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Cam, Blaine Dominate the QB Conversation

This is the seventh in a series of position-by-position stories on the 2011 NFL Draft

The Jets, with Mark Sanchez having developed winning skills entering Year 3 as a pro, are not likely to spend their 30th overall pick of the NFL Draft on a first-round quarterback. But a nice slice of the rest of the league may well be in the QB market in two weeks.

It could begin with the team with the top overall pick, Carolina. And the Panthers are followed in short order by Buffalo (3), Cincinnati (4), Arizona (5), San Francisco (7), Tennessee (8), Washington (10), Minnesota (12), Jacksonville (16) and Seattle (25).

They all could be vying for a quarterback class that is interesting if imperfect. Seven of the QBs are clearly the cream of the crop, candidates to be selected in the first two rounds, and they separate into three tiers. The top level is a two-man group, whom you may list in the order you prefer: Cam Newton –Blaine Gabbert or Gabbert–Newton.

Newton is the big name, in large part for the big numbers and shiny hardware he helped to assemble last season at Auburn that turns draftniks on as well as the storylines that turns them off.

One of those caveats is that Newton only did it for one year for the Tigers, but oh what a year it was.

Newton (6'5", 248) was dynamic, elusive and at times unstoppable as he threw for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns (plus only seven INTs) and also ran for 1,473 yards and 20 TDs — not to mention catching two passes for 42 yards and one more score.

All this led to a trophy case full awards, the most important of which was the 22-19 triumph over Oregon in the BCS National Championship Game. As for the individual honors, there was the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell and Davey O'Brien awards, and the Associated Press and Walter Camp player of the year laurels.

Still, there are off-the-field concerns that have Mel Kiper questioning his work ethic and Pro Football Weekly reporting that teams are worried about his sincerity.

But Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis isn't one of them. After attending Newton's pro day, Lewis told "He's a real fine NFL prospect. He's got a great, great personality. Magnetic."

However, the Stripes may not get a shot at Newton. SI's Peter King reported this week that the Panthers have viewed Newton's game video from 2009, when he was enrolled at Blinn College in Texas, racked up 3,488 all-purpose yards and 38 combined TDs and helped the Buccaneers to the NJCAA title.

Gabbert: From Mizzou to Top 5

About 180 degrees from Newton is Gabbert, the 6'4", 234-pounder from Missouri who hasn't been mentioned half as much as Newton in the national media as the draft drumbeats have gotten twice as loud.

Gabbert had a distinguished career with the Tigers, winning 18 games the past two seasons and in 2010 becoming only the fourth 10-win QB in 120 seasons of MU football. Also last season he threw for 3,186 yards and 16 touchdowns out of Mizzou's spread offense while also running for 232 yards and five TDs. He was a competitive, respected leader in college.

Still, there have been discussions about how big an arm he has and how quickly he'll get up to speed reading NFL defenses. Some outlets, such as, called him "overrated" as recently as last month.

Yet Gabbert quietly went out and knocked 'em dead at a private workout, completing by one count 44 of 49 throws with at least three dropped passes by the collection of Division II wideouts brought in for the session. And so most mock drafters, convinced the Panthers will take Newton first overall, have Gabbert going either to the Bills at 3 or the Bengals at 5.

The next stratum is a threesome, and while the order depends on the expert ranking them, some momentum is building toward Washington's Jake Locker is the most likely to be the third QB grabbed, low in Round 1. Locker's ridden the scouting rollercoaster for a year, starting out as the hot name of 2010, suffering through consistency problems last year after his superb junior season. He fell out of Round 1 contention for a while, only to wow the scouts at his UW pro day earlier this month and to recently climb back into the top-32 for such as Mel Kiper and his vaunted Big Board.

Locker (6'3", 231) has all the tools: ideal arm strength, leadership (two-time Huskies team captain) and, in the word of Jim Corbett of USA Today, "ultra-athleticism." That quality enabled him to match Newton at the pro day in 40 time (4.59) and vertical jump (35'0") and to lead all QBs with a 6.77 three-cone drill. All of which has prompted Redskins coach Mike Shanahan to compare him favorably to another Jake, Plummer, his starting QB with the Broncos.

Mallett, Ponder Also in the Mix

In the same signalcaller neighborhood, Ryan Mallett has the tools to hammer opponents in the NFL. He has a strong right arm and his 6'7", 253-pound size lets him see over and stand up against most pocket crashers. Nothing wrong with his productivity at Arkansas — in 13 starts last season, his 411 throws, 266 completions, 3,869 yards, 32 TDs, 3,795 yards in total offense all set Razorbacks season marks, and he was just a 2½-yard completion shy of averaging 300 passing yards a game.

But he's got this cocky/arrogant label that he's been trying to dispel. He told the Cincinnati News two weeks ago: "There been times when I have not come off the best way. At the combine I was listening to what the moderator said and that it was the last question. I didn't storm out like some people said. Once people get to know me, they will find out what a great person I am. That's the thing about the team visits. They get to see the up-close-and-personal."

Christian Ponder's issue has been durability. Some scouts rated the 6'2", 229-pound Florida State signalcaller as the elite senior QB prospect in the country heading into last season. He's got accuracy, mobility and experience in a pro-style offense. He was the 'Noles' highly respected team captain. Smarts? Besides football IQ, he's already got his master's in finance and is working on his doctorate.

But a shoulder separation in '09 and two elbow procedures in '10, all on his throwing arm, prevented him from finishing both seasons. His senior numbers were the best of his FSU career but depressed due to the elbow (184-for-299, 2,044 yards, 20 TDs, 8 INTs).

The next two are ranked closely by the draft experts, but a certain redhead seems to be gaining traction to join the party as a member of a QB run from late in the first round to early in the second, if's Pat Kirwan is correct.

Andy Dalton's the smallest of the top seven QBs at 6'2" and 215, but he stands out for a few reasons. One is his bright red hair, another is his three MVP awards and four postseason appearances in his four seasons as TCU's starter, and another was his 42-7 career starting record, with the career wins leading the nation at the end of last season. Out of the spread, he's been known to make some bad decisions, but he's also known as a winner.

Then there's Nevada's Colin Kaepernick (6'5", 233), who will have to work on his throwing motion at the next level while fans of the team that drafts him will have to work on spelling and pronouncing his name (it's CAP-er-nick). But with patience he could pay off. He's got the size and the athleticism — he, Newton and Tim Tebow are the only players in NCAA history to throw for 20 TDs and rush for 20 TDs in the same season, and his 4.53 was the second-fastest 40 among QBs at the combine behind only Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor.

Other Notables

Pat Devlin, Delaware; Greg McElroy, Alabama; Ricky Stanzi, Iowa; Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech.

Friday, March 25 —Defensive Linemen

Tuesday, March 29 — Linebackers

Friday, April 1 — Defensive Backs

Tuesday, April 4 — Offensive Linemen

Friday, April 8 — Running Backs

Tuesday, April 11 — Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

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