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The 2011 NFL Draft is now in the books, and some players even managed to grab a playbook during that short window of time when the lockout was lifted. Despite the situation I love the NFL, and I LOVE the draft. I enjoy player transactions and watching what goes into building a winning team. Since there’s not much to look forward to between the draft and the preseason, now’s the time to enjoy evaluating how teams fared in the draft. More importantly for collectors, it’s time to evaluate the top rookies from the 2011 draft class.
Which players will find immediate success and be the guys everyone wants to collect over the next year? Which players have the potential to become legends and the centerpieces of your collection like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady? The Upper Deck Blog will be featuring a four-part series on the 2011 rookies to collect, starting with quarterbacks. Below are the players whose cards you will want to get your hands on, and each features a rating from one to five stars on their potential to make you very happy with your gridiron investment. And the best part is, they are all included in 2011 Upper Deck Football:
CAM NEWTON, PANTHERS (Auburn): So much is riding on his shoulders. Ron Rivera’s career in Carolina may depend on how Newton does, and there are many concerns about Newton that he will need to use his impressive physical abilities to disprove. This is what made him such a risky No. 1 pick, and a risky one to collect. It will be feast or famine with Newton and he will either go on to do amazing things and be a great QB, or he will become the second coming of JaMarcus Russell. A few years from now a Cam Newton collection will either look amazing or you’ll be regretting you ever spent a dime collecting his cards. Either could happen so the decision to collect is really up in the air. Newton is a gambler’s kind of collecting option. Career Potential: 4/5; Hobby Potential: 3/5
JAKE LOCKER, TITANS (Washington): One of the biggest surprises of the draft came when Commissioner Goodell called Locker’s name at #8 with Blaine Gabbert still on the board. Turns out Locker’s decision to pass up a chance at the No. 1 pick last year and return to school didn’t hurt him as much as people thought it would. The Titans clearly like Locker a lot, and they have paved a path for him to their starting QB job. Locker has the tools to be an NFL quarterback, and he will have less pressure on him that he would have had as a No. 1 overall pick. He also gets the dynamic Chris Johnson to occupy defenses. Also, Locker probably won’t have to step in right away and produce as the Titans are a talented group that doesn’t have an overwhelming sense of urgency forcing them to start Locker before he’s ready. Cleveland’s Colt McCoy is an excellent comparison: a talented college QB who will stay under the radar as other quarterbacks from his draft class start sooner, but then takes the ball and quietly becomes one of the better quarterbacks in his class. Whether it’s midseason this year or a year or two down the road, I like Locker to stay in the background while Cam Newton and others take the spotlight initially only to have Locker emerge as a quality NFL QB. This is a great reason to collect him because long term he should do will in Tennessee, but not playing early should help him stay under the radar so you can stock up on his cards before he breaks out. Career Potential: 4/5; Hobby Potential: 4/5
BLAINE GABBERT, JAGUARS (Missouri): The Jaguars were probably quite happy to see Gabbert still available to them considering at one time he was considered the surefire No. 1 overall pick in this draft. Incumbent David Garrard’s fall continues with a pick like this one. Still, Garrard won’t go down without a fight. Gabbert is the highest-drafted QB this year to have a legitimately tough road to a starting job. This is very much a Matt Leinart/Kurt Warner situation where this could light a fire under Garrard and turn him and the team around while never giving Gabbert a real shot at the job. On the other hand Gabbert could go the route of Locker and show everyone why there was a time he was a potential No. 1 overall pick. Odds are his wait will be longer than other rookie QBs because of a stronger veteran presence, but that could help his hobby potential. If there ever was a QB candidate whose success will be further down the road versus immediately, this could be the guy. He will get his chance eventually, and he may go all Aaron Rodgers on the league for all we know. If that happens and you collected him while he was still sitting lower on the depth chart, you will be quite happy with your investment. Career Potential: 4/5; Hobby Potential: 3/5
CHRISTIAN PONDER, VIKINGS (Florida State): Ponder seemed very much to be a love or hate kind of quarterback. Like Tebow last year, there were teams that didn’t like Ponder but it only takes one or two teams falling in love to get a shot at glory. The Vikings grabbed Ponder after they saw three quarterbacks come off the board and while they probably really liked him, it seems there was some panic in their move. Brett Favre is apparently done (finally), and they just don’t trust Tavaris Jackson or Joe Webb enough so they felt the need to use a high draft pick on a QB. This is a good and bad thing for Ponder. On the one hand he joins a team stacked with talent including an elite running back (Adrian Peterson) to relieve QB pressure and one of the best receiving groups any rookie QB from this year will have with guys like Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe. On the other hand he is one of the only first-round quarterbacks with young and legitimate talent around him. While guys like Locker and Gabbert may have to sit for a bit, there is a potential nightmare scenario for Ponder where Jackson or Webb finally develop into long-term solutions at QB and Ponder never gets a chance to start anytime soon. With Jackson and Webb being so young Ponder would be stuck on the bench longer than the other rookie quarterbacks if they lost their quarterback battles. Add in the questions surrounding him and it’s a scary situation that has a lot of bust potential, possibly more than compared to any of the other first-round quarterbacks including Newton. I personally would stay away from collecting Ponder as he is commanding the value of a guy who is sure to be the man in Minnesota when that just isn’t much of a sure thing between competition, questions about his talent, and the immense pressure he will be under to keep the momentum of the team going post- Favre. Career Potential: 3/5; Hobby Potential: 2/5
