Cam Newton will be on display Monday night.
He’ll lead the top-ranked Auburn Tigers against No. 2 Oregon in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game, but beyond the game is the army of NFL scouts who will spend a majority of the evening taking mental notes, jotting reminders on notebooks and figuratively ripping the Heisman winner from limb to limb to see if he’s got the goods.
The analysis will be placed upon a sliding scale, directly determining just exactly how far Newton will rise or fall on NFL draft boards.
Forget the outcome of the game. Auburn could lose by two scores, and unless he plays an integral part in a blowout loss, it would likely have little to no effect on where Newton gets selected.
Instead, the focus will be on how well—or poorly—Newton performs as an individual.
Scouts know all about the size, the power, the agility, the ability to scramble, the knack for making defenders miss in space. What the experts will come to see is whether the 6’6”, 250-pound junior can deliver the package in full, mainly displaying nimble feet in the pocket, making sound decisions with the football and ranging between velocity and touch while executing all the necessary throws.
There are also concerns about Cam Newton the person, but those will neither be validated nor quelled in Glendale, Ariz. That’s for Indianapolis, when Newton will be dissected in interviews during the NFL Scouting Combine.
Monday night will be all about Newton, the player, who is currently rated as the draft’s No. 3 quarterback, behind Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert and Washington’s Jake Locker, according to Scouts, Inc. ESPN’s Mel Kiper has Newton rated No. 13 on his Big Board.
Andrew Luck’s decision to return to Stanford certainly throws things into chaos in terms of how Carolina’s selection at No. 1 affects what every other team does in the draft, but the members of the incoming quarterback class who, presumably, were to be taken after Luck remain as interchangeable as ever.
Gabbert and Locker are rated higher as of now, but with an impressive performance against Oregon, Newton could realistically leapfrog both to give the Panthers something to think about with the top pick.
If Carolina opts for defense, perhaps selecting Newton’s teammate, defensive tackle Nick Fairley, Newton could go as early as No. 3 to the Buffalo Bills or No. 5 to the Arizona Cardinals.
But what if Newton saves his worst for Monday? To what extent will NFL teams hold a lackluster performance against him?
Not too much, more than likely.
Despite the fact the first round of the draft will be laden with defensive talent, teams will remain wary about passing up what could be a franchise quarterback, especially one of Newton’s raw athleticism and potential.
If Newton falls out of the top five, which seems to be the most likely scenario at his point, San Francisco, Tennessee, Washington, Minnesota and Jacksonville could all use a quarterback. Even Cleveland, which has the sixth pick, could go in a similar direction if it feels Colt McCoy is not the answer under center.
Plenty of teams will have hearty discussions about Newton as the draft approaches, but the grades that come back following the BCS National Championship Game will determine how many have a realistic shot of landing his services.
Or how many will actually want his services, for that matter.
If Newton plays the way he’s capable and shows scouts he’s more than just an athletic freak built for domination at the college level, that number could be one of many.