Gabbert's successor not necessarily a given

January, 3, 2011
1/03/11
5:08
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Blaine Gabbert made the right decision by declaring for the NFL draft. ESPN's Scouts, Inc. has Gabbert as the No. 20 overall prospect in April's draft, and Gabbert received a first-round grade from the NFL draft advisory committee after he submitted his paperwork.

For every Jake Locker and Jevan Snead, there's a Sam Bradford: There's nothing wrong with sticking around another year if you're projected as a first-rounder, and the risk of injury is somewhat overrated.

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
Scott Rovak/US PresswireBlaine Gabbert is leaving Missouri to enter the NFL draft.
Gabbert is a bit different. In Missouri's spread offense, he wouldn't have been much further along as an NFL prospect this time next year, and his size (6-foot-5, 240 pounds) and arm strength (ridiculous) are exactly what NFL teams want in a prospective future starter. His capability to make NFL reads and develop footwork on dropbacks wouldn't have been much further along, and for a guy with a promising future looming like Gabbert, he might as well get a head start. Now was the time.

The lack of an elite receiver like Jeremy Maclin or Danario Alexander kept Gabbert from posting jaw-dropping numbers in 2010, but he played well and notched Missouri's fourth 10-win season in school history. To Gabbert's credit, he didn't force very many plays this year, and did what he needed to do for Missouri to win games. Missouri notched 10 wins because of it.

Gabbert is a competitive guy, and he'd surely like to achieve more than he did -- he never played in a Big 12 Championship or won a bowl game -- but he still had a great career and will go down as one of the best quarterbacks in Tigers history. He'll lack the legacy of Heisman finalist and three-year starter Chase Daniel, but don't be surprised if Gabbert is better in the NFL than in college. He's an Academic All-Big 12 performer and a smart, coachable player who made clear strides for all three of his seasons at Missouri. I'd expect that to continue in the NFL.

For the Tigers, things get a bit complicated.

The knee-jerk reaction for some will write off Missouri as a Big 12 contender in 2011, but that's not necessarily what should happen. It'll be tough for Missouri to win, but they bring back plenty of talent, especially on defense and in a more experienced receiving corps with a stable of young running backs who all got experience this year. Talk about replacing starters all you'd like, but Oklahoma State lost a "franchise" quarterback in Zac Robinson and played a first-year quarterback in Brandon Weeden who had not made a start in nine years. His last start was in high school. That worked out pretty well for them. I'd say 11 wins is a pretty good season.

Replacing Gabbert will be crucial for Missouri not just in 2011, but in retaining its stability as a winner in the Big 12. Tommy Tuberville said it last week at the TicketCity Bowl: In the SEC, you win with running backs and defense. In the Big 12, you win with quarterbacks. That's exactly how Missouri has done it.

In the last four years, Oklahoma is the only team with more Big 12 wins than Missouri.

Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Chase Daniel, Zac Robinson, Graham Harrell, Todd Reesing -- the bar has been set high in this league, even in just the most recent few years.

And for Missouri, any hope they have of being a legitimate Big 12 contender hinges on the guy who steps in for Gabbert. And unlike Daniel and Gabbert were, choosing the next starting quarterback won't be a formality this spring.

James Franklin played more than any of Missouri's other young quarterbacks, but he was used mostly as a runner. He was a miniature version of Brad Smith, at the risk of Missourian heresy.

He has the arm strength, but his decision making ability is a question mark. His coaches probably have only a bit more information from what they've seen in practices. That's what Missouri has to figure out when spring practice kicks off in a couple months.

The true freshman threw all of 14 passes in 2010. That's not much of a sample size.

I'd expect a fierce competition between Franklin and Gabbert's younger brother, freshman Tyler Gabbert, as well as redshirt freshman Ashton Glaser.

Franklin's experience, however limited, gives him the edge. And the Tigers have a few proven playmakers in receiver T.J. Moe, tight end Michael Egnew and receivers Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson.

Franklin's legs produced a valuable change of pace, especially in the red zone. He ran 23 times for 116 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

But those legs won't win him the job in 2011. He has to prove it as a passer. Maybe he's Missouri's most accurate passer. Maybe it's the younger Gabbert or Glaser.

We'll find out soon. It should be an interesting spring in Columbia.

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