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Billick ranks draft QBs, top prospects

Brian Billick discusses NFL draft prospect Ryan Mallett.
Brian Billick discusses NFL draft prospect Ryan Mallett.
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Brian Billick

Brian Billick served as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2007, winning Super Bowl XXXV. He has also authored books, including More Than A Game: The Glorious Present and Uncertain Future of the NFL. Follow him on Twitter.

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Billick examines the top quarterbacks in the NFL draft and ranks his top 50 overall prospects.

 

April 22 | April 21 | April 20 | April 19 | April 18

 

April 22

 

Accuracy a big concern with Locker

 

There isn't a better young man in this year's draft than Jake Locker. I had the opportunity to speak with him at the NFL Scouting Combine, and I was immediately drawn to him as a human being.

He is eloquent, intelligent, passionate and all the other off-field intangibles you look for when drafting a franchise quarterback to be the face of your organization. Problem is, his on-field measurables don't add up.

In today's quarterback evaluation, there are two things that you can't compromise, accuracy and work ethic.

Work ethic is not the concern with Locker. I have no doubt he will live in the film room, he will be the last one off the practice field and his car will be the last one in the parking lot every night. Accuracy is where you begin to question his ability to not only be a "franchise" quarterback in this league, but even a serviceable one.

When looking at Locker's career numbers, they are pretty self-explanatory. He has never been better than a 58 percent passer. You just can't win with that percentage in the NFL.

Now, because he is such a great young man, we have begun to make excuses for his on the field deficiencies. I know by this time, you all are getting tired of me eating crow on the Kyle Boller pick, but this is very reminiscent of our evaluation process of him as a player.

We loved him as a human being, and therefore started making excuses for his college tape, namely his inaccuracy being a result of a subpar receiving corps. Same thing with Locker, there are too many excuses being thrown around for him as a player, which is why I have him sliding to my 50th player overall and just the fifth best quarterback in the draft.

As always, there is going to be a head coach, coordinator or quarterbacks coach who lets his ego get in the way and say that based off potential, he can turn this kid into a perennial Pro Bow player. For Locker's sake, I hope they do because he deserves to have a long and successful career.

I'm just not totally convinced that career is in the NFL … possibly MLB?

 

Three blue chip prospects in top 10

 

As we look at the top 10 prospects on my board, you aren't going to see a player sitting here that is all that surprising. At this point in the process, most analysts are going to have these same players somewhere in their top 10 list.

The major discrepancy will be in the order in which they are listed. Trying to guess the order in which these players are selected is just that … a guess.

Within this grouping, I see three players who I can whole heartedly place a blue chip tag.

Those three players are Patrick Peterson, Marcell Dareus and Von Miller. To me, a blue-chipper is a prospect who is 100 percent clean both on and off the field. There are no questions about his desire or his ability.

With Peterson, I see a player who can make an immediate impact at cornerback, safety and the return game. He has been the best overall player on my board since before he even worked out at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Dareus is a unique inside presence who is justifiably drawing comparisons to Warren Sapp. Miller is a natural pass rusher and his athleticism and game tape speaks for itself.

Julio Jones has closed the gap on A.J. Green, but in my opinion, Green is clearly the better prospect. Jones' Combine workout was spectacular, and then to find out he did it with a fractured foot was awesomely impressive. He will provide a solid presence for many years, but Green is a unique talent who can take over a game.

At No. 10 is Anthony Castonzo. I have him higher on my board than Tyron Smith because I think he is snap ready the very first time he walks in the building. Smith probably does have a higher ceiling, but I'll take the consistent performer over the potential at this point in the draft.

 

PLAYER RANKINGS, 1-10

 
Rank Name Pos. Height Weight 40-yard Bench Vert.
1 Patrick Peterson CB 6'0 1/4 219 4.34 15 38
2 Marcell Dareus DT 6'3 1/8 319 4.93 24 27
3 Von Miller OLB 6'2 5/8 246 4.53 21 37
4 A.J. Green WR 6'3 5/8 211 4.5 18 34.5
5 Blaine Gabbert QB 6'4 3/8 235 4.62 DNP 33.5
6 Nick Fairley DT 6'3 7/8 291 4.87 DNP 31
7 Prince Amukamara CB 6' 206 4.43 15 38
8 Julio Jones WR 6'2 3/4 220 4.39 17 38.5
9 Robert Quinn DE 6'4 265 4.7 22 34
10 Anthony Castonzo OT 6'7 311 5.23 28 29.5

 

April 21

 

Ponder surges up draft boards

 

Like in years past, there is always one player who gains momentum a couple weeks before the draft that may be just enough to propel him into the first round. This year, he is former Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder.

