Cam Newton has been outstanding this year, having a Heisman season that reminds people of Vince Young and Tim Tebow's domination in the college ranks. Newton was the obvious pick for the Heisman Trophy, and his ability to kill teams inside and outside the pocket has been noticed by NFL scouts.
However, all signs point to Newton declaring for the draft after it was revealed his father tried to concoct a pay-for-play scheme with Mississippi State prior to him choosing Auburn. But while Cam Newton stole the headlines this year for the most part, defensive tackle Nick Fairley was almost as important to Auburn's success this year, and could end up being the better NFL prospect.
Cam Newton is more than just a great athlete at quarterback. The Vince Young comparison for Newton stops right after his ability to beat defenses with his feet. Newton has shown the ability to sit in the pocket and pick apart zone coverages as well. He has very impressive deep ball accuracy, and has the arm strength to split safeties and fit in windows between linebackers.
He will need to show that he can "throw" his receivers open in man-to-man coverage a little bit better, as he mainly makes zone reads or locks onto one receiver. Also, his footwork needs work as he moves outside the pocket or on the deep ball, but he does step up in the pocket well when he sticks inside the tackle box.
Finally, Newton's biggest concern is the idea that he is somewhat of a product of the Gus Malzahn system at Auburn. It's not necessarily one read, but it's a progression that Malzahn dictates, and he might struggle to go to an NFL play-reading offense.
Nick Fairley, however, has been showcasing NFL skills all year. He was a later round prospect coming into the year, but his domination of the SEC has pushed him way up on most draft boards.
Fairley has everything you could ask for in a pass-rushing defensive tackle. He uses great leverage to get under less flexible interior linemen. He uses his hands and quickness to get past guards, and he has developed moves to consistently get past one and even two blockers. He reads the play well and rarely gets lost in the play despite being constantly double-teamed.
Fairley also has set up his teammates, and his ability to absorb two blockers and allow for blitzing lanes for his linebackers or openings for stunts by his defensive ends has led to more tackles for loss and sacks than Fairley is given credit for.
Because at least half of the top 15 teams in the draft this year need a franchise quarterback, it's unlikely that Cam Newton falls out of that range. The 49ers, Vikings and Titans all are logical fits.
However, Nick Fairley is on most boards, including ours, as the top defensive tackle in the draft. He could be in the mix for the top overall pick, but more likely the Bills are his top choice. It should be close, but Fairley is safer pick than Newton, and odds are he gets the edge over his Auburn counterpart.