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March 30, 2011
Draft analyst: Terrible year to reach for a quarterback

Nolan Nawrocki, the senior editor at Pro Football Weekly and that publication's talent evaluator, made waves recently with his blistering review of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton:

"Very disingenuous -- has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup," Nawrocki wrote in the "Negatives" portion of Newton's review. "Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them. Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law -- does not command respect from teammates and will always struggle to win a locker room . . . Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness -- is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example. Immature and has had issues with authority. Not dependable."


It turns out that Nawrocki isn't too keen on Newton's competition, either. During a conference call this morning, I asked Nawrocki if he thought quarterback-needy teams would trade back into the first round and, if so, which quarterbacks would be targeted. He mentioned several names but made it very clear he didn't consider any of them first round-worthy. He said the quarterback class "has a lot of holes and question marks."

* Ricky Stanzi, Iowa. Nawrocki said he thought that Stanzi had the best chance of getting overdrafted. He said that Stanzi, whom he rates as a second- to third-round prospect, needs to gain confidence.

* Andy Dalton, TCU. He called Dalton a "career backup." In his magazine review, Nawrocki writes that Dalton has "average athletic ability and foot quickness" and that his "accuracy wanes downfield."

* Colin Kaepernick, Nevada. Nawrocki said he thought it might not be until Year 3 that Kaepernick becomes a pro-style passer. "It's going to take him some time to adjust to the pro game," he said. However, he said Kaepernick's work ethic will win over teams. "Work, work, work - that's the thing GMs are really looking for."

* Christian Ponder, Florida State. Nawrocki called Ponder - who many see being taken in the first round - as a fourth-round talent and "an ideal backup." He cited Ponder's injury history at FSU. "You're never going to be pleased if he's the guy."

Nawrocki has Blaine Gabbert as his top-rated quarterback and said he thought Newton would end up being a Top 15 pick. He said there was some risk involved with Gabbert, who played almost exclusively out of the shotgun, especially if you needed to play him as a rookie. Nawrocki said he didn't like how Gabbert handled pressure.

"You see him crumble when guys get after him," he said. "You see him get rid of the ball very quickly." Still, he said that Gabbert's skill set projected well. "He's a guy you can feel good about in Year 2."

Pro Football Weekly's top-rated player? That's linebacker Von Miller, who Nawrocki said had the best first step of any pass rusher in the draft. "He looks like a rabbit out there moving back and forth," he said of Miller. He said he thought Miller would make a quick impact for the team that gets him. "Very smart, very sound, very well-rounded all around. ... I'd be surprised if he falls out of the Top 5."

The guy who asked about Miller on the conference call was Kent Somers, who covers the Cardinals for The Arizona Republic. Many draft prognosticators have the Cardinals taking a quarterback - Gabbert - with the fifth pick. However, coach Ken Whisenhunt seemed to echo Nawrocki's comments about the 2011 quarterback class on XTRA910 radio in Phoenix on Tuesday. Said Whisenhunt: (Thanks to ESPN's Mike Sando for the transcription)

"There is nobody that really stands out like Sam Bradford did last year. There are a lot of guys that are intriguing athletically like Blaine Gabbert, like Cam Newton, because of the skill set, some of the things they can do. But I don't think they have shown the ability to do some of the things that you have seen in the past by some of these guys like a Matt Ryan or, obviously, like a Sam Bradford.

"There is going to be some uncertainty in the overall comparisons or even in your preparations. The one thing you know is there are some good athletes there. It's going to come down to a grade we put on them and it's going to be interesting how they stack up not only to other players in this draft but to other players that you have had before that you have graded, other quarterbacks in the past.

As Sando points out, it's possible that Whisenhunt is creating a smokescreen and that he plans to nab Gabbert or Newton. Whisenhunt, however, doesn't seem like a guy that operates with a lot of guile.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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