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Of all the quarterback prospects, Ponder has the most experience being under center and has great fundamentals. He is an accurate passer who relies on great timing and coverage recognition, more so than a huge powerful arm. Talent scouts have dubbed him a West Coast quarterback, which basically means, he is a smart accurate passer, but has absolutely no arm strength.

Ponder showed up to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., in the shadows of Jake Locker and Colin Kaepernick as they seemed to be garnering the most attention. By the end of the week, Ponder had proved during each practice that he was the most NFL ready quarterback and backed it up by being named the game's MVP.

He showed a certain level of comfort taking snaps from under center and had very impressive elusiveness inside the pocket. By that, I mean, he recognized pressure and had a calm pocket presence in which he made subtle movements to elude tacklers, reset his feet and throw a strike to his receiver downfield.

With Ponder as my fourth best quarterback prospect and 45th overall, he may be a key cog in the gamesmanship of teams trading up into the late first round or early second round to pick him up. Whichever team that is, they will be getting a very intelligent player both on and off the field.

Ponder received his degree from FSU in just 2 1/2 years, and that same level of intelligence shows up on the field as well. One major concern for teams evaluating Ponder will be his injury filled college career. Just last season, he battled an elbow injury all year, and capped off his college career with a concussion in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

When I watch Ponder play, he shows flashes of both Chris Simms and Colt McCoy, but the player he most reminds me of is Brodie Croyle who was selected 85th overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006. Croyle and Ponder have similar arm strength, but I think Ponder's mental capacity and patience as a passer elevate him into the top 50 of the draft.

Ponder may grow into a future starter, but in the interim, he will make a solid back-up that will be snap ready without needing a ton of reps throughout the week to gain an understanding of the offense.
 

Newton ranked 17th

 

As we look at the players ranked 11 through 20, I see a group that could provide great value and many years of consistent production. This group is filled with defensive lineman, with four ends and one tackle.

You will also find the highest rated interior offensive lineman and a pair of offensive tackles in this grouping. But first and foremost, the two players that jump off the page are former Heisman Trophy winners in Mark Ingram and Cam Newton.

I have Newton ranked as my 17th best player in this draft, but I will admit, he will go much higher than this projection. He will most likely go No. 1 overall, but as I continue to evaluate players and project their potential for career success, I just can't convince myself that Newton's style of play will translate into the NFL. Ingram is a different story as he justifiably continues to draw comparison to Emmitt Smith.

In Ingram, I see a player that runs "angry" with a strong powerful lower body. I think he is a back that will end up proving to be worthy of a first-round pick, but the problem for Ingram is the value that teams may get in running backs such as Ryan Williams, Daniel Thomas and Kendall Hunter in later rounds. Because of that, he very easily could fall out of the first round , especially if the Dolphins and Patriots pass on him with both of their first-round picks.

J.J. Watt and Cameron Jordan are very comparable and a team looking for an immediate impact as a five-technique along a 3-4 defensive front could easily make an argument for either player. In the long run, they would be happy with either.

Finally, you will find Mike Pouncey sitting at 19 and the best interior lineman in this draft. Pouncey provides the versatility to play guard or center, but ultimately I see him as a starting guard early in his rookie season.
 

 

PLAYER RANKINGS, 11-20

 
Rank Name Pos. Height Weight 40-yard Bench Vert.
11 J.J. Watt DE 6'5 3/8 290 4.84 34 37
12 Tyron Smith OT 6'5 307 DNP 29 DNP
13 Cameron Jordan DE 6'4 1/8 287 4.78 25 31
14 Ryan Kerrigan DE 6'3 7/8 267 4.71 31 33.5
15 Aldon Smith DE 6'4 1/4 263 4.78 20 34
16 Mark Ingram RB 5'9 1/8 215 4.62 21 31.5
17 Cam Newton QB 6'5 248 4.59 DNP 35
18 Gabe Carimi OT 6'7 314 5.27 29 31.5
19 Mike Pouncey OG 6'5 303 5.28 DNP 25
20 Corey Liuget DT 6'2 1/8 298 4.99 27 27.5

 

April 20

 

Mallett must work on mental game

 

Outside of Cam Newton, Ryan Mallett is the most intriguing quarterback in the draft. His talent is obvious. He has a huge arm and the skill set to make all the throws. As far as physical talent, outside of foot agility, he has all the tools to be successful.

