I don't know if we've ever encountered a more intriguing class of quarterbacks in the NFL draft. If there has been one, my memory fails me. Of course, that's what memories do.
So as we parse and dissect Newton, Gabbert, Locker et al, what we should remember is what we often forget: That almost all quarterbacks are accused of having flaws as the draft approaches.
Peyton Manning might be the greatest quarterback who ever lived. He had a subpar senior season at Tennessee, and there was real debate among accomplished people whether he or Ryan Leaf would make the better pro. After all, Manning did not have exceptional arm strength and didn't exactly win a national championship.
Dan Marino had a poor senior season, was accused of being a pot-head, and became the most prolific passer the NFL had seen until Favre and Manning arrived.
Who among us thought that Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan would have immediate success? Who among us thought Tom Brady would become a great pro? Who among us thought David Carr would flop?
Conventional wisdom holds that Jake Locker is the most probable match for the Minnesota Vikings. He should be available at No. 12, and he's a big, strong kid who presents himself well.
I'm not sure Locker would be a great pick for a pure West Coast offense. He might be an intriguing fit for the new Vikings' offense, which I suspect will look a little like Joe Gibbs' power-running, deep-throwing offenses. The philosophy will be to pound the run with Peterson, soften up the defense, then throw it over the top. Locker might be able to function in that offense.
For what it's worth, watching Locker on ESPN's various specials over the last few weeks left me with these impressions:
-Locker comes from a strong family.
-He seems like a great kid.
-He had the self-discipline and school pride to return for his senior year even though he could have cashed in last spring.
-His numbers aren't all that dissimilar to Blaine Gabbert's, even though Gabbert played in a system more likely to artificially inflate a quarterback's statistics.
-He has a strong build, runs well and is willing to sacrifice his body. While he'll have to change that in the NFL, you like to see a quarterback with the willingness to gain the extra yard by taking punishment.
-Then there is this: Against Nebraska, he took a brutal hit and wound up twisted on the turf. He was wearing a mic, so you can hear him telling the training staff ``I can't see anything; everything's black,'' or something like that. The trainers took a good look at him and one said something along the lines of, ``Uh, Jake, your helmet is pulled down over your eyes, that's why you can't see.''
-This isn't a fair way to evaluate someone, but most of his highlight plays seemed to be runs, scrambles and general-direction throws, not the kind of precise lasers than impress NFL scouts.
That's the thing: If a quarterback isn't accurate, all the workout stats and great intangibles in the world won't matter. Not in the NFL, where there are often inches separating touchdown passes and interceptions.
I keep hearing that the Vikings have to take a quarterback. That's a dangerous sentiment. Put it this way: If the Vikings have access to a quarterback they think can be a quality, long-term starter at No. 12, yes, they should take him. If they are choosing between a sure-thing Pro Bowler at another position or a quarterback they would admit internally they feel is a reach, then they shouldn't take that quarterback. Taking the wrong quarterback is a much worse decision than having to patch the position together for another year.
-Upcoming: I'll be at the Vikings' draft headquarters Thursday night with the Star Tribune team. My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.