NFL Draft 2011: QB Class a lot of Things, but Weak isn’t One
It’s been said a couple of different ways, but most experts seem to believe that we’re looking at one of the weaker quarterback classes in recent memory. But until more people get comfortable accurately projecting quarterbacks at the top of the NFL Draft, I don’t think that you can possibly look at a QB class where up to seven names could be called in the first round and conclude that the position is weak.
There are many ways to look at a QB class. A year ago, it appeared that this class was going to be headlined by Jake Locker. Locker is still a story (if not a great prospect), but no matter what you think about him, he’s not a headlining player in this QB class. A couple reasons for that: early entries by Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Mallett, and Cam Newton, and teams falling in love with Colin Kaepernick, Christian Ponder, and Andy Dalton. Locker could be the third QB off the board or the seventh. For the teams that like Locker, it’s likely they’ll have a crack at a higher rated quarterback on their board the first time they pick.
Even with no obvious first overall guy, this is a much deeper class (both inside and outside of the first round) than last year’s class, which was leaps and bounds better than the 2009 group in depth and first round ability.
Here’s a fun exercise. I am going to go all the way back to 2007 and use only my pre-draft quarterback grades to determine which class I would have picked out of given the choice to find a franchise QB somewhere. Only players I graded as a top three rounder will qualify here (so there won’t be a Mark Sanchez, JaMarcus Russell, or a Jake Locker here).
Greg Trippiedi’s Highest Rated QBs (2007-2011)
- Brady Quinn (3rd overall, 2007)
- Brian Brohm (7th overall, 2008)
- Chad Henne (9th overall, 2008)
- Blaine Gabbert (10th overall, 2011)
- Colt McCoy (mid-first round, 2010)
- Matt Ryan (mid-first round, 2008)
- Sam Bradford (mid-first round, 2010)
- Christian Ponder (late-first round, 2011)
- Kevin Kolb (late-first round, 2007)
- Tim Tebow (late-first round, 2010)
- Ryan Mallett (late-first round, 2011)
- Jimmy Clausen (late-first round, 2010)
- Pat Devlin (second round, 2011)
- Nate Davis (second round, 2009)
- Josh Freeman (second round, 2009)
- Josh Johnson (second round, 2008)
- Matt Stafford (second round, 2009)
- Graham Harrell (second round, 2009)
- Dan Lefevour (second round, 2010)
- Colin Kaepernick (second round, 2011)
- John Beck (third round, 2007)
- Andy Dalton (third round, 2011)
- Tony Pike (third round, 2010)
- Cam Newton (third round, 2011)
- Joe Flacco (third round, 2008)
- Scott Tolzien (third round, 2011)
- Ricky Stanzi (third round, 2011)
- Drew Stanton (third round, 2007)
- Trent Edwards (third round, 2007)
That’s not exactly a who’s who list of well-graded QB prospects, and you can maybe understand the perspective of some who see a dwindling effect in terms of the quarterbacks entering the draft: quarterbacks who got the top ten grade from me don’t have a great track record of success compared to all other first rounders. I’d put my list of first rounders up against anyone else in recent memory, but when my eggs have gone in a single basket, it hasn’t always been a good call. Still, Blaine Gabbert grabs one of the five best grades I’ve given to a quarterback in the last five years.
It would be inaccurate then for me to argue there’s “no top guy in this class.” Gabbert is a top guy, compared to any other year. He’s more accurate (particularly downfield) than Matt Ryan, and he’s a better athlete than either Ryan or Henne, and is as good an athlete as Quinn. He didn’t set records in college like Quinn or Brohm, but exhibits better professionalism as a draft prospect than either. He offers more prototypical size than McCoy or Bradford, two guys he went toe to toe with in the BigXII (knowing what we do now about McCoy and Bradford as second year players, I don’t expect Gabbert to exceed their level of production; some draft risk is mitigated by early success).
Gabbert isn’t Andrew Luck. But he would have been my top QB prospect in 2009, and because he’s healthy coming out of college, perhaps 2010 as well.
Looking down that list gives you Christian Ponder and Ryan Mallett as first round players, and then Pat Devlin falls in right below them. Only one of the past five years did I not have multiple prospects from a class in this range (the weak 2009 class), and one other year I didn’t have at least two prospects from a class ahead of Christian Ponder (no. 2 QB this year) (2007, where Kolb and Ponder had essentially the same grade from me).
However, the relative indecision I have in rating Ponder, Mallett, and Devlin creates a situation similar to the last three years at the top. That is to say since we can look back at the picks that haven’t worked out (despite high ratings from me): Jimmy Clausen, Graham Harrell, Nate Davis, possibly Stafford, Brian Brohm, possibly Henne, and Brady Quinn; as long as one of Ponder, Mallett, and Devlin turn out as NFL starters, this class will slot in somewhere between 2008 and 2010 as one of the better classes in the last few years.
But all that does is ignore the most intriguing element of this class, it’s unprecedented depth. Sure, we could look back at the 2010 and 2008 classes as years where three teams found franchise quarterbacks each (pending Henne in Miami, and Tebow/Clausen in Denver/Carolina). But in this class, why not more than three franchise QBs.
Suppose Devlin is drafted low and never gets a chance, and Tolzien, McElroy, and Stanzi all suffer the same fate. Say Jake Locker does get a chance, but busts. There are still six players in play at the quarterback position who could end up getting opportunities to succeed as NFL franchise quarterbacks in a desperation period for teams: Gabbert, Ponder, Mallett, Dalton, Kaepernick, and Newton. If even half of those players get second contracts from their current teams, the 2011 class ranks among the best classes out there. If 4 of those 6 get in good situations and start winning games, this becomes the best QB draft class since 2005 at least, and probably 2004.
Unless a team ends up taking two of the above prospects in their class, the 2011 NFL quarterback class is going to have an unprecedented level of opportunities to make its mark on the NFL. Compare that to the 2010 class. Colt McCoy is a third round pick who is the starter in Cleveland, but has a long way to go to achieve success by way of a second contract. A great prospect, sure, but he remains a longshot. Tim Tebow’s coaching staff changed after one year, and now his future is up in the air. And Jimmy Clausen might have a week left as the “future” of the Panthers. Sam Bradford’s first year was widely overrated (he impressed with moxy, but the season was light on actual results, compared to say, McCoy’s), but his path to franchise QB at least is all clear. This year, you could have six or seven guys starting off as the future of their franchises, and at least five should make it to 2012 as their teams’ starting quarterback. Even if, worst case scenario, four or more of the quarterbacks bust, this is STILL a quality class.
It’s hard to identify the number two guy behind Blaine Gabbert in this class (which is why Newton is so appealing: he stands out when no one else does). And it could be Cam Newton. But just because Andrew Luck isn’t in this class doesn’t mean it won’t be the strongest group we’ve seen in years at the quarterback position.