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Mallett will need to mature most mentally. For a professional athlete, especially a franchise quarterback, this mental maturation process occurs both off the field and on the field.

Off the field, his character has been dissected and his unwillingness to answer drug related questions at the NFL Scouting Combine only fueled the fire. To me, this is awfully reminiscent of Ryan Leaf as he struggled to find his way in the NFL. I hope that Mallett can mature and handle the media attention that goes along with being a professional quarterback. Right now, I question if he can.

On the field, his mental development needs to occur in the film room. On tape, he missed blitzing schemes in which his lineman were outmanned and he needed to throw the ball "hot." He will be counted on to check out of plays that are already set up to fail just by the presnap alignment of the defense. He will need to read elaborate coverage schemes by NFL defenses and make good decisions as Pro Bowl pass rushers are in his face.

In order to do these things, he will need to spend hours and hours in film study and commit himself to nothing other than football season after season. I am not sure he is mentally prepared for that right now.

Again, he has all the physical skills needed to be successful, and maybe is the most pro-ready quarterback just from a physical attributes perspective. He played in a pro-style offense at Arkansas, and the throws he made as an amateur will translate very well at the next level. I would like to see him develop lighter feet in the pocket and use his size like Ben Roethlisberger to make it difficult to bring him down in the pocket.

I think there will be teams encouraged to move back into the first round to select him, but I think he would be better off in the second round, where he won't have to deal with the pressures from media outlets and fans alike of being a first-round selection.
 

Trading common at this phase

 

At this phase in the draft, many teams will be looking to move in and out of the first round. This is the part where quarterback needy teams that passed on a quarterback with their earlier pick, could trade back into the first round and select the quarterback they wanted all along.

Teams looking to trade out typically don't have a quarterback need being in the back third of the first round (Seattle being the exception), so they are happy to stockpile more draft picks and not feel threatened that teams are moving up to select any other position than quarterback. It will be interesting to see how teams manipulate trades this year without having the ability to use current players to sweeten the deal.

Teams such as the Baltimore Ravens have become accustomed to picking in the late first round and have made a excelled here. Ray Lewis (26), Ed Reed (24), Todd Heap (31), Ben Grubbs (29) and Michael Oher (23) easily come to mind.

When you look at the prospects on my board, you see the defensive back tandem of Jimmy Smith and Aaron Williams. Smith, 25th on my board, has potentially top-10 talent but has off-the-field issues that raise major red flags. Some teams I have spoken with have taken him off their board altogether.

Williams is a player who could provide an immediate nickel presence and I believe is a better safety than cornerback. In fact, I have him listed as my best available safety, a full 34 spots ahead of Rahim Moore.

You will also see an ever present theme in the 21 through 30 grouping, which is the talent along the defensive line. With Cameron Heyward, Muhammad Wilkerson, Adrian Clayborn and Phil Taylor all representing great value here.

Speaking of great value, the player I crowned the "value pick of the draft" nearly two months ago at the NFL Scouting Combine is my 30th best available player, Derek Sherrod. In my opinion, Sherrod can go to a pass first system such as Indianapolis or Green Bay and start from Day 1 at offensive tackle.

