By Brad Thompson–

CHICAGO (WSCR) With the NFL Draft being less than a week away and new mock drafts popping up daily, the only sure thing about this draft is that it will be unique.

Not one of the top five quarterbacks in the draft is a sure-fire winner, and this year’s draft will be absent of player trades. In years past, teams have been able to trade any combination of players and picks to move up in the draft, but without a collective bargaining agreement in place that won’t be happening this year.

As usual, the biggest storylines surrounding the draft features the quarterback position. This QB class is as uncertain as any in recent memory. The most important position in football is the quarterback and because of this, signal callers get “over drafted,” meaning teams are more willing to take a chance on a quarterback with a high pick. This year is full of quarterbacks that have the physical tools, but aren’t the total package.

Cam Newton is the most athletic and physically talented quarterback since Michael Vick was selected No. 1 overall in 2001. Questions about Newton’s character and passing ability make him a risk, but he has the highest upside of any player the draft. He has the ability to completely turn around a franchise like Carolina or Buffalo, but he could also be the next JaMarcus Russell.

Numerous scouts and experts believe Blaine Gabbert is the top-rated QB in the 2011 draft. The problem for Gabbert is that he played in a spread offense in college and operated mostly out of the shotgun. He has all the tools – strong arm, pocket awareness, size and agility – but he didn’t throw down the field enough in college. It’s unclear whether he’ll be able to excel under center in a pro style offense.

The next three quarterback prospects, Andy Dalton, Jake Locker and Ryan Mallet (not necessarily in that order), are projected to go in either the first round or by the middle of the second. Dalton is a consummate winner with all the intangibles, but is the least physically talented of the top five quarterbacks. Locker was projected as the No. 1 overall pick in 2010 had he come out, but he stayed in school and actually hurt his draft stock. He’s a tremendous all-around athlete, but he completed only 55.4 percent of his passes in 2010. Mallet’s arm strength is unmatched and his 6’7” frame makes him a prototypical NFL quarterback, but his accuracy outside the pocket and mental focus concern teams.

Beyond all the hype and hysteria surrounding the quarterback class, this draft will be different because teams will only be able to trade picks for picks. In years past, a player on a current NFL roster could be included in draft day trades. This allowed general managers and coaches much more flexibility to move up and down the draft board.

The lack of a clear-cut No. 1 overall pick and the question marks surrounding each top-notch quarterback make this draft as murky as ever. Throw in the fact that picks can only be traded for other picks and who knows what to expect. One thing is for sure though, there will be a draft, which means NFL fans will have something to cheer about, if only for a few days.

Do you agree with Brad? Post your comments below.

Brad Thompson

Brad M. Thompson, a former college football player and coach, made his return to the Midwest in 2009 after fighting wildfires out West. He earned his master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and covers the Big Ten Conference and Chicago sports. Follow him on Twitter at @Brad_M_Thompson. Find more of Brad’s blogs here.