COLUMBIA — Last Tuesday night, Blaine Gabbert put on his black and gold No. 11 game jersey for the final time.
The junior quarterback, coming off a 27-24 loss to Iowa in the Insight Bowl, announced Monday that he will enter the 2011 NFL draft, which will take place on April 28. The decision put the speculation about Gabbert’s return to Missouri to rest, but many questions remain for the junior quarterback. How high will he be picked? What quarterbacks, if any, will go before him? Which teams are interested?
The Missouri football team has had three first-round picks the past two years, with linebacker Sean Weatherspoon taken with the 19th pick by the Falcons last year, and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin taken by the Eagles and defensive tackle Ziggy Hood taken by the Steelers in 2009.
Three other Missouri players, defensive ends Aldon Smith and Jacquies Smith, and tight end Michael Egnew, have been evaluated by the NFL to help decide whether to declare.
Gabbert, who dodged questions for most of the season about his return to Missouri in 2011, announced in a media release that entering the NFL draft was the best decision for him and his family. He has not yet announced whether he has hired an agent. Once he does, he cannot change his mind and return to NCAA competition.
“These last three years have been an unbelievable experience for me, and I’ll miss being at Mizzou, but I’m definitely looking forward to this next stage of my life,” Gabbert said in the release. “I’m so grateful to have been part of such a great program and all of the people who have helped me get to this point, and now I have to take what I’ve learned and build on that for the next level.”
From the moment he first fielded questions about Gabbert’s draft status, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said he would counsel a player to leave if he were told he would be a first-round draft pick. Pinkel likened his mentoring of players like Gabbert to advising his own son.
“We’re very proud of Blaine and how hard he’s worked to put himself in position for this opportunity,” Pinkel said in the release. “He’s been an outstanding leader for our team. It’s been a privilege to coach him and have him as part of our program.”
Questions remain about why Gabbert chose Monday to announce his decision. Although there’s no clear answer about the timing, ESPN’s Todd McShay released new mock draft rankings on Monday that listed Gabbert as the No. 5 pick in the draft behind Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson and Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers. According to Scouts Inc.’s rankings, Gabbert is the No. 20 overall pick and is the second quarterback pick behind projected No. 1 pick Luck.
Analysts have speculated that Gabbert’s decision to enter the draft would hinge upon Luck. If Luck, a redshirt sophomore, were to decide to remain at Stanford, Gabbert would be the No. 1 quarterback pick. Although Luck, who plays Monday night against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, has not announced his decision, Gabbert’s announcement suggests that Luck might remain at Stanford for another year.
If Luck were to enter the draft and McShay’s prediction were to come true, Gabbert would go to the Arizona Cardinals, who have the fifth pick in the draft. If he were to be the 20th overall pick, Gabbert would go to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. McShay’s prediction seems to make more sense, as the Cardinals are in need of a solid starting quarterback, and the Buccaneers are satisfied with their second-year quarterback Josh Freeman.
Gabbert, a two-year starter for the Tigers, leaves behind an impressive legacy. He finished the 2010 season with 3,186 total yards and a quarterback ranking of 127.03. He led his team to a 10-3 record. Despite the Tigers’ loss to Iowa in the Insight Bowl, he finished the season on an impressive note, completing 41 passes on 57 attempts for 434 yards in the game.
With Gabbert gone for 2011, the Tigers have several candidates for their starting quarterback. Freshman James Franklin served as Gabbert’s backup in 2010 and played in nine of the team’s 13 games. Redshirt freshman Ashton Glaser was listed at third on the depth chart in 2010, but the biggest challenge to Franklin’s starting job will probably come from Blaine Gabbert's younger brother Tyler Gabbert, who redshirted in 2010.