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April 29, 2011

Roundtable: NFL draft talk

MORE ROUNDTABLES: April 22 | April 8 | April 1

Rivals.com football recruiting analysts weigh in on topics in a roundtable format.

The quarterbacks produced the biggest surprises of the first round. What were your thoughts on those first-round QBs when they were in high school?

Barry Every: Cameron Newton was just a huge athlete with unlimited physical skills but did he have the leadership skills to become a great quarterback? Jake Locker was a tremendous all-around athlete with a strong arm, the quintessential DQB. Blaine Gabbert had great height, a strong arm and good leadership skills, and had a good week at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Christian Ponder played a high level of high school football and was very competent at every aspect of the game. Good at everything but not great at anything.

Mike Farrell: We were obviously high on all of them, but Newton and Gabbert stood out, which is why they were the five-stars of the group. Even out of high school it was easy to see that Newton's upside was amazing, his route to the No. 1 pick was just unexpected. Gabbert had all the tools, which is why he was the No. 1 pro-style QB in the 2008 class. Both were expected to project as first-round picks. Locker was also a very athletic, big and strong quarterback, and was in the five-star discussion a couple times but was behind Tim Tebow and some other good high school QBs that year. Ponder was the one with the most question marks, mainly about his arm strength, which is why he fell short of four stars.

Chris Nee: The only one I dealt with or paid close attention to out of the group was Christian Ponder. In dealing with Ponder and having an opportunity to learn about him, the words always thrown around about him was that he was a solid athlete with a good arm who made good decisions and competed every time out. A lot of good, no mention of great. I also remember that a lot of people believed that the future quarterback for the Seminoles in that class was D'Vontrey Richardson. Richardson never produced at quarterback, and is now in the minor leagues, while Ponder made great strides at Florida State under center and is now the top quarterback draft selection ever out of Florida State.

Brian Perroni: The only one I saw in person was Ponder. I said in an earlier roundtable that his college career surprised me a bit as I expected him to be a role player at Florida State. He is a very smart quarterback who has good touch on the ball and, unlike most people, I liked the pick at No. 12 in the draft. I did watch Newton at Blinn College a year ago and absolutely loved him. I didn't expect him to become a Heisman winner and the No. 1 overall pick but I definitely pushed for him to be a five-star prospect again.

What current high school player - 2011 class included - most reminds you of No. 1 pick Cam Newton?

Barry Every: Arizona State signee Michael Eubank from Corona (Calif.) Centennial. He is 6-foot-5, 230 pounds with a very strong arm and is an above-average athlete. Heck all the players down at the NUC All-World Gridiron Classic were calling him Baby Cam.

Mike Farrell: Tough question because a Cam Newton comes along only every few years. But to me, I think Jacoby Brissett has the same athletic upside. He's not as big as Newton was out of high school and he'll never get that big, especially if he plays basketball in college, but his athleticism and most of all his decision-making are similar. If Brissett would just focus on football year-round, he could be an amazing college player with NFL first-round potential. I like him a lot more than some others and think his ceiling is amazing.

Adam Gorney: Although he's about 30 pounds lighter at the same stage, Jameis Winston has a lot of the same on-field characteristics as Newton. He can run, escape tacklers and he can throw the ball well. Winston even seems to have a little better control of his passes at the same stage, which could be a big reason why so many SEC programs and other national powerhouses are recruiting the Hueytown, Ala., prospect. In many ways, Corona (Calif.) Centennial quarterback Michael Eubank resembles Newton in his style of play, but Eubank is still so raw that it's not fair to compare him to a national champion and the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.

Chris Nee: Florida signee Jacoby Brissett is a big, athletic quarterback who can beat you with his arm and his legs. That being said, I don't feel he is a carbon copy of Newton by any stretch.

Keith Niebuhr: Easy; none of them. Some can run. Some can throw. But there isn't anyone I've seen in this class (or any class for that matter) that can do both as well as Newton. Nobody out there has his size or overall athleticism either. While many are fine quarterbacks who will succeed at the next level and beyond, players with Newton's array of abilities simply don't come along very often.

Brian Perroni: I don't think there is anyone with his skillset but the most similar is probably Florida signee Jacoby Brissett. Also one of the top basketball recruits in the country, the U.S. Army All-American is a big kid that can tuck it and run when necessary. He is a little more of a pass-first guy than Newton, but both are tough to bring down in the open field.

