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Draft King Analysis

January 24, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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The AFC and NFC championship games for this season are in the book, and both games looked sketchy at halftime but turned into thrillers by the fourth quarter. Hope you enjoyed them, because there's only one game left between now and the end of the CBA: Super Bowl 45 (or XLV if you prefer the nonsense of Roman numerals), Steelers vs. Packers in Arlington, TX on 2/6/2011. The Packers opened as a two-point favorite, and it's amusing to me that the Super Bowl is the one NFL game where the point spread is talked about more-or-less openly.

Blaine Gabbert
Many scouts are bullish on Blaine Gabbert's pro potential. (Icon SMI)
To this point I've held out on my belief that Cam Newton is the top NFL quarterback prospect, above Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert and Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett and the rest of the crop. But I'm fighting a huge uphill battle against Gabbert, who is beloved by scouts because of his prototype size. When Mel Kiper and Mike Mayock and Todd McShay and many of the top independent draft sites all have Gabbert at the top spot, it ramps up the pressure on me to justify keeping Newton ahead of Gabbert in the mock on here.

Believe me, I get it that Gabbert is 6'5" 235 and that he was 41-of-57 passing in the Insight Bowl against Iowa. But he also threw one TD against two interceptions in that game, and his Tigers came up short. Moreover, in the stretch run of the regular season (final five regular season games), Gabbert threw as many picks as touchdown passes (4/4).

This is not to say that Gabbert won't be a good pro QB. But, when it comes to the projection of the top prospects, I don't see how Gabbert ranks as a better prospect than Newton. Marking out to Gabbert because he's 6'5" doesn't make sense to me when Newton is 6'6". Hell, just look at Newton's stats if you want to make a direct comparison. But then I see a list on the crawl on the NFL Network where Mayock lists not only Gabbert but also Jake Locker (who isn't first-round material in my estimation) ahead of Newton and I shake my head.

Note: please don't take this as a knock on Mayock, who is skilled at both evaluating college talent and in crafting mock drafts. Scott Wright has the same top three as of this writing. But I happen to disagree with Mayock when I hear him say that Locker is a top 15 talent and a better prospect than Newton, though I clearly am in the minority on having Newton ahead of Gabbert at this point.

Also, please don't take me as a homer for Auburn: I've read As The Plains Burn, and I'm aware of the accusations that have been leveled against Auburn's program. If anything I'd have the potential to be biased toward Mississippi State players with my brother Matt being an alumnus and a football season ticket holder, and I could only imagine the angry/sarcastic responses if I projected M-State OT Derek Sherrod to go #3 overall to Buffalo like one mock I saw did. There's not a single offensive tackle who is a bona fide top ten prospect, let alone a top three guy, and Sherrod is most likely to go in the late first round or early second round in late April.

Coming up on Saturday is the 2011 Senior Bowl, an event normally bypassed by most of the elite talents but a platform where mid-level seniors can show off their skills to NFL scouts and hope to have a breakout performance. It goes beyond the game itself, though; scouts watch the North and South practices and make all sorts of evaluations on players based on how they do in a practice setting. There is some risk/reward involved with upper-end prospects going through the process, as a poor showing can end up hurting a player's draft stock, and is usually why most high-end guys skip it.

Weigh-ins and measurements can be revealing, and those took place today. Last year Alabama NT Terrence Cody showed up heavy (brace yourself for the pic in the link), even by his standards, possibly costing himself a shot at being a first-round pick last year. The surprise for today was in the other direction for West Virginia RB Noel Devine, who came in at 5'7" 160. Ouch.

I'll have more on Senior Bowl week tomorrow, but it's interesting to me that the North is handling the challenge of having Wisconsin OT Gabe Carimi, Colorado OT Nate Solder, and Boston College OT Anthony Castonzo on the same team with some creativity. As Mayock pointed out tonight on the NFL Network's day one wrap-up show, the North is using the 6'8" Solder at his natural left tackle position, the 6'7" Carimi at left guard (seriously), and the 6'7" Castonzo at right tackle. If nothing else, this will allow Carimi and Castonzo to showcase their abilities to play non-traditional positions, potentially showing off versatility that scouts might otherwise have not seen.

If you want to see the info on everyone, NFL Draft Bible has a list of the height/weight results for all of the 2011 Senior Bowl participants. It's one thing for a school to bill a given player as being a certain height or weight, but it's another thing when independent evaluators are able to determine the truth. For those wanting that information about the underclassmen who applied for early entry into the NFL Draft, you'll probably have to wait for the February combine in Indianapolis for that.


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