One thing that really confuses me after an NFL draft is grades based on how teams filled their overall needs. Yet, before the draft, the discussion is all about teams needing to pick the best players instead of just specifically filling needs.
This column is not intended as a grading scale or to pass judgment on teams for their work during the draft. Rather, some teams deserve praise, while others raised questions.
The 2011 draft wasn't supposed to have a strong quarterback class, but seven were taken in the first three rounds. Success for those seven teams who selected them will be judged solely on how they handled their quarterback evaluation and stacked their board. As for the teams that needed quarterbacks and passed, they better hope their decision was the right one.
Teams that drafted a QB
When Stanford's Andrew Luck did not enter the draft, most people in the Panthers' building felt they would not go quarterback. However, the more work they did on Cam Newton, the more they felt he was too talented and unique to pass up. Now, they must hope he is committed to being great, working hard and learning and learning some more. This is a high-risk pick for the Panthers that also could be a high reward.
Did the Titans fall in love with Jake Locker the person, and then convince themselves he was a good player? Coming off the Vince Young non-work-ethic era, Tennessee was determined to make sure it got the anti-Vince. But will Locker prove to be accurate enough? Can he make the precise throws into tight windows from the pocket? Does Locker have the talent, or will he just be a good person? As one head coach told me before the draft, Locker is everything you want in a quarterback until you put on the tape.
I was a Blaine Gabbert fan before the draft and feel he will give the Jaguars a bright future. The vision the Jaguars used in making this pick should be commended as long as their (and my) evaluation was correct. Gabbert loves football. He will prepare for the game and push David Garrard for the starting job. Garrard is a good player, but his passion for football has been questioned at times.
I was stunned when the Vikings drafted Christian Ponder 12th overall. Stunned because Ponder never struck me as a starting quarterback but more of a potential starter/backup. He will have to prove he has enough arm, leadership ability and command to show the Vikings made the right pick in taking him so high. Of all the picks in the draft, this was the most interesting and could be the riskiest.
The Bengals' plan all along was to draft a quarterback in the second round and get a wide receiver with their top pick. Mission accomplished. However, before the draft, many of us thought that plan would not be successful, pegging Andy Dalton to go in the bottom of Round 1. Still, Dalton was there with the 35th pick, and the Bengals got their man, someone they feel is capable of coming in and leading the offense. But does Dalton have enough arm and talent to be the starter in good and bad weather? Can he make the tough throws he will be required to against ball-hawking defenses like Baltimore and Pittsburgh? I'm not confident, but only time will tell.
Do you think when 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was watching tape on Colin Kaepernick he saw a little of himself (a great athlete with foot quickness, the ability to run and a strong arm)? When evaluating the tape, Kaepernick is not as accurate as Harbaugh was as a player. In fact, Kaepernick's lack of accuracy makes Locker look precise with the ball -- now that is a scary thought. Kaepernick will take some time to develop. Even when that happens, I am not sure he is a starter.
For the past two months, I have been a Ryan Mallett fan. I understand he has some off-the-field issues, but from my research, he loves football, prepares to play well and wants to succeed. For New England to get him in the third round is amazing and indicates Bill Belichick might be coaching the Patriots for the next 10 years. Mallett was the last quarterback picked of seven to go in the first three rounds. The other six teams better hope he was not the best of the bunch. He was rated the No. 1 quarterback on the Patriots' board.
Teams that passed on a QB
When the Dolphins were on the clock at No. 15, I was thinking it would be Mallett. Instead, they went with Florida offensive lineman Mike Pouncey. When they traded back into the second round, I was thinking it had to be Mallett this time. However, they selected Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas. Now, they will be in the veteran quarterback market.
When the Bills passed on Gabbert and showed no interest in Mallet, there was not another available quarterback capable of beating out Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bills opted to rebuild their defense, which needs help. Like the Dolphins, the Bills hope they are correct with their quarterback evaluations and that the Patriots are wrong.
The Redskins have made it clear they do not intend to keep Donavan McNabb. So, they had to select a quarterback in this draft, right? However, Washington has a strong belief that current third-string quarterback John Beck can be its starter this season. The Redskins must hope their two assessments are correct -- passing on the quarterback in the draft and their overall evaluation of Beck.
With only Charlie Whitehurst on the roster, the Seahawks showed early interest in selecting Ryan Mallett. Ultimately, after spending more time with him in recent weeks, they passed. At this point, they must be in the hunt for a veteran quarterback once the lockout ends because Whitehurst failed to show the skills to handle the starting job.
I fully expect Marc Bulger to be the starter in Arizona next season and understand the Cardinals wanted to pair a veteran with their offense. Still, Bulger, or any other veteran, is a short-term answer. Maybe the Cardinals feel confident that last year's fifth-round pick, John Skelton, has potential.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.