 

PLAYER RANKINGS, 21-30

 
Rank Name Pos. Height Weight 40-yard Bench Vert.
21 Nate Solder OT 6'8 1/4 319 5.05 21 32
22 Cameron Heyward DE 6'4 5/8 294 DNP DNP 30
23 Muhammad Wilkerson DT 6'4 1/8 315 4.96 27 26
24 Adrian Clayborn DE 6'2 5/8 267 4.83 DNP 33
25 Jimmy Smith CB 6'2 1/4 211 4.46 24 36
26 Aaron Williams DB 5'11 7/8 204 4.46 18 37.5
27 Phil Taylor DT 6'3 1/4 334 5.14 31 29.5
28 Danny Watkins OG 6'3 3/8 310 5.4 29 26
29 Kyle Rudolph TE 6'6 1/8 259 DNP DNP DNP
30 Derek Sherrod OT 6'5 3/8 321 5.28 23 28

 

April 19

 

Newton has a lot to prove

 

Just like last year's draft could have been dubbed the "Tim Tebow Invitational", the 2011 draft has similar buzz regarding Cam Newton. There is absolutely no question that he is an extraordinary athlete and a truly unique college football player, but his skills haven't translated well into the NFL in recent history.

It is no secret that Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks have struggled to be successful at the next level, and I have a feeling that Newton will have those same struggles. When you look at the history of the NFL, a quarterback with his skill set has yet to win a Super Bowl.

Yes, I do think that he can bring immediate excitement and playmaking ability to a team, but in the long run, he will have to develop his pocket presence and look to make plays with his arm rather than his legs. You can look at Vince Young as a recent example with the Tennessee Titans drafting him with the third overall pick in the 2006.

At that time, general manager Floyd Reese was quoted: "Last night at 11:35, I was on my knees praying. ... He will rewrite the position. This guy physically is such a combination of arms and legs."

Well, Young hardly rewrote the quarterback position, and in fact, just five years later, he most likely won't even be on the Titans roster.

In all fairness to Cam Newton, he has better throwing action than both Young and Tim Tebow and he is much more NFL ready than both prospects were in their respective draft years.

As I mentioned when analyzing Blaine Gabbert, the college spread offense makes it very difficult to estimate how one’s games will translate into the NFL, and with Newton it is even more difficult. He has only 292 passing attempts on his resume, and as one quarterback coach recently told me only about 10 percent of throws in a spread offense are comparable to NFL style routes.

That means that we are asking a club to play this young man almost $50 million based off game analysis of just 30 throws.

Finally, as has been discussed over and over, Newton's off the field problems are major red flags to me. With football being the ultimate team sport, having a quarterback with a diva mentality makes it very difficult for team cohesion.

He obviously proved he can win at Auburn, but the NFL is very different, full of former college superstars. With his "icon” and “entertainer" comments, and his predraft media only workout, he will need to check his ego at the locker room door.

 

Bowers' stock falls

 

This portion of the draft is where the gamesmanship comes into play.

With the new format, teams can now regroup after the first round as they have all night to adjust their boards and start scheming to trade up or back to select their desired player.

I am sure the first name that jumps off this list is Da'Quan Bowers as he slips all the way out of the first round to 34th overall. When I completed my very first mock draft (prior to the NFL Scouting Combine), I had Bowers being selected second overall to Denver, but with all the recent medical concerns, he falls down to 34.

Teams have told me — and media outlets have reported — that what once was thought to be a simple meniscus surgery was actually a microfracture surgery and his shelf life could be as short as three years. I can see Bowers facing a similar draft slide as Sergio Kindle did last year, with his own knee concerns dropping his stock to 43rd overall.

You will also notice that Ryan Mallett can be found at 38. While I do think that he has an NFL ready arm, his heavy feet in the pocket, and overall attitude make me much more comfortable slotting him in the second round rather than the first.

I would be very concerned how he would handle the pressure from the media and the fans if he were selected as a first round quarterback brought in to save the franchise.

In addition to Bowers, you will also find an influx of defensive lineman and pass rushers within this group. I have Justin Houston nine spots ahead of Akeem Ayers and include defensive tackles, Marvin Austin and Stephen Paea — all of whom, with maybe the exception of Paea, could be first round selections. 

