Casserly rates Gabbert over Sanchez

With the draft quickly closing in, NFL Network analysts Michael Lombardi and Charley Casserly fielded a variety of questions Wednesday during a conference call with reporters from around the country.

Here are some of the highlights:

Newton vs. Gabbert, or Sanchez vs. Gabbert?

  • When it comes to Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert, there might be a debate as to which quarterback you would rather have in this draft. However, putting that argument aside, Casserly compared Gabbert to some recent signal-callers who have been drafted in the top five. While Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford and Sam Bradford earned higher grades from the former NFL general manager when they came out of college, Casserly has Gabbert ahead of where Mark Sanchez was when he came out in 2009.

    Casserly said Gabbert merits being taken in the top five because of his physical skills, arm strength and athletic ability. However, Casserly admitted that Gabbert will need to make a transition from running the spread offense at Missouri to a pro-style attack, but initially protecting him with the running game could help.

Shanahan’s next QB project?

  • Several teams are in search of quarterback help in this draft. After Newton and Gabbert, the consensus top picks at the position, are off the board, Lombardi discussed Jake Locker making sense for the Redskins due to the athleticism coach Mike Shanahan likes from a QB. However, Lombardi added taking him at 10 doesn’t work and Washington lacks a second-round pick.

Hoping for a signal-caller in Seattle

  • Lombardi also touched on Seattle’s quarterback dilemma. If the Seahawks were able to land Ryan Mallett at 25, they would think he solves their QB issues. That’s an area of concern with the team unable to get a new deal worked out with Matt Hasselbeck before the lockout. Seattle is in a bit of tough spot coming off a 7-9 campaign, but picking toward the bottom of the first round. Still, Mallett’s background of running a pro-style offense at Arkansas would fit what Pete Carroll wants to do, according to Lombardi, and the Seahawks don’t think the off-field problems are as bad as other teams do.

Shutdown corner or premiere pass rusher?

  • Casserly tackled this question, saying teams should take the pass rusher. He felt that type of player gives a team more of a chance to impact the game. With a corner, you can protect him with coverage. You can’t manufacture a pass rush with a player. You have to blitz, which opens up a defense to surrendering big plays.

Tackling the tackles

  • Multiple projections have at least four offensive tackles drafted in the first round, but Casserly said the group is so close that the fourth prospect taken might be as good as the first one a few years down the road.

Some teams will have advantage in draft

  • With free agency an uncertainty until the CBA is sorted out, Casserly said this draft gives a clear edge to the teams with the fewest free agents. If an organization knows it will only have a few players potentially leaving on the open market, it gives it the freedom to take the best player available, which ultimately improves the chances of having a successful draft.

Be sure to stay tuned to for the latest draft coverage, and check out Path to the Draft on NFL Network today at 6 p.m. ET.

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