2011 NFL Draft: Beware of Cam Newton and the Spread Option
Every year at this time, there are analysts who discuss the transition of quarterbacks from a college spread offense into a pro-style offense.
What they fail to mention is that there is a change even more difficult to make: the switch from a spread option offense to a traditional NFL offense.
The spread offense is exactly what it sounds like: You spread the field with three, four or five wide receivers. Usually, the QB is lined up in the shotgun. When a quarterback moves from the spread to a pro offense, they need to learn how to take a snap from under center, make the appropriate drops and throw the ball in the rhythm of the drops.
A version of the spread offense is the spread option. This is a more run oriented version of the offense, using a speedy QB and combining the spread with parts of the old triple option.
Quarterbacks who run this option have an even more difficult time becoming successful professionals.
In the spread option, the QB may only have one read and then will tuck the ball and run with it, pitch it off to a running back or in some versions dump it off to a safety valve receiver.
These players then have difficulty in the NFL learning how to stand in the pocket and go through their reads when their instinct is to run with the ball or give it to the running back.
What kind QB will Newton become?
Here are some QBs who have tried to make the transition:
Vince Young (NFL QB rating 75.7): Young did not come exactly from a spread option, but it was a version of the spread designed for him where if his first read was not there he could take off and run.
It was not exactly the spread option but a run-first spread for sure.
Alex Smith (NFL QB rating 72.1): Smith comes from the Urban Meyer version, where there are a lot of short passing routes incorporated into the spread option.
Any 49ers fan can tell you that Smith is quick to check down and looks more comfortable in a spread set or when he is out on a bootleg.
Tim Tebow (NFL QB rating 82.1): Not a lot of info to decide whether or not Tebow will be good, but what he does show you is that the transition from spread option to NFL does not happen overnight.
Dennis Dixon (NFL QB rating 71.4): Another player with limited snaps from which to judge him.
It is a little concerning that when Big Ben was out this season that Dixon was not the clear-cut starting QB in his absence.
Pat White (NFL QB rating 39.6) White was a second-round pick by the Dolphins who was expected to compete for the starting QB job and was cut by Miami a year later.
So, what does this tell us about Cam Newton? Absolutely nothing.
Newton doesn't have an awkward throwing motion like Vince Young or Tim Tebow, he is not undersized like Pat White, has a much better arm than Dennis Dixon and is a much better athlete than Alex Smith.
The question that all of the NFL teams need to ask themselves is: Do they want to draft a QB in the first round from an offense that has not produced NFL quarterbacks?
If they want to overlook the history because he is such a great athlete, do they want to draft a QB in the first round who has only had one year's worth of starts at the major college level—a great indicator for future NFL success.
Finally, if they can overlook both of those things, do they want to draft a player with questionable decision making (off the field) and morals?
I can't see the future, so I do not know if Cam Newton will be a good NFL quarterback, but the history is against him.
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