Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Junior, 6’5″, 240 lbs.
Simply put, Blaine Gabbert is the most naturally gifted quarterback I’ve ever evaluated, from both a physical and mental consideration. If it weren’t for the presence of another brilliant QB prospect in Andrew Luck, I think Gabbert would easily be the top QB in the class. Since the two are roughly the same age and are a good bet to come out together (either this year or next), my guess is that they will inspire a stiff debate as to who is the better prospect. I’ll save my own thoughts on that debate for another time, as I’m going to spend this entry talking about what I perceive as Gabbert’s primary strengths and weaknesses.
Gabbert is the prototype for the position. He’s got a tall, strong frame that can take a beating, rumored sub 4.6 40 yard dash speed, and an arm his coach Gary Pinkel has described as a “John Elway” type. I think there is a good chance Gabbert was designed as an NFL quarterbacking android by scouts in some secret factory somewhere. What evidence have I for this conjecture you ask? Look at his Wikipedia page, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blaine_Gabbert. Date of birth: circa 1990??? What is he, Superman? You won’t find his birthday anywhere on the internet. Apparently, no living man witnessed his origin.
Back to reality, Gabbert impressed observers in his first season as the starter last year as a true sophomore. He’s continued his strong play and development into this season, and navigated Missouri to a 4-0 start despite a couple of hairy moments and near letdowns. In order to get a look at him in action, we’ll have to go back to the 2009 season, where our favorite youtube user AloAloysius has made a pair of nice videos of Gabbert’s performance in the first and second halves of the Nevada game:
First half: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9BB0mwOBMg
Second half: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7UUuIvBof8
Gabbert has impressive pocket stature. He’s a tall quarterback, but he moves around well in the pocket and doesn’t need a ton of room to set for his throws. He’s got a tall, over head release and the ball comes out at a very high point, but he’s not as slow or lengthy as Mallett. He can get compact and throw off balance or at an awkward angle when he’s pressured. And when that ball comes out, especially when he’s had a chance to sink his hips and properly shift his weight, it looks like a laser. Gabbert can absolutely spin it. He’s got one of the strongest arms in the class, and I actually think he’s got a better arm than Mallett does because he’s so much more coordinated and balanced throughout his lower half than Mallett is. Look at the deep out Gabbert hits at the 0:50 second mark of the video of the first half to see what I mean. The thing is on a titanium rope and he sticks it with such beautiful placement too, just where his receiver can catch it while he’s still in bounds. Gabbert routinely makes the most difficult NFL throws with velocity and accuracy, and he makes it look easy. He’s certainly capable of pushing the ball downfield and keeping a defense honest with his ability to attack it over the middle, like he does on an off balance throw on the first play of the second half video. But Gabbert isn’t just a big arm. He generally displays very nice ball placement on his passes, particularly along the sidelines, and he routinely gives his receivers a chance to make a play on the football and run after the catch. He looks as comfortable throwing underneath as he does on his intermediate routes, and when given a big, talented target like Danario Alexander, he can take advantage of very difficult windows to make spectacular plays. Now you will, however, see him get hyped up and struggle a bit with his touch on bucket throws like he does at the 1:30 mark of the first half. I think he could also use more work to develop his timing on his deep ball, as he’s got such a strong arm that this could be a real strength for him one day. Both are areas for improvement over the next few seasons in college and the NFL.
From a footwork perspective, Gabbert generally looks balanced and smooth when he is forced to move his feet. He almost never takes a full array of drops or runs play action with his back to the defense. This is a legitimate concern with Gabbert, because he runs a college shotgun spread offense and he’ll have a very steep adjustment to the NFL. He does take some drops however and shows good footspeed on them, although I would like for him to be a little more urgent down the road. He is strong in the pocket and has powerful stature, and looks comfortable reading the blitz and feeling the rush and getting the ball out quick to avoid it. However, when Gabbert is flushed from the pocket and forced to improvise, that’s where his brilliance as a playmaker really shines. His instincts kick in and he starts making breathtaking throws. The play at the 1:40 mark of the first half shows off stunning footspeed, arm strength, and accuracy on the run and looks like vintage Aaron Rodgers. In fact, Green Bay Packers Aaron Rodgers is actually who I would say Gabbert most resembles as a player. Well, except that Gabbert has the physical stature and college background of say, Ben Roethlisberger.. Gabbert isn’t afraid to pull it down and run when nothing else is open, and he’s got the mobility and strength to pick up tough yards and keep the chains moving when plays break down.
Gabbert has great intangibles to go along with his physical gifts. For such a young player (he’s only 19 or 20), he’s incredibly tough and poised. Gabbert’s also very smart and has an impressive level of polish and media savvy. Gabbert is given a great deal of play-making freedom in Gary Pinkel’s offense for a young player, even letting him call audibles. It comes from his coaches confidence in Gabbert’s ability to process information, make pre-snap reads and diagnose coverages. On the season saving, game winning touchdown against San Diego State this year, Gabbert recognized the overload blitz coming on cover 0 coverage, called the appropriate audible, delivered a sweet touch pass to his receiver who then took it for the game winning touchdown. And he did this after a disastrous start to the fourth quarter that saw him throw two interceptions, nearly losing his team the game. I think that showed a lot of mental poise and fortitude on his part. Gabbert’s also very physically tough as well and he will play through injuries and pain. During the middle of the 2009 season, Ndamukong Suh destroyed Gabbert’s angle on a hard sack, causing a pretty bad sprain. Gabbert shrugged it off and played the rest of the season on it without missing any time because his team desperately needed him in order to succeed. Missouri goes as Gabbert goes, and he’s the unquestioned leader, spokesman, and best player in his locker room. He is what an NFL quarterback should look, act, and sound like.
What he entails for the Redskins
As I stated in my vignette discussing Andrew Luck, whether Gabbert becomes a realistic option for the Redskins depends on where we end up drafting, and the nature of the extension that Donovan McNabb signs. Gabbert could end up being the number one overall selection if he finishes the season strong and decides to come out early. His draft stock will probably end up being defined for the year by how well he plays against upcoming games against Oklahoma and Nebraska in the final two weekends of October. If he’s brilliant, he’ll be drafted high. If he turns in ordinary performances, then he’ll probably slip into the teens to twenties range much like Roethlisberger and Rodgers did. If he’s awful, he might fall all of the way into the second round, in which case he’d probably just return for his senior season. His college offense is a legitimate concern and might frighten some teams off, as will his youth. He’ll probably need a couple of redshirt years of development like Phil Rivers and Rodgers got, in order to realize his potential. But Gabbert’s best days are way down the line, and it’s scary to think that a team could draft him, sit him for three seasons, and still have him be a 23 year old first year starter. On the surface, this makes him seem a very natural fit for the Redskins because that’s about the length of time they can realistically expect McNabb to continue to perform at a high level. And because of Gabbert’s intelligence and ability to move and throw accurately on the run, he seems like a great fit in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Much like Luck, I think Gabbert could be an excellent draft choice in the first round if he were available. There aren’t a whole lot of other players in the class who could have the kind of future impact on our franchise like Gabbert.