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Time to prove you're a franchise quarterback, Blaine Gabbert

Open letter to Blaine Gabbert ...

Dear Blaine,

I realize you have no idea who I am, or care to know, but my critical comments last December were not directed at you as a person, but rather, your performance as a rookie player in the NFL. This isn't personal -- strictly a player evaluation based on your 14 starts as a rookie. In fact, I liked your talents at Missouri, and felt you had the skill set to potentially be the first overall pick. When the Jags moved up in the draft to acquire your rights, I applauded their decision.

The NFL is a tough business -- it requires a short memory, thick skin to criticism and constant growth. Each time you take the field, you must show some level of improvement in every aspect of your game. That did not happen last year. Never did I watch your tape and feel like you were developing as a quarterback, making strides toward improved play. Rarely did I see a glimpse of the talent you displayed at Missouri.

Young players must understand the difference between coaching and criticism. Coaches strive for excellence because they have a vested interest in their players. Meanwhile, critics just explain what went wrong without caring about the future. I care about you being a good player, not because of how I graded you, but rather, for the good of league. It's beneficial to everyone if you really do become the quarterback of the future in Jacksonville. Jaguars fans need a great signal caller, they need a great team. The city needs someone to rally around, someone to make the Jags relevant.

I know that last season you were a young player with little experience in the system, without the benefit of an offseason program. I know your supporting cast was not the best. But I also know that great players make others around them great. I thought you would excel. With Maurice Jones-Drew at your side, I expected more. There's a popular belief that a rookie quarterback's best friend is a potent running game, but clearly the league's leading rusher wasn't that big of an ally for you.

I didn't expect you to go 13-0 while completing 66.9 percent of your passes and throwing 15 touchdown passes like Ben Roethlisberger during his rookie season. But I did expect you to perform better than Tim Couch, who played for the expansion Cleveland Browns yet posted a better completion percentage, yards-per-game average and passer rating than you.

I had our research department go back and pull up the modern-era quarterbacks drafted in the first round who started at least half the games in their rookie season. This first group is the QBs who might've hit some bumps in the road during Year 1, but eventually became great (sorted by passer rating):

  Rookie Record Completion Percentage Yards Per Game Touchdowns Interceptions Passer Rating
Ben Roethlisberger 13-0 66.9 188.1 15 9 99.4
Dan Marino 7-2 58.4 218.9 17 5 96.6
Matt Ryan 11-5 61.1 215 16 11 87.7
Joe Flacco 11-5 60 174.4 14 12 80.3
Peyton Manning 3-13 56.7 233.7 26 28 71.2
Phil Simms 6-5 51.2 148 12 12 68.3
Drew Bledsoe 5-7 49.9 199.8 15 15 64.8
Bob Griese 3-7 47.1 165.2 11 14 57.5
Troy Aikman 0-11 52.9 159 9 18 55.7
John Elway 4-6 47.1 152.9 6 14 51.8
TOTALS 63-61 55.8 195.6 141 138 73.8

Conversely, this second group consists of QBs drafted in the first round who started bad and unfortunately, stayed bad (sorted by passer rating):

  Rookie Record Completion Percentage Yards Per Game Touchdowns Interceptions Passer Rating
Matt Leinart 4-7 56.5 226.6 11 11 74.9
Tim Couch 2-12 56.3 174.8 15 12 74.8
Vince Young 8-5 52.3 158.9 11 12 67.5
Rick Mirer 6-10 56.4 177.1 12 17 67.0
David Carr 4-12 52.5 162 9 15 62.8
Kyle Boller 5-4 51.6 138.9 7 9 62.1
Joey Harrington 3-9 50.6 186.8 12 15 61.5
Heath Shuler 1-7 44.0 189.9 10 11 60.6
Steve Fuller 6-6 53.3 103.7 5 13 52.9
Ryan Leaf 3-6 44.2 132.9 2 13 39.9
TOTALS 42-78 53.3 171 94 128 64.7

In your 14 starts, you went 4-10 while completing 50 percent of your passes, averaging 154.4 passing yards per game, throwing 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and posting a 64.8 passer rating. Look over the numbers in both groups and then you decide which group you belong in.

Now, I understand numbers are not everything. As you can see, Hall of Famer Troy Aikman had a worse rookie season than you -- but he rallied back. You can do the same. You must take the offseason seriously, work hard on techniques and fundamentals, take to the coaching by your new staff, and most of all, show better pocket awareness and keep your eyes down the field. The great quarterbacks never see the rush, they innately feel it; they always have their eye level above their offensive line, allowing them to have a high average per completion. You must keep your eye level high. You must learn to stand tall in the pocket. If you do this, the game will become much easier for you.

Once upon a time in the NFL, young quarterbacks were allowed a learning curve. Not now. You must demonstrate progress right away, or Chad Henne will be the starting quarterback of the Jags. Improvement has to come in games, starting with the first preseason game. No matter what happens in the offseason on the practice fields in Jacksonville, the real measurement of growth occurs in real, live NFL games.

Please take this letter in the spirit it was intended: to help you improve your overall game and have a great career. This letter is not about me proving my point -- it's about you proving your talents.

After all, who's Mike Lombardi?

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi

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