ANDY DALTON, BENGALS (TCU): The small-school boy who everyone started to love more and more didn’t last long after Day 2 of the draft began, and most likely a few teams came very close to calling his name on Day 1. Arguably the biggest riser of any quarterback in the draft, teams liked Dalton more and more as he emerged onto the scene after very quietly leading an excellent Texas Christian team. Dalton is a very developed QB and has major upside to be not just a good starting quarterback but a legitimate Pro Bowl player. Combine that with what should be a young ad dangerous receiving squad featuring upstarts like Jordan Shipley, Jermaine Gresham, and fellow 2011 first-rounder A.J. Green, and you have a good support group for Dalton. Also assuming Chad Ochocinco doesn’t hurt himself playing soccer, Dalton will also have an established elite receiver to show him the ropes. Still, there are questions; one big one is named Carson Palmer. Sure everyone thinks this pick means he’s done in Cincy, but what happens if he does take the field? At his best Carson Palmer is elite and much tougher competition than any of the higher drafted quarterbacks will face. Plus, even if Dalton does take the job it took a long time for Palmer to become a team leader and be able to get in step with egos like Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. Can the soft-spoken Dalton handle guys like Ochocinco demanding the ball in the huddle and in the media? This is a situation that looks great on paper but has questions. Dalton and the Bengals will need to handle the whole situation correctly and if they do, it could have great results. Dalton should get his shot at some point, and at worst he should be a decent starter. Considering there are much worse outcomes than that, he’s not a bad guy to collect. Career Potential: 4/5; Hobby Potential: 4/5
COLIN KAEPERNICK, 49ERS (Nevada): No doubt many teams were ready to pounce on Kaepernick as soon as Dalton went, and with Dalton going very early on Day 2 it was the 49ers who stepped up to make an aggressive move to get the last highly rated QB remaining. Apparently the 49ers’ organization has finally accepted that Alex Smith will not be the answer and has decided to let Jim Harbaugh mold his own pupil. That’s not a bad move considering Harbaugh is a very good coach (and former NFL signal-caller) who knows quarterbacks. He coached Andrew Luck to elite status and even at the small University of San Diego he produced Josh Johnson, the first player from that school drafted into the NFL. Kaepernick is the only highly drafted QB this year that will have to come from a small school setting to the NFL, and Harbaugh should be a good mentor for this process. Kaepernick is also another QB lucky enough to come into a very strong offense as the 49ers have been drafting weapons to help Alex Smith that Kaepernick will inherit. Guys like Vernon Davis, Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree are young and dangerous and thanks to Alex Smith have learned to adapt to playing with a less than stellar quarterback. Assuming Kaepernick wins the job he will likely have a long leash and plenty of help to learn the system and hone his skills. While that didn’t work for Alex Smith, the concept is sound, and maybe Kaepernick can find success that way. Since so many QBs went before him he’s a little under the radar, at least as much as someone who is fully expected to take a starting job right away can be. It’s a good situation, however, and it won’t be too tough to collect him. There is less certainty he will be successful versus some other quarterbacks drafted ahead of him, but he’s not a bad option on which to gamble. Career Potential: 4/5; Hobby Potential: 3/5
RYAN MALLETT, PATRIOTS (Arkansas): Bill Belichick does his own thing, period. He’s not admitting Tom Brady is anywhere near finished or that Mallett is a good replacement. He simply saw a good talent that fell due to character questions and figured he’d give the guy a shot. At worst he wasted a pick on a position where he already has elite talent and at best he drafted the heir apparent to a Hall of Fame quarterback. Nobody can deny Mallett’s talent so if character issues are his major flaw, New England may be the perfect landing spot. Imagine how Belichick, Brady, and that entire workhorse of a team will react the first time Mallett acts up. He will have to check the attitude and focus on football very quickly. The only concern is how long Mallett will have to wait because Brady isn’t close to being done. He’s not really even approaching that stage yet. This makes Mallett a risk because while he’ll have ample time to develop he’ll be sitting in a dangerous area where he might be a career backup. On the other hand we have seen quarterbacks do very well biding their time as a backup. Guys like Matt Schaub and even Matt Cassell for the same team as Mallett are good comparisons. If that’s what happens then Mallett could be hobby gold with a long period where you can stock up on his cards for cheap waiting for him to either take over in New England or build up enough buzz to get a shot somewhere else. If you’re willing to wait for Mallett he’s a great option to collect. Career Potential: 3/5; Hobby Potential: 4/5
Be sure to stay tuned for upcoming installments of our draft analysis featuring running backs, wide receivers, and defense!