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If Not Jimmy Clausen, Then Why Cam Newton Or Blaine Gabbert?

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Twice during the 2010 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills passed on a junior quarterback with three years of experience and steadily-improving production in a pro-style system; he also had polished mechanics and a pro pedigree. The team's desire to find a franchise quarterback, if anything, has lessened slightly in the year since, thanks to the play of Ryan Fitzpatrick last season.

I've been chewing on this idea long enough: if the Bills weren't interested enough in Jimmy Clausen at No. 9 overall - and then again at No. 41 overall - to take him a year ago, I cannot possibly imagine why either Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert would interest them at No. 3 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft.

What follows after the jump isn't me saying that I'll be irritated if the Bills take either of this year's allegedly best quarterback prospects, nor is it me endorsing the team looking elsewhere with their pick. (Not yet, anyway.) This is simply a question I've been thinking about for a number of weeks, and I can't think of a good answer to it. Hopefully, someone here can set me straight.

Coming out of Notre Dame as a junior after the 2009 season - at a time when his head coach, Charlie Weis, had been fired, mind you - Clausen had an intriguing case for being a high first-round draft pick. That's where most people assumed he'd be drafted, after all.

Clausen hit Notre Dame a hot recruit, and though he struggled early in his career, he gradually matured into one of college football's most dynamic throwers in Weis' pro-style offense, completing 68 percent of his passes for 3,722 yards, 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions in his final year at South Bend. In a system with pro reads, and against top-flight collegiate competition, Clausen was a difference-maker, and a highly productive passer.

Ultimately, Clausen fell to the second round not because he lacked talent or pedigree, but because NFL teams felt a sense of entitlement about his person. The hot recruit, and now coveted draft commodity, did not meet most team's character demands. Teams worried that he'd been too reliant on talent and circumstance in his upbringing, and did not believe that he'd put in the work to be excellent as a professional. Not immediately, at least. He had everything else - enough arm, enough size, enough mobility. The kid could clearly play.

Athletically, both Newton and Gabbert are much closer to the NFL prototype quarterback than Clausen is. They're built like Ken dolls, have elite-level arm strength and mobility, and just look more the part of the franchise quarterback than Clausen does. I get that. That's why they're being talked about as possibilities for the Bills. I get that, too - and there are days where I'm on the verge of being hopeful that the Bills are willing to gamble on talent at that position for once.

Clausen, however, had a lot on his resume that neither Gabbert nor Newton have. For one, he had experience: Gabbert started 26 games at Missouri, while Newton got 14 at Auburn. Clausen had 35 starts under his belt. More importantly, Clausen was a three-year starter under Weis - widely regarded as one of football's best offensive minds, and something of an expert at developing quarterbacks - while both Newton and Gabbert have toiled in college-style spread systems that, to be frank, don't translate well to the NFL at all.

Table intangibles for a moment: if Clausen had stayed at Notre Dame for his senior season and had similar production under Brian Kelly as he'd had under Weis, wouldn't there be no doubt as to who the best quarterback available this year is? Wouldn't the Carolina Panthers (ironically) be seriously considering Clausen right alongside the other two with the first overall pick? From a production standpoint, only Newton compares (favorably) to what Clausen did at Notre Dame. The current Panther is a head, if not head and shoulders, above Gabbert.

Even when you bring intangibles back into the equation (an obvious necessity), there's still some separation for Clausen - to my eye, at least. That same sense of entitlement has been applied to Newton, and that's without mentioning Newton's checkered past with stolen laptops and pay-for-play scandals. Gabbert's intangibles are impeccable - there's a lot to like about him as a worker and as a leader. That may level things out between Gabbert and Clausen, but at best, they're still pretty level.

Which brings us back to the Bills, and what one year of history tells us about them. Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey are still here. Twice, through actions, they told Bills fans that they had very little interest in handing the franchise over to Clausen. It's one thing to pass up a QB you're not convinced about at the top of Round 1; it's another to do it again after he's slid all the way into the second round. Certainly, I don't see how a year would have changed their minds when comparing Clausen to Newton. The intangibles argument could work in Gabbert's favor, but I'm not convinced that it means that the Missouri product will be a serious consideration with the third pick.

I'm quite serious when I say that I'm looking for a good answer to this question. I've been chewing on it for weeks, and haven't come up with anything - but I freely admit that I may be overlooking something. I leave it to you, reader, to explain to me why Gabbert or Newton should be a serious consideration at No. 3 when Clausen wasn't good enough for No. 41.