This past week, Auburn QB Cam Newton decided to hold a private workout showcasing his talents while the questions about his ability to play the game at the NFL level continue to surround him. Will Cam Newton be an NFL superstar or a Super-bust? The Heisman Trophy winning quarterback can play in the NCAA, but will his success in Division-IA translate into success on the gridiron Sunday’s in the NFL?
With the decision of Stanford’s QB Andrew Luck to remain in school for another year, the quarterback many pundits have pegged as the first selected in this years draft is Blaine Gabbert of Missouri. Some pundits believe that Cam Newton might be the first quarterback selected, but buyer beware, he comes with a lot of question marks.
Physical size and ability-
In 1999, the NFL got a glimpse into the future when the Minnesota Vikings selected University of Central Florida QB Daunte Culpepper. Culpepper was a physical specimen at the position, playing the position at a size almost unheard of. Culpepper was 6’4″ 255 pounds. Cornerbacks bounced off of him in the pocket and Culpepper displayed deceptive speed for a player of his size. It wasn’t long before other NFL teams started drafting bigger and bigger quarterbacks. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Ben Roethlisberger, 6’5″ 245 pounds. The Oakland Raiders selected JaMarcus Russell 6’6″ 260 pounds. The Tennessee Titans went with Vince Young, 6’5″ 235 pounds and most recently the Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked Josh Freeman 6’6″ 260 pounds. Newton’s size and running ability made him a legitimate threat to score from anywhere on the field last season at Auburn while he score 49 total touchdowns.
The Heisman Trophy does not translate into NFL success-
Since 1990, there have been 21 award winners. The Heisman is awarded for the best college football player of the season, sometimes, even that qualifier is questioned. Quarterbacks have been awarded the Heisman 12 of the 21 times and while a few recent winners are just starting their NFL careers, the track record of winning the Heisman and translating that into success in the NFL has been less than stellar. Many Heisman award winners contributed little or nothing in the NFL. Charlie Ward (1993), Gino Toretta (1992), Danny Wuerffel (1994), Eric Crouch (2001), Jason White (2003) while some players filled spot roles for their teams. Ty Detmer (1990), Chris Weinke (2000), Troy Smith (2005) and Matt Leinart (2004). The verdict is still out on the most recent few award winners, Tim Tebow (2007) and Sam Bradford (2008).
Winning the Big Game doesn’t translate into success either-
The two most recent players I am drawing a comparison to Cam Newton are JaMarcus Russell and Josh Freeman, based on physical size and I want to breakdown the difference between these two players and what it might mean for Newton once he enters the NFL. JaMarcus Russell came out of Louisiana State University and rode a 2007 Sugar Bowl victory right to the number one pick of the NFL draft by the Oakland Raiders. Russell compiled a 21-4 record as a starter at a SEC school and was supposed to be a sure thing for the NFL. Josh Freeman on the other hand was also a Junior when he entered the NFL draft and came out of Kansas State. Freeman only played in one bowl game, a Texas Bowl loss to Rutgers, 37-10 in his freshman season of 2006. Freeman went 17-20 as a starter and looked horrible last season when he started the last 9 games of the regular season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, committing 21 turnovers in 9 games. He turned his game around this year, finishing with a 95.9 passer rating, tossing 25 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions.
The downside risks associated with Cam Newton-
While you cannot downplay the pure physical talents of Cam Newton, his running ability and arm strength, that doesn’t always simply translate into success at the next level. Newton comes with plenty of question marks attached. At Auburn, he took his snaps out of the shotgun formation (ala Tim Tebow), can he play under center? Can Newton stop throwing off his back foot and fix his weight transfer when throwing the ball? Newton has been working with legendary quarterback Warren Moon. Even Moon told reporters, “He wasn’t transferring well”. Will he be able to take his game to the next level where he makes a progression of reads through three receivers? Newton ran the ball well in college, but running the ball every other time he drops back in the NFL is not going to bode well for his longevity in the league regardless of his size. Cam Newton has only started one season of college football.
So where does Cam Newton land?
Ideally, the perfect fit for Cam Newton might be for him to get drafted to a team where he might have a year or two to sit and learn the NFL game, helping to overcome his lack of starting experience in college. A strong running game by the team which selects him would help as well. Given the state of the game today and the money involved in top pick players, that is simply not reality any longer. Some mock drafts have the Carolina Panthers selecting Cam Newton number one overall, and I believe that would be a serious mistake. So where does he wind up?
-Tennessee Titans. The Titans are in need of a quarterback but with the Titans picking at number 8, most mock drafts show the Titans picking Blaine Gabbert. Would the Titans risk another pick on a player which is in the Vince Young mold?
-Washington Redskins. There are some serious questions surrounding the Redskins. The team is in need of a quarterback for the future after seemingly abandoning the Donovan McNabb experiment. Newton will need some offensive weapons around him, McNabb had very few in 2010 and it looks as if the Redskins might have even fewer in 2011. A recipe for disaster.
-Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins have the #14 pick in the first round and need a quarterback. Miami had a solid run game a few years ago but RB’s Ronnie Brown and Rickey Williams are going to be gone next season. The Dolphins do have WR Brandon Marshall but you have to wonder just exactly how long head coach Tony Sparano has in Miami after the ownership courted Jim Harbaugh this offseason. Will it be enough time to develop a young quarterback or was the contract extension all for show this season?
-Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings have the number 12 overall pick in the first round of the draft. They too could use a young quarterback of the future after using veteran castoffs under center for over a decade. Joe Webb is an intriguing character for the Vikings, but can he become the starting quarterback they so sorely lack? The Vikings have a great running game with Adrian Peterson but are in serious need of receivers, Sidney Rice is slated for free agency. The Vikings drafted Daunte Culpepper in 1999 to start this movement of large quarterbacks, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them do it again this April.
The other possible landing spots, I could see the Jacksonville Jaguars snagging him at #16, the Oakland Raiders at #17 and if he slipped past those two teams, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Indianapolis Colts grab him at #22 or the Seattle Seahawks at #25. However, I don’t see him slipping out of the top 16 picks.