As much as we may want to deny it, it's the truth. The Bengals need a quarterback and will probably draft one with one of their first-four picks. As fans, I think we have a hard time coming to this conclusion because drafting a quarterback is a scary thought, especially with this franchise's history. Once they hit on Carson Palmer in 2003, nobody wanted to even think about the day where the Cincinnati Bengals would be looking for their next franchise leader. Now that's the exact situation. Carson Palmer clearly isn't the franchise leader anymore, even in the one in a million chance (So you're saying there's a chance?!) that he takes snaps for the Bengals in 2011, it would just be a bridge to their future signal caller.
When we have talked about the possibility of the Bengals taking a quarterback early. The discussion usually ends up in a Cam Newton debate. After the NFL Scouting Combine, where Newton received mixed reviews, it has become common to think that the Carolina Panthers or the Buffalo Bills would take Cam Newton, should he be available. The closer the draft gets, the less likely it looks that Newton will even be available for Cincinnati.
So what if the Bengals aren't drafting best player available, and they are targeting a quarterback? Where does this leave them? Maybe in a better spot because the NFL draft's most mysterious and unknown player is also the top-rated quarterback on many big boards; Missouri's Blaine Gabbert.
As your appointed draftnik, it's my job to introduce you to a player that many of you don't know or you haven't seen throw the ball. Blaine Gabbert is a 20 year old, Junior, quarterback out of Missouri. Gabbert was highly recruited (ranked 5th best QB by ESPN) coming out of high school. He has started 25 games for the Tigers and threw 40 touchdowns and rushed for 8 more over that two year stretch. He is considered to be one of the top quarterbacks in this years draft class.
I'll be honest, I only watched one of Blaine Gabbert's games during the season (Missouri vs. Iowa, 2010) and didn't think much of him. It wasn't his best game, but it wasn't his worst. He showed some ability to develop into a solid starting quarterback. When I heard he would be declaring for the draft, I initially thought he was a 2nd round pick. Not long after, many experts, who I respect, starting pegging Gabbert as the best quarterback in this draft. I thought I may have missed something, so I went back and watched another game (Missouri vs. Illinois 2010) that I had recorded on my DVR. Gabbert was better in this game, but he still showed too many inconsistencies for me to really like him. Maybe he was a mid first round pick, but that's as high as I would have taken him. (This was in January)
Since then, it has become clear that Palmer isn't returning to Cincinnati by choice and Marvin Lewis seems to realize this even if doesn't. Most of us have seen Cam Newton play plenty of times and every football fan should know his story. So my focus shifted to learning everything I could about this quarterback enigma. I went searching for Blaine Gabbert scouting reports and as many Missouri games I could find. I wanted to find as much about info as I could about him. To this point, I have read countless scouting reports and have watched 6 Missouri games where Blaine Gabbert was the quarterback. In all, I have seen him throw the ball 259 times for 1,731 yards with 7 TDs and 3 ints. At this point I feel like I can give the Cincy Jungle community an accurate description of Missouri's Blaine Gabbert.
Blaine Gabbert - QB - Missouri - 6'4" - 235 lbs - 2 year starter
Strengths:Blaine Gabbert is a great athlete for the position. He can escape the pocket and run for the first down. He's a gritty runner and plays like he has no fear. Gabbert can throw on the run very well. I saw him make a tremendous throw while rolling out to his left and throwing across his body. He does a good job of setting his feet just enough to get the throw off on time and accurately. He can also sit in the pocket and launch it deep. His arm is strong enough for the deep throws, especially on the deep outs. He can hit his back foot and zip into any spot on the field. Gabbert He has a quick release when throwing without power and when he's just out there playing and reacting. At the combine, it has been rumored that Gabbert interviewed exceptionally well and showed his football intelligence when teams questioned him. Somebody who has seen him at practice said he has taken snaps from center and he looks natural in three, five and seven-step drops. I've seen his three-step drop from the pistol formation and he looked fluid and on time with his throws. The further I got into watching his games, the more I noticed how much of a gunslinger Gabbert really was. He really is a play-maker who just seems to have something special about him when a play breaks down. Think Big Ben with the way he throws from any angle with guys all around him.
Weaknesses: The biggest obstacle for today's quarterback coming out of college is adjusting from the spread offense to a more conventional pro-style offense. Gabbert's adjustment might be even harder because he comes from not only a spread offense, but a five wide receiver spread. Every play was a combination or crossing routes and deep routes. This made it so somebody was open on almost every play. Also, I probably saw him turn and hand the ball off 10 times in six games. So he may have to develop a traditional play-action fake because I never saw it. I said he can escape the pocket, but he's very weird with it. He has happy feet as times and doesn't look like he trusts his offensive line or his receivers to get open. He will look to run or bounce outside even when there isn't a rush. I'm sure coaches would rather see him step up and throw the ball in the NFL. When he does run, Gabbert didn't run with much power. He took his 5 yards and got out of bounds. This is good in terms of staying healthy, but sometimes I found myself wanting him to put his head down and grind out that first down. His release can be long when he knows where he's going and knows that he has to fire it in there. Think Brett Favre when he balances on his back foot and launches the ball across the middle of the field on a slant route. Because he throws on the run and with so much power, Gabbert's accuracy is scattered. He can make you scratch your head when he misses a routine throw. His touch on deep balls is also off. This could be fixed with coaching and better footwork. Too many times in Missouri's offense, Gabbert was asked to take the snap, then rock and throw. This would be another habit that NFL teams will have to break. Most of Gabbert's deficiencies are because of the spread offense and correctable.
Overview: Gabbert has all the physical tools you look for when drafting a quarterback high. He has good size. Is a great athlete and can make every throw from any situation. He comes with the typical spread questions, but his athletic ability and work ethic should make it an easy transition. I had a hard time coming up with a pro comparison for Gabbert. I came to the conclusion that he's a mixture of Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger, and Jay Cutler. If you have watched those guys during their careers, then you know what I mean. You're going to get the good and the bad with Blaine Gabbert. With his gunslinger mentality, he will make you jump out of your seat with excitement or want to kick the dog after a bonehead play. Hopefully whoever drafts him will have a good team around him to help bail him out when he needs it. He has a very good chance to be a special player and could be an option for the Bengals with the fourth overall pick.
Games Watched: Mizzou vs. Nevada 2009, Mizzou vs. Illionois 2010, Mizzou vs Nebraska 2010, Mizzou vs. Iowa 2010, Mizzou vs. Texas Tech 2010, Mizzou vs Oklahoma 2010.
Total Stats:160 completions in 259 attempts = 61.7 completion % 7 TDs 3 ints in the six games I watched.