Eric Galko remembers exactly where he was sitting at Radio City Music Hall when the Jacksonville Jaguars made Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert the No. 10 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
“I was about 100 feet away when [commissioner Roger] Goodell announced the pick,” Galko told SEC Country last week. “And as soon as the Jaguars drafted him, I knew it was over. And that’s how the NFL goes sometimes as a quarterback. You don’t pick your spot. The spot picks you. And if it’s a bad spot, no matter how talented you are, it’s not going to work out.”
By the time current Tigers quarterback Drew Lock hears his name called next spring, nearly a decade will have passed since Gabbert’s ill-fated NFL career began. Lock is the first legitimate pro passing prospect at Missouri since Gabbert, and some analysts — including Galko, who writes for Sporting News and Optimum Scouting — have him pegged as high as No. 4 overall next spring.
Those who have followed the program know that big-time quarterback prospects don’t show up in Columbia, Mo., often. Before Gabbert, it had been 33 years since a Tigers quarterback came off the board (Pete Bell in the fourth round of the 1978 draft), though quarterback-turned-wideout Brad Smith was a fourth-round pick in 2006.
Thus, comparisons between Lock and Gabbert — two strong-armed quarterbacks who excelled in quick-hitting, spread offenses — will be inevitable in the coming months.
Gabbert was touted as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, but the Carolina Panthers selected Auburn quarterback Cam Newton instead. His landing spot, Jacksonville, was less than ideal. With subpar talent and a rotating cast of coaches around him, Gabbert struggled to get comfortable in the pocket, and he recorded a 5-22 record with the Jaguars before being traded to San Francisco for a sixth-round pick in 2014. He is now a backup quarterback for the Tennessee Titans.
“It’s always unfair to compare a quarterback to a former bust,” Galko said. “The USC quarterbacks never have a chance because of Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley. The reality is that a lot of quarterbacks don’t work out in the NFL. A lot of quarterbacks don’t make it. So whether it’s Missouri, or whether you compare Drew Lock to [former Michigan State quarterback] Drew Stanton — who didn’t really work out in the NFL — there’s always a way to compare those guys.”
Drew Lock vs. Blaine Gabbert
Galko said he sees some basic differences between the two Missouri players.
“I think Lock and Gabbert were different,” Galko said. “Gabbert was great because I think he was a better athlete and he attacked the middle of the field better than Drew Lock does, whereas Lock is more of an outside-the-hash-marks guy. A guy who’s been tremendous in the red zone as a passer — which is one of his strengths, those isolated 1-on-1 situations — he really has great placement — but I think it’s true, a lot of quarterbacks at the college level right now, teams are focused more on building up the rhythm of the quarterback, these short, quicker passes, across college football.”
Lock threw an SEC-record 44 touchdown passes last season, but the majority of those tosses came against inferior competition. The schedule won’t be as forgiving in 2018; the Tigers’ forthcoming slate includes three consecutive games against top SEC teams: South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.
That trio could make or break Lock’s draft stock, at least in terms of his ability to climb into the Top 5. Galko said the 21-year-old needs to avoid “hot and cold” streaks while figuring out a new offense.
Thirty-two teams will be hoping he can make the jump that Gabbert couldn’t: transitioning from a relatively simple college system to the NFL’s rocket science.
“At the end of the day, it’s about how many good plays you’re gonna have as a quarterback, and how many bad plays you’re gonna have as a quarterback,” Galko said. “Blaine Gabbert wasn’t able to flip that switch in the NFL and get comfortable. I think Drew Lock hasn’t shown that quite yet at Missouri. He’ll get a chance to this year. We’ll see where he ends up in the NFL. These next 12 months will really decide.”