1. Carolina Panthers - Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
With the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers select Blaine Gabbert, quarterback, Missouri. Those are the words that I expect to hear on April 28th when the 2011 NFL Draft kicks off and the Panthers set things in motion. Previously, this pick would have been Andrew Luck out of Stanford by a mile. Luck is the player that any team with a quarterback need would salivate for, one of the best prospects at the position in years. But it's not meant to be, he's staying in school, and the Panthers have a murky situation in front of them.
Quarterback is still obviously a need, word on the street is that Jimmy Clausen just isn't that guy for the new regime in Carolina and it's completely understandable. Clausen was severely underwhelming in 2010, and nothing he did indicated that 2011 would be better. Defensive tackle is a need and happens to be a strength in this draft, and someone like Marcell Dareus would not be a surprise at all, nor would Nick Fairley. New head coach Ron Rivera could impact the decision and push for one of those guys, but the need for a franchise quarterback will likely be too much for the Panthers. Couple that with a potential rookie wage scale, and picking a quarterback first overall isn't as scary as it has been in recent years.
So it comes down to Blaine Gabbert out of Missouri or Cam Newton of Auburn. The first thing I did was consider which of these quarterbacks was the least like Jimmy Clausen, and I believe that's Gabbert. The Missouri product has all the intangibles you look for, and had a pro day that Mike Mayock of the NFL Network likened to that of Sam Bradford and Matt Ryan, of St. Louis Rams and Atlanta Falcons fame, respectively.
When it comes to Newton, I think they like what they see, but I think they're also a bit weary of that kind of personality. Not that it's entirely detrimental to his football career, but if all things are about equal, personal intangibles will take priority, and Gabbert is the more likable quarterback in that regard, as well. Gabbert is a leader, and has a very strong desire and will. Clausen doesn't have "it", but Gabbert practically oozes "it." From the usual places.
Carolina is a very young football team and they need a quarterback to lead them. A guy who can grow with them and become something special while the team around him does the same thing. Both Newton and Gabbert could fit that mold, but Gabbert's personality and plausible readiness make him a more positive candidate to grow your offense, team, and brand.