You likely won’t start Blaine Gabbert this year in any league, or at least not until he shows some consistency. But in keeper leagues you spent highly on Justin Blackmon, hoping that he could become this year’s A.J. Green or Julio Jones, and be a cornerstone going forward. Unfortunately, his production is tied to Gabbert, which has resulted in early discouragement, and just 24 yards on two catches.
Erratic play is commonplace for young quarterbacks who are high on potential and upside, but often low on immediate returns. We expect their performance to be inconsistent, but along the way they often drag down those around them.
Reggie Bush ran for 172 yards and two touchdowns in Week 2, but he did it against the Raiders, a team that gave up the worst yards per carry last year. Does Ryan Tannehill have the overall ability to provide enough support to keep eight men out of the box? Will Christian Ponder continue progressing so that he can keep feeding Percy Harvin lots of footballs? And what do we make of Russell Wilson through two games? Going forward will he turn into the perfect sleeper quarterback as we projected back in August? I hope so, because being right is far more enjoyable than being wrong.
Eric Stoner spends more time watching quarterback game tape and evaluating these young arms than the average family doctor recommends. He contributes to Draft Breakdown, Rotoworld NFL Draft, and Big Cat Country. So with that widespread fantasy impact in mind, I asked him a few questions. Five, to be exact, starting with that kid Gabbert, and his seemingly unquenchable desire to be confusing.
1. Let’s start with Gabbert, who’s been, well, confusing through two weeks. In Week 1 he showed promise and some signs that he’s ready to develop more consistency and accuracy, and then Sunday in a less favorable matchup we saw the 2011 Gabbert again. What’s his primary issue right now? And what are your long-term projections for him?
Blaine Gabbert is an enigma I’ve been trying to crack for a couple of years now. The two biggest questions I had with him coming out of Missouri (eye-level and comfort while throwing from compressed spaces in a muddy pocket) seem to be vastly improved. If those two things remain at an acceptable level, he should be a functional starter in his second season.
As far as primary issues right now: the coaching staff said they were trying to fix an accuracy issue while throwing to his left, and he sailed an easy touchdown pass over Blackmon’s head in Week 1. His performance against Houston was poor, but I’ve seen the coaches tape from it, and, overall, Houston’s defense is just vastly more talented than Minnesota’s at almost every position group. DBs were running routes for the receivers, Guy Whimper was his usual turnstile at right tackle (against J.J. Watt, no less), and the whole thing resulted in the worst offensive outing in franchise history. I’m also concerned about his completion percentage and YPA/YPC not improving much, but the performance and numbers vs Minnesota and Houston were on such vastly different ends of the spectrum that it’s difficult to draw any conclusions until I see more.
We’ll have some more answers after this week. If he and the Jaguars offense struggle to move the ball against the Colts, it’ll be time to start ringing alarm bells.
2. Christian Ponder was in Gabbert’s draft class, and he’s had a more promising start. Who’s the more fundamentally sound quarterback?
In terms of mechanics? Last year it was Ponder, almost by default. Ponder is off to a hot start this year, but he hasn’t been challenged by a good defense yet, either. Again, we’re dealing with a sample size issue.
3. Ryan Tannehill is another young quarterback surrounded by questions, and early in the draft season last spring the grades on him were widespread. Does he have the tools for sustained success?
For a player with such little practice time and starts at the position in college, I’ve always been struck at how natural Tannehill was in terms of his eye-level and pocket mobility. He also throws a gorgeous ball outside the numbers. Those three skills generally lead to NFL success. How far he goes depends on if he’s as natural at processing information (especially what’s going on between the hash marks) as he is at moving and throwing the ball. I was a big fan of his in the draft, and I absolutely think he can have NFL success.
4. Aside from those guys named Luck and Griffin, I think Russell Wilson is in the best position to succeed out of the other three rookie QBs due to his overall skillset, and specifically his versatility as a runner. Agree or disagree?
Absolutely agree. I probably spent more time talking about Tannehill and Wilson pre-draft (and immediately after), since analysis on the top two guys had been beaten to death and everyone already knew where they were going.
The first thing I always quantify with Wilson is that he’s not small – he’s short, and those are two very different things. Secondly, I think Wilson’s got a couple of things working for him that plagues most other vertically-challenged quarterbacks. The first is that he actually has NFL caliber arm-strength. Secondly, and more importantly, he is uncanny at finding windows to throw to and can throw from multiple release points with velocity and accuracy, which largely negates his height issue. Combine all that with major running ability, like you said, and you’ve got a great quarterback prospect.
5. Looking forward now, is Matt Barkley a lock to be the No. 1 overall pick next spring, and the quarterback we’re scrutinizing one year from now over his first few starts? How will he compare to this year’s rookies?
Anyone who follows the draft knows that “stocks” can be extremely fickle, week-to-week things. After losing to Stanford for the fourth consecutive year, we’re starting to hear the first major Barkley backlash. He’s asked to do a lot in the pre-snap phase, and the USC passing game has some pretty sophisticated reads and concepts. But overall, Barkley simply isn’t asked to make very many difficult throws – and when he does, he’s making them to arguably the best wide receiver duo in the country. He’s got great anticipation and his accuracy is excellent in the short passing game, but people are going to (rightfully) question his ability to drive the ball and/or make stick throws against tough man coverage. Right now, my money’s on Geno Smith to be the first quarterback off the board.