Posted: Monday March 28, 2011 12:09AM ; Updated: Monday March 28, 2011 6:58AM
Peter King

Gabbert, Newton are both top-five picks, and more NFL draft truths

Story Highlights

One team with a major quarterback need is afraid of Ryan Mallett's reputation

More details soon to emerge about the NFLPA event on draft night

Quotes of the Week, Stats of the Week, 10 Things I Think I Think and more

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The race for the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft could come down to two quarterbacks: Blaine Gabbert (left) and Cam Newton.
Todd Rosenberg/SI (2)

The draft, the only thing you can love in this wasteland of an offseason, starts one month from today. I'm here to give you 10 truths about what's still a very cloudy draft, with an assist from draftologist Mike Mayock. I also want to discuss five other things on my cranium this morning, as Myron Cope was fond of saying:

• The NFL has a specific line in the sand as we head into what could be a long, hot summer of negotiating -- or not negotiating.

• What in God's name made Marty Schottenheimer agree to coach something called the Virginia Destroyers?

• John Elway, worker bee.

• Today's a big day for the NFLPA and its potential plans for an alternative draft event to the Radio City shindig the league puts on.

• There's another Top 100 from NFL Films to get excited about.

We'll get to those in a bit. Before I give you my 10 verities about a very uncertain draft, let me report that I looked at 10 mock drafts in the past few days, and I saw nine different 1-through-5s, with four different number ones. This isn't altogether unprecedented a month out, but the past three drafts haven't had drama like this one is set up to have. Jake Long was a pretty solid pick a couple of weeks out for Miami in 2008, Matthew Stafford a lock to Detroit in 2009 and Sam Bradford (once he checked out medically) a sure thing with St. Louis last year.

But the fact-finding over the past couple of weeks has yielded these truths:

1. CamBlaine are going in the top five. "A month ago,'' NFL Network's Mike Mayock said Saturday, "I had significant questions about Cam Newton. But now, after studying him, I've bought into his skill set. Mechanically, he's more advanced than Tim Tebow or Vince Young were entering the NFL. Now I have to buy into the kid. After God and family, in whatever order you have them, if football's not next on your list of life priorities, then I don't want you. If he's that entertainer and icon guy, well, that's the hard part of figuring out this pick.''

But Mayock feels as I do: Someone in the top five is going to fall in love with Newton and take him. Carolina? Can't see it, not with arch-conservative Jerry Richardson having to sign off on it and GM Marty Hurney, who still likes Jimmy Clausen, having to bypass a more sure thing defensively in favor of a quarterback. I doubt Denver, at No. 2, will pull the trigger on a passer. Now Buffalo or Cincinnati -- either could go Newton. But I do not think it will be No. 5 Arizona; I hear the Cards don't like him. And Gabbert will not get past Arizona.

2. The quarterback order is confounded by Ryan Mallett. Some teams, including one with a major quarterback need, are deathly afraid of all the off-field noise about Mallett. Much of it is unsubstantiated, but I was read a report by a personnel man on Mallett the other day, and it was scathing. I think he has just as much of a chance to go in the second round as in the first, and most people in the know think Washington's Jake Locker will be the third quarterback picked, after Gabbert and Newton. After these four? "Andy Dalton and Christian Ponder, or Ponder and Dalton,'' said Mayock. More about Dalton in my Tuesday column. I think he could go anywhere from 25 to 75, and probably more toward the 25 end of things.

3. There's a chill around Marcell Dareus. I've been operating under the impression that the best defensive tackle in the draft would go one, two or three, and he probably still will. When scouts and GMs begin to go over players for the fourth and fifth time, and when they parse the words in their individual interviews, they're going to get nervous. Maybe that's what this is with Dareus. I can't put my finger on why, but he's cooling off in the eyes of several people I trust at the top of the draft. I still think he'd be the best pick for defensive-front-needy Denver or No. 3 Buffalo.

4. The Bills like Von Miller and Patrick Peterson a lot. Not saying they'll take either. Just saying they're high on both, and even though GM Buddy Nix has been at every top quarterback's workout, Buffalo-watchers think it's more likely the team will go defense.

5. The rules of top picks aren't the rules anymore. With a rookie wage scale likely to be in effect this year, Mayock's right when he says: "There are younger GMs who don't necessarily think the way the veteran guys do. A solid player might be picked higher than normal now, even if he's not at the traditionally more valuable position.'' It's the Logan Mankins theory -- if a very good guard is on the board against a good tackle, take the guard who's going to be better longer. That's why it's not inconceivable that Patrick Peterson, a corner, goes number one or two -- if he's the cleanest guy in the draft.

6. Tyron Smith's starting to look like the top tackle -- but he might not get picked first. He's 20. He doesn't have the 52 career starts of Boston College's Anthony Castonzo, or the size and athleticism of 6-foot-8 Nate Solder of Colorado, but I'm hearing more and more he has the most upside. Problem is, if you're a team with an immediate need at tackle, you're not taking Smith, because he might take a year or two to settle in.

7. As I wrote the other day, there's no clear No. 1 receiver. Julio Jones is gaining on A.J. Green, but teams may not be able to overlook how quickly Green gets in and out of cuts, and how many catchable balls Jones didn't catch at Alabama. At least one of them will be gone by No. 6 Cleveland, which has to take a receiver.

8. The fear around Nick Fairley is real. More and more I hear the "one-year wonder'' stuff. Mayock on Fairley: "Two years junior college, one year OK at Auburn, one great year. So what should you think?'' That, plus Dareus has passed Fairley on most draft boards.

9. Ditto with Da'Quan Bowers. Friday is a very big day for the Clemson defensive end, who, like Fairley, is trying to ride one college season to the top 10 of the draft. Friday at 9 a.m., Bowers works out for teams at Clemson, and his agent, Joe Flanagan, says Bowers has eight team visits scheduled after that. He will need to look healthy at the workout and perform convincingly in any further physicals, because, as one scout told me this weekend, "He's failed at least two team physicals that I know of'' on the heels of meniscus surgery after the season. Three months ago, Bowers was a candidate to be the first pick in the draft. Now, like Fairley, he has a chance to tumble a bit.

10. Surprise guy of the first round? Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget. "You know why you're not hearing about him? Because the teams that like him are hiding their interest,'' one scout said. I've heard teams who think he can be a five-technique tackle like Tyson Alualu (10th pick last year) or a three-technique disruptive influence. Whatever, he should go in the middle of round one.

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