010 and 2011, the quarterback markedly improved his accuracy. Mizzou lost to Iowa in the Insight Bowl in December, where the Tigers’ quarterback gave away two interceptions to just one touchdown. Gabbert did not win a bowl game during his tenure with the Tigers.
The NFL lockout essentially continues for the moment, with players still prevented from working out by team ownership. Rookies like Gabbert would benefit the most from an early return to full league operations. Between mini-camps and training camp, a former spread quarterback like Gabbert could especially use the experience to kick-start his transition into the NFL.
Combine measurements via NFL.com