We've reached that time of the year when there's not too much left to do until the NFL Draft other than have some healthy debate as to where players should be rated heading into the three day event at Radio City Music Hall. If you've been around this site enough, you've probably taken part in many of the debates that have been ongoing for some time now.
So I'm going to stoke the fire a bit over the next two weeks by posting my personal draft board for a few of the key positions that the Miami Dolphins will be looking to address in the draft. But before I do, I want to provide the following disclaimer.
I know I'm not a scout of any kind. By no means are these ranking meant to imply that I have any inside information or professional insight into these prospects. I will leave all of that to the draft analysts that do this kind of thing for a living. All I'm doing is looking at the draft as a fan and simply posting how I would rank these players if I was in charge of the Dolphins war room on draft day.
Again, just to emphasize - these rankings are based on the Dolphins' needs and how I feel each player would fit into the team's offensive or defensive philosophies. These rankings are obviously highly subjective and will (hopefully) spark some more debate to pass the time between now and the draft in two weeks.
With all that said, it's time to jump head first into my quarterbacks draft board, which I just finalized a few days ago after agonizing over a couple of key points. So let's get to it.
2011 NFL DRAFT RANKINGS: QUARTERBACK
1. Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
Since late November I have been on this kid's bandwagon. Back then, some people (particularly on Twitter) were criticizing me for saying the Dolphins would be lucky to draft Gabbert with their first round pick - which at the time looked like it would fall in the mid teens (as it ended up being). But since then, all Gabbert has done is put himself firmly in the draft's top five - and could potentially be the number one pick. I really think Gabbert has the physical tools and the mental capacity/leadership to be a true franchise quarterback. His one weakness, deep ball accuracy, is being overblown. He wasn't asked to throw it deep often in college and will improve at it as he works at it with coaches at the next level.
It's amazing how polarizing of a figure Newton has become. At the same time, those who like Newton and those who dislike Newton both can make strong cases to defend their feelings on the kid. But I'm not a psychologist so I'm not going to try to get inside the kid's head. Is he a good kid at heart? Is he disingenuous? Does he care enough about the sport and about his craft to put in the work necessary to be great in the NFL? Or is he just in it for the fame and to be in the spotlight? I have no idea, to be honest. What I do know is the kid has succeeded at every level of the game, including in the challenging SEC conference en route to a National Championship and Heisman Trophy. I've seen enough out of the kid on the field to believe he can be a great player in this league. He has the physical tools. It's the mental make-up that worries me a little - and is what prevents Newton from being at the top of this list.
3. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
Love him or hate him, one thing you can't deny is the Dolphins' obvious interest in him. They must like his ability enough on the field to warrant the time they are putting into meeting with the kid off the field. After spending a day up in Arkansas with Mallett recently, the Dolphins will fly Ryan down to Miami for a two day visit at the team's facility on Thursday and Friday. In my opinion, though, Mallett's physical ability alone typically results in being a top 10 pick. Simply put, Mallett is the best pure passer available in the draft. There isn't a throw he can't make. He also comes out of a pro-style offense and has more experience than most college quarterbacks at making adjustments at the line of scrimmage.
His lack of athleticism, meanwhile, is being overblown. No, he's not going to outrun defenders. But he's not totally inept. He can side-step a defender in the pocket and is actually a quite effective passer when rolling out. It's just that his rollout is slower than most others. But if you flip on some videos of Ryan's, you'll see a quarterback who can evade the rush a little bit and who can pass the football with zip and accuracy on the run.
As far as all of the off-field concerns, I can't answer that. Recently it seems like some of these "character concerns" are being overblown. But all of this is speculation. Here's what I will say about Mallett. If you can get to a point where you feel comfortable assuming his character and mental makeup will be a non-issue, then he's worthy of being the 15th overall pick.
4. Christian Ponder, Florida State
Many probably remember me not being too high on Ponder when the offseason began. But since then, I've learned a lot about the kid. I knew he was very smart and very accurate with the football. I worried about his arm strength, though. However his arm looks to be healthy and seems as if it is stronger than I originally thought - certainly strong enough to make the necessary NFL throws. Then I went back and watched his junior season highlights - which ultimately sold me on him.
The reason I have Ponder below Mallett, though, is that his upside isn't as great as Ryan's. But his floor is probably higher than Mallett's. In other words, Ponder is the safer choice while Mallett is the "boom-or-bust" quarterback of the draft.
5. Colin Kaepernick, Nevada
If this kid had played in a real offense, he'd probably be higher in my rankings than fifth. What I know about Kaepernick is that he's got a cannon for an arm, can run like the wind, and is a terrific person and great leader. His mechanics, accuracy, and lack of playing in anything that resembles an NFL offense is what concerns me. I see Kaepernick as more of a project than the quarterbacks ranked above him. But his ceiling could also be nearly as high as any QB in this draft - if you give him the necessary time to develop.
6. Jake Locker, Washington - I love his arm strength, athleticism, and intangibles. But his accuracy scares me to death.
7. Ricky Stanzi, Iowa - Has experience in a pro-style offense and is coming off of very good senior season. But is inconsistent with accuracy and will make some terrible decisions at times. Probably projects as a solid career back-up who could fill in for a few weeks in a pinch.
8. Andy Dalton, TCU - Not as high on the kid as most. His lack of arm strength really concerns me.
9. Greg McElroy, Alabama - Great intangibles and consistent with accuracy. Not sure his arm his NFL-caliber.
10. Nathan Enderle, Idaho - Strong armed kid with quick release. But he'll have to become more accurate and improve his pocket awareness.