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2011 NFL Draft: Top Five Quarterbacks, Pre-Combine

The 2011 NFL Scouting Combine begins one week from today. Viewed through a lens fusing talent with fit for the Buffalo Bills, I'm going to be listing my Top 5 prospects at four key positions; all are big need areas for the Bills. We've already gone over the defensive line; after the jump, it's on to quarterbacks.

Just like with the defensive linemen, I built this list based on essentially an even split between talent and fit. In this case, "fit" for the Bills was less a decision of "does he fit into Chan Gailey's offense?", and much more "can he be a long-term answer for this franchise?". As such, some prospects that I like quite a bit slid off the list in favor of higher-upside guys that can be developed thanks to the presence of Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Without further ado, my top five quarterbacks, pre-Combine, in the 2011 NFL Draft. (Blank measurement boxes indicate a lack of current information; I don't like pulling numbers from teams there. We'll update this after the Combine with official weigh-in numbers.)

No. Name Pos. College CL HT WT Arm Hand
1 Cam Newton QB Auburn JR
It's obviously very tough to ignore his several red flags, and one will always wonder if he'll have the proper attitude to be the face of an NFL franchise. It is, in my opinion, far more difficult to ignore the fact that he's talented enough to be the first player off the board. Newton is a playmaker with the arm strength and mobility to extend plays and hurt defenses badly outside of the pocket. He is still developing as a passer, and will need time - a year, possibly even two - to learn how to read defenses. He's got some intangibles, as well - most prominently a great deal of mental toughness. If he checks out as a person, it'll be hard to pass on him.
2 Blaine Gabbert QB Missouri JR
He's not talked about as much by Bills fans as Newton (we tried to change that a bit today), but Gabbert is a highly talented QB prospect in his own right. A good athlete with a strong arm and improving accuracy, Gabbert, too, has the ability to extend plays with his legs - though not to the degree Newton does. Gabbert is more of a pro-style thrower than Newton is, as well, but he'll need time to adjust from a spread offense in college to a professional look. Gabbert is talented enough to be picked early, doesn't have off-field concerns, and for now should definitely be in the conversations for the Bills at No. 3 overall.
3 Jake Locker QB Washington SR 6022 228 32.0 9.9
Mike Mayock said on Thursday that he's not writing off Locker yet, and for good reason: all of that talent that made him the pre-season favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick is still present. Locker is the polar opposite of Newton in the intangibles department, but was a disappointment as a senior, struggling with accuracy, consistency and reading defenses. Those are major concerns - the accuracy in particular - but scouts will still like his size, arm strength, mechanics and mobility. Another guy with long-term potential that would benefit from the opportunity to sit and learn that a team like Buffalo can offer.
4 Christian Ponder QB Florida State SR 6021 222 31.8 10.1
We mentioned early last week that Ponder's quarterback past was riddled with loose ties to Buffalo's coaching staff. Then he was coached by Gailey and George Cortez at the Senior Bowl, and won the game's MVP award. Ponder, again, is a strong athlete that can make plays with his legs, and he also scores strongly in the intangibles and leadership department. Where Ponder lacks compared to everyone else on this list is the arm strength department; Ponder just doesn't have the chops to zip the ball into tight windows, which could be a problem late in the year for a team like Buffalo. Still, there is enough in Ponder where he's capable of being a solid, above-average starter - and sometimes, that's all you need.
5 Colin Kaepernick QB Nevada SR 6045 225 33.8 9.6
Kaepernick has much more upside than any quarterback listed aside from the Top 3 - he's a marvelous athlete with a very strong arm, and has a lot of experience. He helped turn Nevada into a winner. Kaepernick is a leader and a playmaker, and he'll score well in all of the intangible tests. The problem with Kaepernick is that he is years - at least two - away from being ready to play. Technically, he needs a major overhaul, as he has an elongated windup and poor throwing mechanics in general. He'll also need more work than just about anyone in learning how to read defenses. There is massive potential here, but Kaepernick is very much a down-the-line prospect.