It happens all too often this time of year. NFL draft prospects are hyped as the next big hit or the next big miss. Somehow, Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert has managed to tread right in the middle.
Among other teams, the Arizona Cardinals are in desperate need of a quarterback. To his credit, Gabbert is a legitimate NFL prospect, but just about anyone might be considered an upgrade over who the Cardinals sent out under center in 2010.
Gabbert has a lot of things going for him. Ideal size (6-foot-4, 234 pounds) and adequate arm strength are two attributes that come to mind. His time spent in the spread offense, however, could be his downfall at the next level.
Arguments can be made both ways for signal callers hailing from the spread offense. Sam Bradford ran a version of popular college system at Oklahoma and is on pace to develop into one of the NFL’s elite.
Despite Bradford’s early success, players who sharpened their teeth in the spread haven’t fared well for the most part. Alex Smith is the most recent example and many of the other spread QBs never made it as far to even be considered a bust.
Generally speaking, most of the damage done in the spread offense can be accomplished by ‘dinking and dunking’. Short passes by design that allow receivers to make plays after the catch, thus making the quarterback look good.
In Gabbert’s specific case, a handful of statistics confirm this theory and begin raising red flags about his future.
During Big 12 conference play in 2010, Gabbert completed less than 40 percent of his throws longer than 15 yards. Gabbert wasn’t necessarily shredding opposing defenses with his arm strength and accuracy.
Another stat causing an area of concern for Gabbert was his inability to perform against the blitz, where he completed less than 45 percent of his passes.
Two immediate requirements for an NFL quarterback are stretching the defense down the field and finding some sort of success against the blitz. If Gabbert couldn’t handle these two areas in the college ranks why would he be expected to in the NFL? It’s certainly a fair question.
Stats don’t always tell the entire story, but rarely do they lie. Clearly, the majority of Gabbert’s success came on screens, quick slants and other similar underneath passes.
When taking a deeper look into the numbers – particularly the receivers Gabbert was throwing to – more concerns arise. As a team, the Tigers averaged less than 11 yards per receptions last season and only one of their top four receivers managed to top that mark (Jerrell Jackson, 13 yards per catch).
Back to Bradford, who’s been one of the few spread QBs to pan out at the next level, but when comparing the former Heisman Trophy winner and Gabbert, there isn’t much of a comparison.
Bradford was an ultra-accurate passer who put up staggering numbers during his tenure at Oklahoma. Sure, the talent surrounding Bradford was superior than Gabbert’s supporting cast but the two quarterbacks appear to have little in common.
Both Gabbert and Bradford had two full seasons as a starter, but unfortunately for Gabbert, that’s where the similarities end.
Gabbert completed only 59 percent of his passes as sophomore and 63 percent during his junior campaign. Bradford, meanwhile, completed nearly 70 percent of his passes as a freshman and 68 percent as a sophomore.
Gabbert’s yards per attempt were substantially less than Bradford’s (7.37 compared to 9.52) while Gabbert’s cumulative QB rating fails in contrast to Bradford’s (133.74 compared to 178.68).
More than statistics go into the evaluation of a quarterback and sometimes intangibles and leadership can overcome specific deficiencies. While those areas aren’t necessarily marks against Gabbert, they aren’t strong points either.
Sure, Gabbert might develop into a quality quarterback in the professional ranks but the red flags are obvious and shouldn’t be ignored by prospective NFL teams, especially those that hold a top-five draft pick.
Questions or comments? Contact Brad Wilbricht at firstname.lastname@example.org
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