NFL Mock Draft: Where Cam Newton and The Other Top QBs Will Land
Cam Newton won the Heisman Trophy Saturday, helping to secure what could hardly have been doubted much beforehand: He will surely declare for the 2011 NFL Draft, and he will find a comfortable home within the first 20 picks.
But where will that home be? The answer depends on a number of things. As the NFL season draws to a close, the prospective draft order gets clearer with each passing week. That permits a certain amount of speculation about who, exactly, will have the most interest in Newton. The Minnesota Vikings make ample sense, but may need to trade up to get Newton from their projected draft slot in the 12-14 range.
Newton is the most intriguing quarterback on the Draft board because of the relative unpredictability surrounding him as NFL Draft season begins in earnest. He is not the only one, though, or even the best. Read on for the likely draft slots (and suitors) of the Draft's five best quarterback prospects.
1. Andrew Luck, No.1 To Carolina Panthers
Luck is a junior and could, theoretically, return for a senior season at Stanford. He plays for the nation's brightest young star in coach Jim Harbaugh and operates a pro-style offense, but the good money is on Luck as the top pick in the Draft if he comes out; expect him to forgo his senior eligibility.
Carolina will take him because they have no choice: Sure, they would like to believe in unsteady rookie Jimmy Clausen, but he was inconsistent even in college. They would do well to cut their losses on that front, make Clausen a plausible back-up plan and select Luck as the future of the franchise under center.
2. Ryan Mallett, No.5 to Arizona Cardinals
In the long line of frustrated talents that have succeeded Tom Brady as quarterbacks at Michigan, one managed to escape Ann Arbor and find his own happy ending. Ryan Mallett has 60 touchdown passes over two seasons since transferring to Arkansas, and he has risen nearly to the top of the quarterback draft boards even as guys like Chad Henne, Tate Forcier and John Navarre have wasted away at Michigan.
Arizona's quarterback situation is a miserable mess. Derek Anderson's recent run-in with the media only serves to demonstrate his immaturity, which is a definite negative but is not nearly as damning as his lack of overall talent. The organization needs Mallett to heal what ails them, and he fits perfectly: Ken Whisenhunt has to be licking his chops at having Mallett, who profiles much like former Whisenhunt quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running his offense.
3. Cam Newton, No.9 to San Francisco
Newton would be insane to return to Auburn, where his every move would continue to be scrutinized throughout the 2011 season. If he instead escapes to the NFL, he can leave behind an ostensibly closed NCAA investigation, make plenty of money via endorsement deals to cover whatever extra he could garner as a higher pick in the 2012 Draft and become a top-10 pick in 2011.
If all that happens, the 49ers will surely pounce on Newton. He will be far less expensive than was their last big-time investment at quarterback, which came when they drafted Alex Smith first overall in 2005. He will also be better: Newton needs polish before he can dominate at the next level, but he already has the tools and should entice any prospective team in need of a long-term quarterback fix.
4. Jake Locker, No.12 to Minnesota Vikings
Locker might have been a top-five pick in the 2010 Draft, but his uneven senior season with Washington has left his stock a bit lower. Still, he has size (six-foot-three, 226 pounds), arm strength and mobility both inside and outside the pocket. He projects as a versatile, dangerous NFL quarterback in the Aaron Rodgers mold.
The Vikings' year-long drama with Brett Favre under center will soon be over, but with Favre sure to retire and Tarvaris Jackson likely to bolt via free agency, Minnesota needs a new signal-caller. Locker could be the best fit, and it may well be that the Vikings will look back in some years and laugh at having pined for Newton before "settling" on Locker, who is more well-rounded and NFL-ready.
5. Christian Ponder, No.35 To Buffalo Bills
Ponder, like Locker, has size to spare and a rocket arm to go with it. He occasionally struggles to put the ball in precisely the right spot, but the overall skill set is worthy of consideration late in the first round or early in the second. He has 48 touchdown passes and 10 rushing scores in three years as Florida State's starting quarterback.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has earned a chance to lead Buffalo back from the football ether with his strong play this season, but the Bills will likely insure themselves by adding Ponder to the mix. He could compete with Fitzpatrick right away, or wait in the wings for the right opportunity to help out the Bills. Buffalo also wins in this scenario by using their first-round pick on something they need more desperately—and this team has plenty of those kinds of needs.