As we were prepping for another season of NFL football (which starts Thursday with Broncos-Panthers), we stumbled across a curious article of ours from April of 2011, in which we asked former Washington Redskins All-Pro quarterback Joe Theismann to give us six college players he would have serious reservations about drafting.
With five years of hindsight–and five years of experience now under the belts of these guys–it’s safe to say that Theismann did very well in the prognostications game. He basically went 5 for 6, with his only miss being on a certain Carolina Panther. Read on to see what Theismann said about these players back in 2011, along with an update on each guy. Pretty impressive, Joe. Pretty impressive.
1. Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Athletically, Newton is off the charts. Everybody knows that. But he’s got work to do throwing the ball, combined with inexperience (he played only one year at Auburn) and the difficulty of enduring an entire NFL season as a combination runner and passer. “If you’re basically a runner, you’re going to be exposed to a lot more hits,” explains Theismann, who’s also concerned about Newton’s size. “You know, Cam’s 6’6”, 250. The thing that scares me is, do you become like JaMarcus Russell and get too big?”
Bust He Most Resembles: Vince Young (3rd pick, 2006)
2016 Update: OK, Theismann whiffed on Cam. The Panthers quarterback is a three-time Pro-Bowler and was voted league MVP last season. He also led Carolina to a Super Bowl.
2. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Theismann likes the strong-armed Gabbert, but others question his pocket awareness and ability to make plays on third down (which is sort of a key down). And even Theismann concedes that in the wrong environment (read: Jacksonville), any QB could be doomed: “The biggest danger that a young quarterback gets himself into is a football team that needs a whole lot more than just you to be competitive. While the Detroit Lions were trying to fit in pieces around Joey Harrington, he got the ever-loving crap beaten out of him.”
Bust He Most Resembles: Alex Smith (1st pick, 2005… and we know, we know, Smith isn’t exactly a bust, but he’s certainly been a disappointment for a guy picked No. 1 overall.)
2016 Update: After flaming out in Jacksonville, Gabbert became a backup in San Francisco. He was named the Niners’ starting quarterback for 2016, but we’ll believe he has the stuff to be a solid NFL quarterback when we see it. After all, he’s from the Show-Me State. He needs to prove it.
3. Jon Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
Many project Baldwin as a late first-rounder. Yeah, the guy is big (6’4”, 228), sort of fast and capable of the big play, but… he had five touchdowns in 13 games last year. “A little bit inconsistent,” observes Theismann. “Good-size guy, but it’s more than just size. The whole thing about that position is consistency. The one thing that you have to be is consistent when it comes to catching the football. It’s one thing to make great catches. It’s another thing to be consistent making catches.”
Bust He Most Resembles: Charles Rogers (2nd pick, 2003)
2016 Update: After a couple of nonproductive years with the Chiefs and one with San Francisco, Baldwin was waived. He is now out of the league. Total career receiving touchdowns: 2.
4. Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada
Some pundits are touting this guy as a legitimate first-rounder. But if you ask us, Kaepernick’s victory over Boise State last fall is going to be the highlight of his football career. He’s got good speed and he’s rangy as hell, but the NFL isn’t a who’s-got-the-longest-stride contest. “I’ve watched a lot of Nevada football this year,” says Theismann. “And I just wasn’t necessarily really impressed with the way he threw the football.”
Bust He Most Resembles: Akili Smith (3rd pick, 1999)
2016 Update: Kaepernick has shown flashes of greatness during his five years in San Francisco (he threw for 302 yards in a Super Bowl), but he’s had his share of struggles and turmoil as well. After a horrible 2015 campaign, he is now the backup to Gabbert. On the positive side, he currently owns the most popular jersey in the NFL after refusing to stand during the national anthem in protest of police brutality against Americans of color.
5. John Clay, RB, Wisconsin
John Clay is a big dude—6’1”, 248 pounds—and he was a beast for the Badgers, running for more than 1,000 yards last year and 3,400 yards in his three-year career (how many of those were acquired while running up the score for Coach Bret Bielema, we can’t say). The only problem is, heavies out of Wisconsin aren’t always such a safe bet. “He’s a big pounder, which doesn’t always translate to the NFL,” notes Theismann. “He reminds you of Ron Dayne. Now there was sort of a semi-bust situation.”
Bust He Most Resembles: Ron Dayne (11th pick, 2000)
2016 Update: Clay skipped his senior season at Wisconsin to enter the NFL Draft, but he then went undrafted. Whoops. He scored one rushing touchdown for the Steelers and now he’s out of the league.
6. Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
There are so many questions, rumors and innuendos surrounding Mallett, he’s like a man of mystery in some Hollywood thriller. Or some Hollywood comedy. At any rate, some movie where one character is like: “There is one thing you should know about Ryan… but I can’t tell you. I’ll just say this: it’s not good.” There are alcohol questions, character questions, and he’s super tall (6’7”), which limits his mobility. “Ryan, he scares me a little bit,” says Theismann. “He doesn’t really look that accurate once he starts to move. He’s a little bit like a Derek Anderson.” Who’s not exactly the most composed cat.
Bust He Most Resembles: Derek Anderson (213th pick, 2005.)
2016 Update: After being drafted by the Patriots and backing up Tom Brady for a few years, Mallett is now on his third team, the Ravens. He has thrown a grand total of seven touchdowns (and nine interceptions) in his NFL career. He also looked like a rather large screwup on the 2015 edition of HBO’s Hard Knocks.