NFL Draft: Attempting to Find Out How, Why, and When the Blaine Gabbert Lovefest Began

By Jason McIntyre

Mike Mayock of the NFL Network released his 2011 draft “Top 5’s” Tuesday during the Senior Bowl practice and somewhat surprisingly, Jake Locker was the No. 2 QB behind Blaine Gabbert. Locker, who had a terrible season at Washington and probably should have left college after his junior year – when he would have been a Top 10 lock – appeared to play his way out of the first round this Fall.

The three most prominent draft pundits – Mayock, Todd McShay and Mel Kiper – all have fallen in love with Locker again after he was relentlessly bashed throughout the season. Which means the first two QBs drafted will be: A) Blaine Gabbert, a system QB at Missouri who nobody was talking about in any capacity in early December, and B) Locker, a QB who never completed 60 percent of his passes in any season, and was a combined 9-36 for 127 yards in two games against Nebraska this year (those were his two worst games; he was pretty bad the rest of the year, too).

The Gabbert love could actually be more surprising than Locker’s resurgence. Stanford’s Andrew Luck was the buzzy draft name all season, and Cam Newton surged, too. Gabbert never got into the discussion. He had a great game in a victory against No.1 Oklahoma in October, and then was terrible in the next two games at Nebraska and Texas Tech. Statistically, Gabbert had a better sophomore year.

As best I could piece together online, McShay’s thoughts on Gabbert date back to August, when he tabbed him 2nd-round material (after Luck, Locker and Mallett). In October (before the Oklahoma game), McShay had Gabbert battling Christian Ponder for 4th among QBs (Ponder’s shoulder surgeries could have him fall all the way to undrafted) that could have been drafted, but said he wouldn’t take Gabbert in the first “two or three rounds.” And then, in late December, McShay started to rave about Gabbert.

I checked Kiper’s “top 5s” throughout the Fall and he had Gabbert as the No. 4 non-senior QB all season. The last “Top 5” he did in 2010 was on Dec. 22. Gabbert was 4th after Luck, Mallett and Newton. And then … in Kiper’s first one of the new year … Jan. 5: Gabbert was No. 2 after Luck. That day, Kiper wrote about Gabbert soared up his draft board into the Top 10. To this date, I haven’t read a firm reason as to why Gabbert soared above Mallett and Newton.

(Mayock’s rankings from October, November, and December – assuming he did them – aren’t very easy to find.)

Maybe everybody was enjoying the exhibitions bowl games, or the holiday, or the NFL, but for some reason, Gabbert went from “Missouri’s QB” to “Top 10 NFL draft pick” in Herschel Walker’s 40 time. Here’s a collection of tweets about Gabbert from late December, and you’ll see some surprise that McShay had Gabbert ahead of Locker and Newton (Stew Mandel’s tweet would have probably echoed the feelings of most college football fans).

Did Gabbert get a good agent who pumped up his client to the draft gurus? Instead of hanging with family over the holidays, did Kiper and McShay watch extra tape on Gabbert? Or did Kiper and McShay get on the horn with GMs around the league, who raved about Gabbert?