There were many scouts and even a few NFL General Managers in attendance on December 28th, 2010 for the 2010 edition of the Insight Bowl. One of, if not the, main attractions was QB Blaine Gabbert of the Missouri Tigers. He was obviously one of the top priorities for Jacksonville Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith. Gene flew out to that game and just a few months later, he traded the 16th overall pick and a mid 2nd round pick to the Washington Redskins in order to move up to pick 10 and select Gabbert, who he also considered to be the very best player in this entire draft. Today, I'm going to give my own analysis into that game and relay exactly the type of things Gene saw that day and exactly what we could see from Gabbert in the future.
To begin this discussion, let me get this little bit out of the way: I absolutely hate the offensive system that was ran with Blaine Gabbert. The vast majority of the plays seem to consist of a mix of short routes. Almost like modified versions of the play "sticks" in Madden and NCAA Football. A ton of hitches, curls, comebacks, out routes, banana hitches, etc. Admittedly, a big part of why they run this scheme is due to the lack of speed within the receiving corps at Missouri. TJ Moe, Jerrell Jackson, and Wes Kemp all appear to be overall good receiving targets, but none have the speed to keep separation downfield. They have good acceleration, hands, and route running. As we know, Gabbert is often criticized for the lack of deep pass attempts and the lack of success. Some of that is probably legitimately his fault. There are deep throws he misses when he does throw deep. How much that has to do with not being used to throwing deep and/or his receivers simply not being fast enough may remain unseen, but to say he does not possess the ability to throw deep is ridiculous. One of the biggest parts of his development though will be making sure he has good touch on the deep throw here in Jacksonville.
All that said, even in a system still perhaps applied to the strengths of the QB that came before him, he still played phenomenal in this game. This game was most likely the best performance he ever had in college. He was able to make quick, accurate reads and throws and his ball placement in many instances was near perfect. Many times, he placed it where only his guy could catch it. He had two interceptions --- one was a drop/tip and the other was one of the dumbest decisions I have ever seen and probably the only terrible part of his gameplay that night. Still, late in the game, they had a chance to win it. On 4th down, Gabbert threw what looked to be a huge completion, but upon review, Moe had not had possession of the football. However, the placement of the ball is what truly impressed me. It was down and away and it was exactly where it needed to be for Moe to catch it; he just couldn't handle it. Additionally, as aforementioned, Missouri loves the out route and I was thoroughly impressed with how Gabbert threw it. Quick out, intermediate out, deep out: it didn't matter. His placement and timing on them was near perfect. David Garrard says his bread and butter is the slant route; Gabbert's looks like it will be the out route.
As impressive as his performance was, there were still things that can be nitpicked along with the aforementioned terrible decision he made. Though he was playing against one of the better defenses in the nation in the Iowa Hawkeyes defemse, the match-up in general favored Missouri. They run a spread and pass a vast majority of the time and a lot of their passes involve 4-5 receivers. The Hawkeyes, however, decided to stick to their basic Cover Two and instead of throwing in extra defensivebacks most plays, they stuck with their base formation and there were, many times, linebackers covering receivers. Although the impact of that may not be as huge with such an effective defense as the Hawkeyes and with an offensive system designed such as Missouri's, it is still a clear advantage for Missouri and it would be naive to believe that Gabbert wasn't helped out at least a little by that.
I can see what Gene Smith saw that day and probably each time he looked at film of Blaine Gabbert though. Here is a guy who was able to still perform well in a system that honestly was not tailored to his strengths. Here is a guy who works his tail off and is extremely intelligent. Aside from the extremely bad decision that pretty much cost them the game, his decision making was good all day; he also scored a 42 on the Wonderlic. Even though he played in a spread, he still worked on playing from under center in his free time. Here is a guy who has displayed a quick release and the ability to make all the throws necessary of a top NFL QB. The sky is honestly the limit for Blaine Gabbert. Though he could easily bust and fade away, all signs are pointing to him having a bright future in the NFL and a small basic glimpse of what is to come very well may have been on display in the Insight Bowl. Aside from the issues I mentioned, he was dominant that day. As with this team in general, the arrow for Blaine Gabbert is pointing up --- way up.