Among the first-rounders chosen, which one would you have never believed possible of that feat after seeing him in high school?

Barry Every: Robert Quinn is one of the biggest surprises because it was thought he would never play football again. He had a serious head injury so his recovery and comeback should be made into a movie. James Carpenter is a bit of a surprise. He was a big, athletic lineman from a school in Georgia that doesn't produce a lot of D-I players. Then to add insult to injury he had to go the JUCO route, which is always a 50/50 proposition whether you'll even hear from a kid again.

Mike Farrell: Anthony Castonzo is the clear answer. He wasn't even a blip on the radar screen out of high school because of size. He was about 245 pounds or so and had a choice - play I-AA ball at best or go to Fork Union and prep a year to get bigger. Even out of FUMA he was still very light and only a few schools gave him a shot. Boston College did a great job developing him.

Adam Gorney: I'm still a little stunned that Robert Quinn is a mid-first round pick. He dealt with serious health issues and then missed this last season but Quinn obviously impressed the NFL scouts over the last few months. Quinn does not look the part of a first-round draft pick but he really brings it when he's on the field and it's been proven NFL teams will overlook certain issues if they're getting a real player. Quinn is one of those.

Chris Nee: I only had the opportunity to see about a half-dozen of the first-rounders in person as high school players, and the one out of that bunch that I would have said it was least likely to occur for would be Mike Pouncey. Pouncey was a good offensive lineman when he signed with the Gators back in 2007, but I never thought he'd end up being a first-round selection at that point. He did a very good job developing during his time in Gainesville and proved his worth as an interior lineman.

Brian Perroni: Von Miller had all the intangibles but, coming out of DeSoto (Texas) and in his first few years at Texas A&M, he really hadn't put it all together. He let himself get distracted and, to be honest, I could have seen him leaving the team early in his career. He really put it all together prior to his junior season and matured as both a player and a person. As near as two years ago I would have laughed had someone told me he would be the No. 2 overall pick.

Which first-round selection should current high school football prospects try to emulate and for what reasons?

Barry Every: I would not single out any one guy to emulate, but find the common theme among the members drafted in the first round. You'll find one common theme that none of them rested on their laurels coming out of high school and continued to work their butts off in college to be the best.

Mike Farrell: I'd say Adrian Clayborn because of what he has overcome. Born with Erb's Palsy and having to go through physical therapy much of his youth, no one would have projected him to be a football star as a youngster much less a first-rounder. Add in the fact that his older brother was murdered when he was 10 and Clayborn had to overcome a lot more than most and always simply worked hard to get better.

Adam Gorney: I was really impressed watching Gabbert during the Elite 11 workouts in Southern California last year. Not only did he carry himself well but he tutored the young high school quarterbacks and gave them multiple pointers on how to tweak their game. Gabbert doesn't have a lot of flash or dazzle but that's maybe what will make him a quality quarterback in the NFL, where production matters more than pomp and circumstance.

Chris Nee: I am going to go with defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson. He is just an example of hard work paying off. He had to go to Hargrave after high school and then made it to Temple. At Temple, he worked extremely hard throughout his career and grew a great deal as a player. He never stopped trying to get better and that effort, combined with great physical attributes, resulted in him being a first-round selection.

Keith Niebuhr: I'll go with former Washington quarterback Jake Locker. He could have left school a year ago and been a first-rounder. But he chose to stick it out and finish what he started with the Huskies. Let's face it, it would have been very easy for Locker to bail on the program, which had been lousy early in his career. But he didn't. His numbers weren't always pretty. And he didn't win any championships. But I always felt like Locker did a great job considering he didn't have a whole lot around him. He often took a beating, but time and again he proved to be one of the toughest guys when he stepped on the field. If I were a player, he's a guy I'd want in my huddle.

Brian Perroni: I have seen references to the fact that Von Miller is as "clean" a player as the NFL execs came across, meaning he didn't have any off-the-field issues to worry about. Prospects can learn from what he went through his first two years in college and try to become what he made himself into. He adjusted well to a new defensive alignment and played linebacker, a position he was averse to playing coming out of high school, and he flourished.



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