Pelissero: No consensus on Blaine Gabbert, but Vikings seem interested
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NEW ORLEANS -- Leslie Frazier says he doesn't want to fall in love too soon. He wants to keep an open mind about this year's quarterback class until all the pro days, private workouts and visits are complete next month.
But it was difficult to listen to Frazier's words at the NFL meetings this week without making mental triangulations about the Minnesota Vikings' interest in Missouri's Blaine Gabbert.
Connect the dots here:
• Frazier and vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman headed the Vikings contingent that attended Gabbert's campus workout last week, then spent the evening getting to know the quarterback over dinner. That's not unusual -- they'll spend extra time with roughly six to 10 quarterbacks before the NFL Draft begins on April 28 -- but it's evidence they're doing their due diligence.
• At the annual coaches' breakfast on Tuesday morning, Frazier said he couldn't envision a scenario in which the Vikings don't draft a quarterback and the "ideal situation" is to do it with one of their top two picks. They don't own a third-rounder and don't need another late-round developmental project, with Joe Webb already on the roster.
• Twice, without prompting, Frazier mentioned the possibility of trading up from No. 12 overall to take a quarterback -- strongly suggesting the Vikings have had internal conversations about making a run at Gabbert or the other passer regarded as a top-10 possibility, Auburn's Cam Newton.
• Asked what physical tools he considers most important in a quarterback, Frazier said "accuracy." That's a strength for Gabbert and one of the question marks on Newton and Washington's Jake Locker, who is projected to go anywhere from the middle of the first round to the second in large part because of his erratic arm.
• Frazier said his one-on-one time with the quarterback prospects is more important than the workouts themselves because "I have to have a good feel for that person. The quarterback position is unlike any other person on the team. That guy, his mental is as important as his athletic ability -- more important, in a lot of ways. Good athletes at quarterbacks don't always become franchise quarterbacks." That might as well be a quote about the concerns surrounding Newton.
• Speaking several times in terms of past mistakes other teams have made on first-round quarterbacks, Frazier cautioned against making too much of good workouts -- or making too little out of poor workouts, such as Newton's at last month's scouting combine. "You want to know, why does the tape say one thing and why does his pro day say something different?" Frazier said, speaking generally. "Was it the system that he ran in college? He was blindly consistent in that system, but the minute you throw something different at him, he struggled with it -- that's part of why you do pro days. You're trying to find out if he's just a system guy."
Like Newton, Gabbert comes from a shotgun-heavy spread offense that reduces the quarterback's reads, can hide some deficiencies and complicates the evaluation process for NFL scouts. That's part of the reason there is debate not only about whether Newton or Gabbert should be the first quarterback off the board, but whether either even would be top-10 material in another draft class.
"I'm held up on some of the things that Blaine Gabbert does, and a lot of his stuff is manufactured for him," said a college scout for an NFC team that doesn't need a quarterback.
"I'd rather have the guy that's the special athlete and can create on his own. Cam Newton, to me, is the better guy. But now again, I don't know that there is a clear-cut, number one, no-brainer in this whole class.
"Blaine does things well and has the apparent arm strength and somewhat above-average athleticism -- not quite to the level of Cam. A lot of (Gabbert's) stuff is timing and dictated by the pre-snap coverage. I don't really ever see him step back, climb up the pocket, do the things you're looking for a guy to do."
Gabbert's relatively pedestrian numbers -- he completed 61.2% of his passes for 6,822 yards with 40 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions over two seasons as a starter -- in such a wide-open system are another reason for pause. He looks the part at a solid 6-foot-4 and 234 pounds, but will his skills translate to a pro-style offense against far stiffer competition?
In the end, the Vikings' answer to that question might not matter. The Carolina Panthers say they're considering Gabbert at No. 1, and six other teams set to draft ahead of the Vikings -- Buffalo (third overall), Arizona (fifth), Cleveland (sixth), San Francisco (seventh), Tennessee (eighth) and Washington (10th) -- have an "A"-level priority need at the position.
Trading into the top 10 never comes cheap either. Then again, if Frazier is convinced Gabbert is the NFL's next star signal-caller, is any price really too high?
"You have to have a master plan to draft a player like that," an AFC personnel man said. "You really have to have a vision and complete plan of how that player is going to get integrated into a pro-style offense and finding a way to play to their strengths."
For now, due diligence continues. The Vikings reportedly have set up or conducted workouts with Newton, Locker and TCU's Andy Dalton. A visit with Arkansas' Ryan Mallett is expected at the team's "Top 30" dinner next month, and other second-tier prospects -- Florida State's Christian Ponder? Nevada's Colin Kaepernick? Iowa's Ricky Stanzi? -- could get an extra look in the month ahead as well.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, who was hired on the strength of his work with Matt Ryan in Atlanta, and respected quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson give players parts of the playbook to interpret and opportunities to break down their own game tape. The team is conducting extensive research into players' backgrounds and work habits as well, going so far as to contact a janitor to find out how a prospect treats those around him.
"It's some different factors that you try to get a feel for, but I think you always understand that it's not an exact science," Frazier said. "You see so many times at the quarterback position. where people think they've crossed the T's and dotted the I's and it still doesn't work out. There's only one way to approach it, and that's to be as thorough as you can, which we're trying to be, and hopefully, we'll find those intangibles that help make a quarterback great in our league."
Intangibles also are considered a strength for Gabbert, an academic all-conference pick whose leadership and character aren't in question.
Maybe Frazier is in love after all.