Every year we have to deal with some fly-by-night, one-year wonder who rocked the college football world, won a bunch of awards, maybe even a championship, who will be drafted about six rounds too high, get paid tens of millions of dollars, and turn out to be a huge bust. This year's prime candidate is none other than Auburn QB Cam Newton.
Are NFL teams so desperate, and NFL personnel guys so unsure of themselves that they will follow the hype of one-year-wonder Cam Newton, who is actually being earmarked for the Bills at the No. 3 overall position in a mock 2011 NFL draft? Really Michael Lombardi? No. 3 overall? Has Cam’s dad corrupted you too?
Yes, Cam is big, strong, fast and talented. He’s also been a winner his entire major college career —one year. Yes, he led his team to the national championship, but so did Josh Heupel, Ken Dorsey, Craig Krenzel, Matt Mauck, Matt Leinart, Vince Young, Chris Leak, Matt Flynn, Tim Tebow and Greg McElroy.
McElroy isn't in the NFL (yet), and Tebow might still do something in the NFL, but take a look at these National Championship winning QBs over the last decade and you see exactly none, zero, nada, nil who are even worthy of an NFL roster spot —sorry Vince “I’m crazy” Young defenders, even he is worthless.
What about his Heisman Trophy? That has to mean Newton’s a lock for NFL success right? Well here’s a list of the last 10 Heisman-winning QBs: Charlie Ward, Danny Wuerffel, Chris Weinke, Eric Crouch, Carson Palmer, Jason White, Matt Leinart, Troy Smith, Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford.
Palmer has had a decent career, Tebow, again, is too new to make a determination on, and Bradford just completed a pretty good rookie season on a bad team so there’s hope for him. But the other QBs are busts, no-names, folks who weren’t even drafted, and an NBA guard for crying out loud!
OK, but if you can win the Heisman and the National Championship in your career you must be destined for greatness in the NFL. So let’s take a look at the future Hall of Famers who comprise this list since 1998: Chris Weinke, Matt Leinart and Tim Tebow (Jason White was on Oklahoma’s 2001 National Championship team but was a freshmen —not the starting QB). So once again we’re left with Tim Tebow as the only person who might be successful. Not very good company here for Cam Newton.
Even forgetting his so-so performance at this year's combine, let's assume his amazing season has NFL teams offering up their current and future successes to trade up and select him No. 1 overall, or No. 3 like Michael Lombardi has him in his mock draft, or even in the top 10.
The 2000’s have produced the following top 10 QBs in the draft: Michael Vick, David Carr, Joey Harrington, Carson Palmer, Byron Leftwich, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Alex Smith, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, JaMarcus Russell, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford.
Now this list is much better than the previous Heisman winners and National Championship winners lists, but it still has more misses than hits. Vick is a keeper, Palmer we’ve already identified as decent so we’ll say he’s a keeper as well, Eli has a Super Bowl win but he’s still only an average QB, not worthy of the No. 1 overall in my opinion. Rivers is a definite keeper, Matt Ryan too, but Stafford, Sanchez and Bradford are too young to comment on, although none of them has “wowed” me yet. So that means four of 15 (27 percent), or five of 15 (33 percent) if you absolutely have to include Eli, have paid off as top 10 QB picks in recent drafts.
The best QBs in today’s game are Tom Brady (2000 sixth round, No. 199 overall), Peyton Manning (1998 No. 1 overall), Drew Brees (2001 2nd round, No. 32 overall), Aaron Rodgers (2005 No. 24 overall), Ben Roethlisberger (2004 No. 11 overall), Matt Schaub (2004 third round, No. 90 overall), Matt Ryan (2008 No. 3 overall), Philip Rivers (2004 No. 4 overall) and Tony Romo (2003 undrafted; cutting him some slack for being injured this year). I’m not counting Vick until he does more than have a one-year comeback season or Eli until he becomes more consistent.
So of today’s best QBs, one was drafted in the first round since 2008, and just two since 2005.
But look, all these numbers and stats don’t mean anything, just like the combine and college careers. What really counts is how the player performs in their system, with the talent surrounding them.
Would Tom Brady be Tom Brady if he were on the Oakland Raiders? Would Peyton Manning be Peyton Manning if he was the starting QB for the Detroit Lions? Would David Carr have been a bust if he was taken by the Redskins in 2002? Well the Redskins can destroy anyone’s career so that’s a bad example, but you get the point.
Good personnel guys, coaches and GMs have a plan that they carry out, plugging the right pieces into the mix as they move along. That’s the difference between J.P. Losman going No. 22 overall to Buffalo in 2004 and Matt Schaub going No. 90 overall that same year to Atlanta.
Atlanta did their homework and identified a solid QB prospect who sat a couple of years and is now a perennial star in Houston. Buffalo continued its losing ways by reaching on someone and dumping them into their horrible lineup to be devoured. Losman never got to develop, just like Todd Collins and Frank Reich before him and Trent Edwards following.
What people forget nowadays in our star-obsessed world is that team sports like football require multiple pieces, not just one. You can take your “franchise QB” term and toss it up in the air like a Heath Shuler “duck” for all I care. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and land a Peyton Manning, but most times you’ll get short-changed with a Tim Couch, David Carr, Alex Smith or JaMarcus Russell, all former No. 1 overall picks.
Of course, the QB is the most important position on the team, but it shouldn’t be a by-default situation. Teams need to have a larger plan in place to achieve success and until they do we’ll continue to see them overreach for stars like Newton who will most likely go supernova within within three years and be done forever. So enjoy your 15 minutes of fame, whoever drafts Cam Newton, because you'll be dealing with a whole lot of losing shortly thereafter.