Normally, I don't advocate a player returning for their senior year. The reason is that usually players don't improve much from their junior to their senior seasons. By the end of their third season, a player is usually developed physically and knows the college game rather well. There is the real possibility of getting injured (see Case Keenum) or being let down by your teammates and coaches (see Jevan Snead). If that happens, the same college fans who claimed to support you so much and clamored so badly for you to come back won't contribute a nickel to the millions that you lost from your signing bonus ... money that you will almost certainly never get back.
But in Cam Newton's case, the young man really needs another year at Auburn. Not so much because he needs more game experience—because Brad Johnson and Matt Cassel went on to become Pro Bowl caliber NFL QBs after never starting a single college game. Matt Leinart was a three year starter and a complete and total bust. Besides, Auburn isn't going to run a pro-style offense next year in order to help Newton get drafted. Instead, Auburn is steadily recruiting and building for Gus Malzahn's scheme which will continue Newton or no Newton.
Instead, Newton needs to announce "I will return to the NFL for my senior season" in order to answer real questions about his mental and emotional makeup. These are no mere trivialities it isn't just idle gossip or mud being flung by those with an axe to grind against Newton and his Auburn program, or by his competitors in the draft who want to be taken in his spot instead. The truth is that these questions are very real and will almost certainly cause Newton to drop like a stone - out of the first round and possibly out of the second - were he to enter the draft.
The reason—we have to consider the NFL mindset. Because of the strangeness that is the NFL (the complexity, the money, the egos and the stakes) there isn't a lot of "original thinking." Instead, the NFL is heavily into stereotyping, (in the original sense of the word), and typecasting. That is particularly true when it comes to things like hiring coaches and drafting high profile players. They decide that a particular player or coach is "like" another well known player or coach. You often hear "the next Troy Aikman", "the next Bill Walsh", "the next Tony Munoz" and so forth. If you can get yourself typecast as being "like" an NFL legend, then it greatly enhances your stock. An example—Mirer rode being "the next Joe Montana" to the #2 position in the NFL draft.
But there is a flip side—just as there are famous NFL successes, there are infamous NFL failures! So, get typecast as the last guy who flopped—who didn't just fail, but failed so spectacularly and brought down an entire organization in the process and NFL teams will avoid you like the plague. Case in point— Rodgers, who dropped like a stone because of the past failures of a bunch of Pac-10 QBs, and particularly those who were a bit undersized,(Cade McKnown), and had been coached by Jeff Tedford,(Akili Smith, Kyle Boller, Joey Harrington).
Consider this Cam Newton. Is there a positive "typecast" for him in the NFL? Truthfully, none that come to mind. But there are plenty of negative ones! Let's "profile" Newton, shall we? Black QB from the south with a questionable background, (off the field and academic), didn't play in a pro style offense and went to the NFL after coming out of nowhere with one good season. Sound familiar? Of course it does. Charlie Ward, Kordell Stewart, Michael Vick, Vince Young and JaMarcus Russell all fit this criteria to one degree or another. It is very easy for an NFL team to look at those guys, say "I don't want a high draft pick and the next 5 years of my organization, my job, to be risked on a guy like that", and simply take him off their draft board. I wouldn't blame them if they did.
But if Cam Newton sticks around another year, he does not merely distance himself from the "take the money and run" talk that he is stuck with thanks to Reggie Bush. Like it or not, if Newton splits for the NFL, most people, including many NFL execs, will presume him to be guilty. He also puts himself into a more positive "typecast" list— QBs who turned down the chance to immediately cash in so that they can invest in their future. Lots of people—most in fact—see the willingness to defer payoff as a trait of positive character.
Take two kids growing up in poverty. One kid takes the quick fix for easy money on the other side of the law because he "wants his now." The other is willing to wait a little longer and work a little harder by excelling in school, learning a trade, or going to the military. Of course, while the NFL is certainly willing to roll the dice on the former if he is playing WR or DE (especially in the case of the Raiders and Bengals!), when they are looking for quarterbacks, guys who are asked to learn NFL offenses, read NFL defenses and perform under pressure, they much prefer the latter. The nightmares that Stewart, Vick, Young and Russell put the Steelers, Falcons, Titans and Raiders through validates that thinking. The NFL only has to look at the NBA, filled with guys who jumped straight to that league from high school or were "one and done". The NBA and is now an unwatchable mess that doesn't have a single star that they can market to middle America.
Who are some of the guys on the "they stuck it out!" list? Of course there are obvious guys like Peyton Manning, but there are still others more relevant to Cam Newton. One is Steve McNair, who would have been a 1st round pick had he left Alcorn State as a junior, but came back for his senior year. Another—Donovan McNabb, who impressed NFL scouts by coming back for his senior year AND giving up basketball when he still had a shot at developing into a backup NBA point guard.
Jason Campbell of Auburn is another. True, Campbell was not considered an NFL prospect prior to his senior year. Yet Campbell stuck it out for 5 very tough years at Auburn during which time he was generally the most hated fellow on campus, (his own coach publicly questioned his intelligence), and he has proven himself to be similarly resilient in the NFL. While a lot of folks still aren't sold on Jason Campbell's play, no one questions his work ethic or character, and many NFL types are certain that Vick, JaMarcus Russell, Vince Young etc. would be superstars if they combined their natural ability with Campbell's work ethic and ability to handle adversity.
So, come out this year, get branded as "the next JaMarcus Russell",(and Russell himself was rather appropriately typecast as the next Ryan Leaf!), and very likely not get drafted on the first day, let alone the first round. Or stick around this year, do your best to remind people of the last QB who took Auburn to an undefeated season—the same guy who led the dysfunctional Raiders to their best season in years. Campbell did it by providing LEADERSHIP to that rudderless ship—and greatly improve how NFL scouts, coaches, GMs and owners perceive your character.
In other words, flip the script. Challenge the stereotype by going against type. No, the "pay or play" questions and scrutiny won't go away by coming back to Auburn. But turn in another good season while withstanding that scrutiny and without having the best OL in the country in front of you and you may just convince NFL teams that you have what it takes to learn a playbook, to stay up late at night watching film, and to bring a team back from a 14 point deficit on the road in the playoffs. You likely won't win another national— or even another SEC title, but you will earn a lot of respect. Terrelle Pryor and Andrew Luck are already coming back, and Pryor in particular is going to get a lot of credit by being willing to deal with the intense anger at Ohio State fans who weren't exactly big supporters of his to begin with. Couple that with media scrutiny over ruining their season by getting suspended for 5 games over a quick payday. His being willing to face up to the consequences of his actions may just cause NFL scouts to overlook his string of mediocre games against Purdue (and Wisconsin and Illinois and Iowa ...)!
It would be a risk but at this point, it is one that Cameron Newton really needs to take.