TAMPA — When it comes to errors in judgment involving quarterback prospects, the 2011 draft serves as a powerful poster child for early first-round reaches.
Cam Newton proved to be the smart No. 1 overall choice by Carolina, but the Jaguars, Titans and Vikings were all unable to resist the quarterback lure. Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker and Christian Ponder were taken off the board between the eighth and 12th picks — and all three clubs are right back in the quarterback market in 2014.
This year's crop is also dusted with danger because there are no sure-fire prospects such as Andrew Luck or Newton available for the large contingent of quarterback-starved clubs.
The Bucs, who thought they landed a franchise quarterback by selecting Josh Freeman in the first round in 2009, are expected to choose an eventual successor to veteran Josh McCown before the draft ends Saturday.
Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater are among the top-rated quarterback prospects, but some draft analysts contend that a second tier of prospects that includes Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger and AJ McCarron represents better value.
“Somebody in that group can play,'' former Packers and Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren told Sports Illustrated. “I feel sure of that. You list them, you evaluate them, you discuss them as a scouting and coaching group and you pick one. Once he's with you, you never, ever let anyone believe he's not the right guy, not the quarterback of the future.''
Some quarterbacks of the recent past loom as big-time gaffes.
Gabbert has moved on to the 49ers as a backup and here are the Jaguars, stilll looking for a face of the franchise as they approach the No. 3 pick on Thursday night.
The Vikings just declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Ponder's rookie contract. With the No. 8 choice, Minnesota is expected to strongly consider Manziel or Bortles.
Locker still has a chance to salvage a career in Tennessee marked by injury and inconsistency, but no one would be surprised if new Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt opens his tenure by drafting a quarterback at No. 11.
“None of these guys, you sit there and go, it's a slam dunk, this is an easy one,'' NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “The more tape I watch, the more questions I have.''
The uncertainty surrounding this quarterback pool is causing ripples.
The early first round would be shaped one way if the Texans, Jaguars, Browns and Vikings all selected quarterbacks. But there's also a decent chance each of those four teams will wait until Round 2 or later to land the right man.
Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton, both selected in the second round of that eventful 2011 draft, have been successful as young quarterbacks. A pair of third-round choices in 2012, Seattle's Russell Wilson and Philadelphia's Nick Foles, are nearing elite status.
“I think the 2011 draft kind of scared teams, saying, 'Let's stay true to our board. While we need a quarterback, let's not force it,' ” said Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network. “I think there's a theory that's going around — 'Let's build up our roster with as many talented players as we can, then we can insert the quarterback at that point in time.' ”
That might be a sound philosophy in principle, but the harsh reality is that quarterback-needy franchises face immense pressure to address the position when they are on the clock.
“If you don't take one and you need one early in the draft, there's no guarantee you're getting who you want later,'' former Bucs coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said. “There's no guarantee a Kaepernick or a Dalton is going to be there in the second round. If you need a quarterback and you have a quarterback coach and quarterback system in place, get the process started ... start developing him.''
Tampa Bay's new regime has debated the merits of this quarterback class for weeks, if not months. With the seventh pick, the Bucs could find themselves with the full array of quarterback prospects to choose from. Will they pass on the passers?
“There's a high bust rate up there, especially where we're picking, so you want somebody that can handle the expectations that are placed on them from us, from (media) and from our fans,'' new GM Jason Licht said. “He's got to be a mentally strong player, in addition to being a great player.''