Gabbert hangs around, could prove to be steal

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 29, 2011 - 1:33 AM

A number of teams needing quarterbacks passed on the 6-4 Missouri QB before Jacksonville grabbed him at No. 10.

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Missouri's Blaine Gabbert (right, with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell) went at No. 10 to Jacksonville, one of the few teams in the top half of the draft that wasn’t desperate for a quarterback.

Photo: Jason Decrow, Associated Press

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Well, that certainly was one weird night for Blaine Gabbert.

The Missouri quarterback went into the NFL draft thinking the Washington Redskins would trade up from No. 10 to get him. Ten picks into the draft, the Redskins traded down with Gabbert still on the board.

If one thing became clear Thursday night, it's that NFL teams were just as divided on how to rank this year's quarterback class as the rest of us were. Four quarterbacks were taken in the first 12 picks, but other than Cam Newton going No. 1 overall, the pecking order was a surprise, even after three months of 24-7 draft analysis.

Jacksonville, one of the few teams in the top half of the draft that wasn't desperate for a quarterback, moved up to No. 10 and picked Gabbert. The Redskins gladly swapped first-round picks, picked up a second-rounder and took Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan at No. 16.

Washington, which will jettison Donovan McNabb as soon as the league says it can, still needs a quarterback. Gabbert, meanwhile, goes to Jacksonville, where he'll compete with inconsistent, but not terrible veteran David Garrard.

"I had no preconceived notions about where I would get drafted," Gabbert told the NFL Network.

The Redskins weren't the only QB-starved team that passed on Gabbert, the 6-4, 234-pounder whose background in Missouri's spread offense created a wide disparity in how he was judged by NFL teams.

The Bills passed on him for a defensive upgrade at No. 3. The Bengals, who have a quarterback, Carson Palmer, who is threatening to retire rather than play another down in Cincinnati, went with a receiver at No. 4.

The Cardinals, who need a quarterback as desperately as any team in the league, went cornerback at No. 5.

Then a buzz filled the room at Radio City Music Hall as the first huge trade of the evening unfolded. Was it someone trading up for Gabbert at No. 6?

Nope. It was Atlanta, last year's No. 1 seed in the NFC, trading way up and giving away the peanut farm for... a receiver?

Gabbert sat with a blank stare as the trade was announced. This is where he thought someone, perhaps the Redskins, would jump the 49ers to get him.

But the Falcons traded up from No. 27 to No. 6 and took Alabama receiver Julio Jones. Obviously, the Falcons see him as the final piece to a Super Bowl team because they also gave Cleveland the 27th pick, their second- and fourth-round picks this year and their first- and fourth-round picks next year.

Holy moly. Of course, knowing the curse that Cleveland's been under the past 47 years, you just know there won't be an NFL draft next year.

Surely, the 49ers would take Gabbert at No. 7. The only QB on their roster is David Carr. David Carr.

The 49ers also have a new head coach, Jim Harbaugh, who doubles as an up-and-coming quarterback guru. This was it.

Nope. Harbaugh went with a Mizzou guy, but it was pass rushing 3-4 outside linebacker Aldon Smith.

Next up: Tennessee. Another lousy team without a QB. You kind of sense a pattern in that regard.

The Titans did indeed go quarterback. But they made Jake Locker of Washington the pick at No. 8. Gabbert was passed over for a 55-percent career passer. Doh!

Finally, Jacksonville saved Gabbert just as ESPN's Suzy Kolber was swooping in for the Brady Quinn/Aaron Rodgers "can-you-believe-you're-falling-like-this?" interview.

Two picks later, the Vikings made the biggest surprise pick of the draft when they made Florida State's Christian Ponder the fourth QB in the top 12 picks. As puzzling as this QB class was to judge, the kid and the Vikings deserve the benefit of the doubt.

In a passing league, it helps to have a passer. That's why no one took a running back until the 28th pick, the latest the first back has been taken since the AFL and NFL merged their drafts in 1967. That's also why the first round included a record 12 defensive lineman, most of them pass rushers.

And that's why it will be interesting to see whether the Bills, Bengals, Cardinals, 49ers, Titans and Redskins were right or wrong in passing Gabbert along to the Jaguars.

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribune.com

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