Gabbert simply not ready to start
There's a good chance the Carolina Panthers will take a quarterback with the No. 1 pick in the draft. This is a team that drafted a quarterback with a lot of potential last year, played him really early but with disappointing results, and now has a new coach in place. Coaches often like their own guys. But setting aside the potential of Jimmy Clausen versus the potential of either of the top two quarterbacks in this class, we can be sure of one thing: Drafting a quarterback No. 1 overall this year is the best way for the Panthers to guarantee a return trip to the top of the draft board in 2012. And drafting Blaine Gabbert specifically would be a mistake.
Let's look at some reasons:
1. He's not ready to start: If Panthers fans are concerned that Clausen won't pan out, consider that Gabbert is rated lower than Clausen was this time last year. So while Clausen struggled, as all rookies do (and more specifically, guys who jump after their junior year), Gabbert would be making the same leap. Worse, if asked to start, he's coming from a system that doesn't resemble what he'll be working with in Carolina. Remember, saying "Don't take Gabbert" is not an endorsement of Clausen; it's asking this: Why take a development player at the same position two years in a row?
2. The value isn't there: Gabbert is the No. 14-rated player on my Big Board. Quite simply, if you want him so badly, you're better suited trying to trade down to get him so the value aspect makes sense.
3. If you have no intention of starting him Then it makes more sense to go with Cam Newton. Gabbert is a safer pick because his skills are more projectable. But Newton offers the arm and athleticism to be something totally different from anything Carolina has on the roster. If you're going to reach with the No. 1 pick, at least aim for the highest ceiling.
Either way, you can't draft either guy with the expectation he'll start. And with Gabbert, the pick doesn't fit for value, upside or based on the current roster.
Mel Kiper has been the premier name in NFL draft prospect evaluations for more than three decades. He started putting out his annual draft guides in 1978, and started contributing to ESPN as an analyst in 1984. For more from Mel, check out his annual draft publications or his ESPN home page. He can also be found on Twitter here.
Too many questions about Newton
The Carolina Panthers must stay true to their draft board and take the player they rank as the No. 1 overall prospect, but if I were making this decision for them, I would not take Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.
I see Newton's potential, and there's no question that he has the physical tools to become an exceptional NFL quarterback. But he needs far more development in terms of passing skills than you'd like to see from the top overall pick.
Newton is still working through mechanical issues. He is making strides with quarterback coach George Whitfield Jr. and, just as important, he is showing a willingness to work hard and accept coaching. But being a drop-back passer does not yet come naturally to him -- that can only happen with time.
Secondly, Newton comes from an offense that doesn't translate well to the NFL. I recently studied 20 quarterbacks I consider models for NFL success over the past five years, and only one -- Michael Vick -- played in an offense that asked him to run the ball more than 105 times in a season. (Newton rushed 264 times last season at Auburn.)
Vick entered the league in 2001 and is just now coming into his own as a passer, and Newton does not have the same quickness and explosiveness to be as successful as Vick running the ball early in his career. Newton also lacks anticipation as a passer. I see far too many throws on tape on which he is late reading coverages, feeling where a wide receiver will break open and throwing to a spot.
Finally, there are simply far too many questions about Newton's intangibles. Most high-profile quarterback busts have been a direct result of mental-makeup issues, and the bottom line is that there are significant concerns about Newton as a leader and teammate, and about his ability to handle life as an NFL quarterback.
If I were forced to choose a quarterback No. 1 overall, I would take Missouri's Blaine Gabbert. But there are four other players who rank as elite prospects on my board -- DT Marcell Dareus, CB Patrick Peterson, OLB Von Miller and WR A.J. Green. They are all more worthy of the top overall pick than either of the top quarterbacks.
Todd McShay is the director of college scouting for Scouts Inc. He has been evaluating prospects for the NFL draft since 1998. Follow McShay on Twitter: @McShay13