Community Scouting Report: Blaine Gabbert (QB, Missouri)

Community scouting reports are more common for baseball, but I'm hoping that during the bowl/pre-draft season those of you who have watched a given player a lot will offer up your take on how he might look in Seattle.

Missouri takes on Iowa tonight in the Insight Bowl in Tempe at 10 EDT. Many have commented on the possibility of drafting Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert if he declares for the draft.

General Take. I have followed Gabbert since he decommitted from Nebraska and signed at Missouri. I think he would be a very nice fit in Seattle. He can make pro throws. He's kind of a pleasant blend of Locker and Mallet. He lacks the former's mobility, but he can pick up a first with his feet if need be. He doesn't quite have Mallet's arm, but a) he's damn close, b) he's far more accurate on intermediate throws, and c) he's far less prone to do stupid things with the ball. He reminds me a fair amount of the Seattle version of Trent Dilfer, though I'm not sure if Dilfer is his floor or his ceiling. That is, I feel certain that Gabbert should be a productive NFL starter. I strongly doubt that he'll bust. But I also doubt he'll be a star, unless everything unfolds perfectly. As I understand it, the feedback he gets from the NFL draft advisory group will basically determine whether he declares. Head coach Gary Pinkel advises players with a first round grade to declare. I will offer a few more specific observations after the jump.

What's to like. Gabbert is a toolsy prospect. He is listed at 6'5" and 235#. He easily has an NFL quality arm. He was the first Rivals 5-star recruit ever to sign at Missouri, and was listed as the top pro-style QB in the country in his recruiting class. (He missed much of his senior season with an injury.) He signed at Nebraska initially to run a pro-style offense but decommitted when the Nubs fired Bill Callahan.

At Missouri Gabbert has been productive. He saw some mop up duty as a true freshman backing up Chase Daniel before breaking out as a first-time starter his sophomore season. Gabbert demonstrated the kind of tools that have the likes of Todd McShay over-hyping him. He threw for almost 4,000 yards, 24 TDs and only 9 picks (8.1 raw yards/attempt, completing 58.9% of his attempts). Missouri's spread is akin to the Mike Leach version in that it is a short throw/high completion percentage offense predicated on run after catch. With Gabbert and Danario Alexander the offense went down the field a bit more in 2009 than with Chase Daniel, and as a result traded off slightly lower than desired completion percentage (Pinkel likes 60%+) for higher yards/att.

Coming into this season, many were predicting that Gabbert and Jarrod Johnson (Texas A&M) would tear the proverbial roof off Big 12 defenses. However, Johnson was benched and Gabbert's overall production slipped. Coming into tonight's game, he has thrown for just over 2,750 yards, 15 TDs and 7 picks (6.6 raw yards/attempt, on 62.2% completion). However, having seen most every Missouri game, I can say without reservation that Gabbert is a better QB this season than in 2009. In a sentence, Gabbert has played at least as well as in 2009 but the surrounding offensive talent has changed. The 2010 Tigers are more "move the chains" and less explosive than the Chase Daniel/Jeremy Maclin/Chase Coffman teams, or even the 2009 squad with Danario Alexander. Blaine Gabbert is throwing into far tighter coverage this season, and not getting the same run after catch (bringing down his yards/att).

But... That has forced Gabbert to become better at things pro QBs must do. He has displayed better patience at hanging in the pocket and going through his progressions. He is also better at tucking and running when defenses drop eight and nine into coverage. Perhaps just as importantly, he has demonstrated--to me at least--that he is NFL tough. He took a savage beating at Nebraska and still damn-near put that offense on his back to make it a game. (Unfortunately, the normally solid Mizzou defense had its only "WTF was that?" game of the year.)

What's not to like. Gabbert's only potentially fatal flaw may be in how well he develops his pocket awareness. He had close to none probably halfway through his sophomore season. He saw ghosts (and then he saw Ndamukong Suh). He seems to have grown out of seeing ghosts. That part of his game has improved dramatically over two seasons. So I don't think he's Dan McGwire or Rob Johnson unaware. I should also acknowledge that part of his "pocket awareness" development is limited by how Missouri coaches its QBs. Taking a sack is kind of a cardinal sin in Missouri's offense. So they teach the QBs to get out of the pocket rather than step up into it if the read isn't there. I don't think that will restrict his development, but it may delay it. (Those of you who remember Chase Daniel may recall him 20-25 yards behind the line of scrimmage running in circles.)

Another thing that could limit his ceiling is the accuracy on his really deep throws. Gabbert actually excels at the kinds of intermediate to moderately long passes that mark one difference between so-called game managers and guys that can make plays. He throws the sideline passes and deep outs particularly well. However, after throwing an astonishingly pretty deep pass his first year as a starter he has struggled in that area this season. Again, go routes are not the specialty of this WR group. Still, like with Hasselbeck, defenses are flooding the underneath zone and jumping short routes. Double move routes have been available and Gabbert has flat missed some throws--both the Texas Tech loss and the San Diego State near loss jump immediately to mind. I am inclined to think this year is a bit fluky, because his overall accuracy remains high, but still with only two seasons of data it's hard to know for sure.