 

PLAYER RANKINGS, 31-40

 
Rank Name Pos. Height Weight 40-yard Bench Vert.
31 Justin Houston OLB 6'2 7/8 270 4.68 30 35.6
32 Marvin Austin DT 6'1 5/8 309 4.9 38 30.5
33 Mikel LeShoure RB 5'11 5/8 227 4.59 21 38
34 Da'Quan Bowers DE 6'3 3/8 280 DNP 22 DNP
35 Stephen Paea DT 6'1 1/4 303 DNP 49 DNP
36 Martez Wilson MLB 6'3 3/4 250 4.49 23 36
37 Leonard Hankerson WR 6'1 1/2 209 4.43 14 36
38 Ryan Mallett QB 6'6 1/4 253 DNP DNP 24
39 Jon Baldwin WR 6'4 3/8 228 4.5 20 42
40 Akeen Ayers OLB 6'2 1/2 254 4.88 18 31

 

 

April 18

Gabbert is draft's top QB

 

Missouri's Blaine Gabbert is the best quarterback in an Alex Smith like draft. He may not be a franchise quarterback from the very first start, but because of the lack of overall quarterback talent in the draft, and with free agency being delayed, teams may be forced into drafting Gabbert as the savior of their franchise.

Gabbert is an outstanding athlete who shows great leadership and intelligence on the field, but he is inconsistent in his mechanics and doesn't throw an overly impressive deep ball. I do like the fact that he can make plays with his legs and doesn't have to have both set to get good zip on the ball, but in today’s NFL with teams stretching fields vertically, having a better deep ball would definitely make him even more attractive.

He has a slight hitch in his throwing motion that if removed would allow for a much quicker release. Coming from the spread offense, many times a quarterback is only given a single read or at the most two route reads and then pull it down and run. This is true for Gabbert as well, so him being able to read the defense and go all the way through his route progressions and then even dump the ball off the a check down tight end or running back will be a great maturation in his game.

When compared to Cam Newton, who is also drawing attention as the first quarterback to be selected, Gabbert has 933 passing attempts to evaluate on tape to Newton's 292 (12 of them coming from his time at Florida in 2007 and 2008). Having that bigger body of work, makes me more comfortable in determining how his game will translate to the NFL and seeing if he can make all the throws.

I have heard others comparing Gabbert to Matt Ryan, but I struggle to crown him franchise ready from Day 1 like Matt Ryan was. I think he can get there, but there will be much more of a transition period. Specific to this year's draft, I do think he is worthy of consideration for the first overall pick, but I think Carolina would be better off going with a defensive stalwart. To me, Gabbert makes most sense at three overall to Buffalo or five to Arizona.
 

Locker sits at No. 50

 

In looking at rankings 50 to 41 what jumps out right away is the 50th player on my board is Jake Locker. Many believed that Locker could have been the first overall selection had he came out last year, and therefore him falling 50 picks would be surprising.

Not for me. With his career completion percentage of 54 percent, I wouldn't be comfortable taking him any higher than mid- to late second round. What may come as another surprise in the quarterback category is my placing of Christian Ponder higher than Locker. Ponder is my fourth ranked quarterback.

Ponder had the most "under center" snaps of all the top quarterbacks in this class and shows an elusiveness in the pocket with great footwork and keeping his eyes and shoulders downfield.

You will also notice the trio of wide receiver prospects in Torrey Smith (41), Titus Young (43), and Randall Cobb (48). In recent draft history, wide receivers who were selected in this same 41 to 50 grouping has been of great value to their respective teams. Players like Sidney Rice who was selected 44th overall in the 2007 draft and Eddie Royal at 42 in 2008. DeSean Jackson, arguably the most explosive big play receiver in the NFL, was selected 49th overall in 2008.

 

 

PLAYER RANKINGS, 41-50

 
Rank Name Pos. Height Weight 40-yard Bench Vert.
41 Torrey Smith WR 6'0 7/8 204 4.43 19 41
42 Ras-I Dowling CB 6'1 3/8 198 4.46 19 DNP
43 Titus Young WR 5'11 3/4 174 4.53 DNP DNP
44 Bruce Carter OLB 6'1 1/2 241 DNP 25 DNP
45 Christian Ponder QB 6'2 229 4.65 DNP 34
46 Ben Ijalana OG 6'3 5/8 317 DNP DNP DNP
47 Randall Cobb WR 5'10 1/4 191 4.46 16 33.5
48 Ryan Williams RB 5'9 3/8 212 4.61 19 40
49 Marcus Cannon OG 6'5 358 5.26 33 30.5
50 Jake Locker QB 6'2 1/2 231 4.59 DNP 35

 

For more analysis, follow Billick on Twitter at @coachbillick.

Tagged: Browns, Broncos, Titans, Chiefs, Ravens, Ed Reed, Chris Simms, Vince Young, Ben Grubbs

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