Much hoopla has been made in recent weeks over what the Carolina Panthers will do with the first overall pick of the NFL Draft. Will they take a quarterback? If they do, will they take Cam Newton, or will they take Blaine Gabbert? Who knows. It's anyone's best guess at this point, but my money is still on Cam Newton. However, until the Panthers announce that pick and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces it at the podium, it's up in the air. So since this is still a debate, let's take a closer look. Which quarterback is better? Who is better equipped to succeed? By the end of this side-by-side comparison, you might just find out.
Cam Newton scouting report
If you saw the 6-foot-6 Cam Newton walking towards you in a walkway, you'd think he's a small forward before you'd guess he's a quarterback. Yes, his size is very impressive, but if you've never seen him play before, you'll be most surprised at his mobility. The big Newton is no lanky, uncoordinated beast. He's got a set of wheels and elite mobility, but unlike last year's much talked about mobile quarterback, Tim Tebow, Newton also has a big, strong, accurate arm. People will say what they will about Newton's character, as it is anything but flawless. However, one cannot deny that Newton is a true leader on the gridiron, and you cannot underestimate how far the will to win can bring a guy in the NFL. Beside his character, the biggest concern at this point is probably his poor mechanics and poor fundamentals. He is definitely going to have to work his tail off to become a better fundamental football player, but he has insane athleticism and a very strong drive to win, so with the right coaching I wouldn't be too concerned about this. Michael Vick this year showed that these things can be overcome, as he's always been very mobile but he took a massive step forward in his passing game, so it's not impossible to make these kind of improvements. Newton has the advantage of being a truly unique quarterback prospect, as he's a more accurate passer than Vince Young, not quite as mobile as Michael Vick, but faster than Ben Roethlisberger.
Blaine Gabbert scouting report
Some NFL scouts will drool over Gabbert's size and arm strength, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Derek Anderson also has ideal size and arm strength, but the strength of your throw means nothing if it couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. In the short range this won't be a big problem—Gabbert has impeccable accuracy in the short passing game. However, he has weak pocket presence and with limited experience he is prone to lapses in his decision making. For example, Gabbert throw an interception in the Insight Bowl that caused his Missouri Tigers to lose to the Iowa Hawkeyes. One thing that worries me is that he ran a spread offense with Missouri. I do think Gabbert can be a pretty good quarterback, however it will take a great deal more of work for him to make it in the NFL since the spread can exaggerate the perceived field vision and awareness of a QB prospect. I'm no Mel Kiper, so I won't be surprised if a field expert would rip me to shreds for this comparison, but Gabbert almost reminds me of Alex Smith. Like Gabbert, Smith was a mobile, accurate quarterback who ran the spread at Utah. System quarterbacks typically bust in the NFL, and since Gabbert did not develop under a pocket-passing system, Gabbert is really going to struggle if he gets drafted by a team with no offensive line. The Tennessee Titans gave up 27 sacks last year, seventh best in football, which is why I mocked Gabbert there in my 2011 NFL Mock Draft.
The burning question: Newton or Gabbert?
For the Carolina Panthers, I'd take Cam Newton. But I'm not in a position to answer which quarterback prospect is absolutely better. It honestly depends on each team's situation. For teams like Carolina or Buffalo who have almost nothing going for them, they should go with Cam Newton, the better playmaker out of the two quarterbacks. However, plenty of other teams have a need at QB and won't be able to take Newton at their draft position. Cincinnati, Tennessee, and Minnesota all have good supporting talent in place, which is good because Gabbert's best bet to make it in the NFL is if he's brought in to a situation tailored for him to succeed. He needs good blocking and weapons, which won't be a problem with either of these three early-picking football clubs.