This year's crop of draft-eligible quarterbacks is a flawed, but intriguing one. So let's start here, with what a very veteran NFC personnel executive told me on Wednesday night: "I'd be shocked if Cam isn't the first pick."
In case you've lived under a rock the last seven months, the "Cam" in question is Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, and momentum seems to be building in the direction he's the top overall pick by the Panthers. An AFC personnel man told me that of the top quarterbacks, Newton is the one he has a hard time seeing sliding in the draft.
"Would I be shocked if Cam slipped out of the Top 10?" he said. "I would be absolutely shocked."
The NFC exec added, "If I had the first pick, I'd take him. He dominated the best conference in college football, maybe the best individual season I've ever season in college football. And he did that being in a place for one year. You can knock his personality, but as far as leadership goes, I know this -- they followed him (at Auburn)."
There's still a fear factor involved with Newton, of course, as the second personnel man said, "He scares the (blank) out of me." But it's becoming increasingly clear that Newton is the lead horse in this race. After that? It's up for debate.
Blaine Gabbert, Missouri: If any quarterback is going to go higher than Newton, it's Gabbert, who has the prototype arm, size and character makeup. But his ability to play from under center, call a play in the huddle, and throw downfield with accuracy are question marks.
Jake Locker, Washington: I've heard everything ranging from, "He's not a quarterback" to "You can win with him." But his lack of accuracy from the pocket is something many personnel folks think he won't be able to overcome. Locker does throw well and accurately on the run, perhaps lending him to Mike Shanahan's system in Washington. He's also, by all accounts, a top-notch kid.
Wyche: Gabbert has critics
Ryan Mallett, Arkansas: The off-field issues are omnipresent, and there's also the concern that his personality will come off poorly to teammates. While his athleticism is a worry on the field, his arm isn't. "He's the best pure passer in the draft, hands down," one NFC executive said. "He's Jeff George as a passer, Jim Everett as a person."
Now, this is the point in the quarterback conversation where things get interesting. The last two names above have been accepted, in some order, as Nos. 3 and 4 at the position. But whispers continue that the order the signal-callers come off the board could surprise some people. In fact, in reference to Florida State's Christian Ponder, our AFC personnel man said, "He needs to be in that group. … He does nothing to blow you away, but everything well."
Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, another project from a spread offense (the Pistol), is another name who may merit late first-round consideration, even before Locker or Mallet. There are also some who think that in the end, TCU's Andy Dalton could be better than a number of players who might be picked before him.
The bottom line here: When Andrew Luck went back to Stanford, the quarterback class became a bit of a jumbled mess. Nearly three months later, it remains one.