|Brian Spurlock / US Presswire|
|Despite not throwing at the combine, Blaine Gabbert still managed to impress scouts in Indianapolis.|
The NFL Scouting Combine represented an opportunity for a closely graded group of quarterbacks to separate from the pack, but the exceptional performance of several prospects has only created more questions.
Most scouts entered the event expecting Cam Newton and Jake Locker to be top athletes, but Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick put on impressive displays. Both ranked near the top in most of the drills, and their surprising explosiveness opened eyes.
With the NFL evolving into a passing league, teams are paying close attention to quarterbacks with athleticism. Each of the aforementioned signal-callers possess the quickness, agility and movement skills to extend plays in the pocket. Although dynamic running skills aren't a requirement, it certainly helps to have a quarterback capable of escaping pressure in today's game.
Ryan Mallett, however, isn't one of those mobile quarterbacks. In his case, it was his performance during throwing drills that thrust him into the conversation as a potential franchise quarterback. He threw the ball with zip and velocity, and his accuracy stood out. He looked at ease executing pro throws from conventional drops (three-, five- and seven-step), and his excellent timing and anticipation is a result of playing in a pro-style offense at Arkansas.
Locker, who entered the workout on the heels of a dismal performance at the Senior Bowl, also put together an impressive showing. He displayed vastly improved footwork and fundamentals as a passer, which improved his accuracy and timing. While the workout doesn't make amends for his erratic play throughout the year, it is an encouraging sign for teams intrigued by Locker.
The combine might only play a minor role in the overall evaluation process, but the visual imagery can help an evaluator answer questions about a prospect.
With several players using their time in Indianapolis as a launching pad to move up the charts, here's a look at the combine's impact performers:
Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
Teams were disappointed that he didn't participate in the throwing portion of the workout, but his athleticism and football intelligence earned raved reviews. His speed, quickness and movement skills were impressive. He surprised with a 40-yard dash time of 4.62 seconds, only a notch behind Locker (4.59) and Newton (4.59). His vertical (33.5 inches) and broad jump (10'0") also reveal an overall explosiveness. If he throws the ball well at his pro day, he could join the conversation as the potential No.1 overall pick.
Cam Newton, Auburn
An inconsistent performance throwing overshadowed a solid overall effort. His sheer athleticism and agility stood out. He also displayed far more arm strength than some evaluators expected. Newton effortlessly throws the deep ball in rhythm to go with tremendous zip and velocity on all intermediate throws. Although he struggled with his accuracy, touch and set up quickness, his throwing motion is pretty sound and his flaws appear easily correctable. If he can continue to make progress as a pocket passer, his limitless potential will entice a team to gamble.
Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
After struggling through a raucous media session, Mallett blew scouts away with his on-field performance. He showed sound footwork and fundamentals. He has one of the strongest arms in this year's draft class coupled with off-the-charts touch, accuracy and anticipation. Mallett's extensive experience playing in a pro-style offense puts him a step ahead of the competition. If he can win the interview room over with his personality and football intelligence, he will continue to rise.
Jake Locker, Washington
One of the most impressive athletes at the combine, Locker posted sensational numbers (4.59 in the 40, 35 inches in the vertical jump, 10 feet in the broad jump, 6.77 seconds in the three-cone drill and 4.12 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle) and showed major improvement as a passer. His footwork was sound in executing three-, five- and seven-step drops. Better fundamentals also helped his accuracy. With Locker showing signs of becoming a more complete pocket passer, he is starting to create buzz about being a potential first-round pick.
Colin Kaepernick, Nevada
He demonstrated why he was the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,000-plus yards and rush for 1,000-plus yards in three consecutive seasons. He not only posted exceptional numbers in the speed and agility drills, but showed impressive arm strength and touch throwing. Even though he sprayed a few deep passes, his quick release and velocity are clearly pro-caliber. Teams will dig deeper to see if he can transition from running the "Pistol" offense to directing a conventional pro-style attack.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.