Over the coming weeks leading up to the NFL draft, I will be breaking down top prospects at various positions to give you the best idea of the player your favorite team takes on draft day, the best time of the year.
Easily one of the most discussed topics regarding the draft has been and will be how well former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton will do in the NFL. He's been viewed as anywhere as a one-of-a-kind physical freak to the next JaMarcus Russell. As usual, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. But that makes the answer a lot harder to find.
Pro: Even the biggest critic of Newton can't deny he has the build to play at the next level. He weighed in at the combine at 6'5", 248 with almost 10-inch hands. He looks like a tight end more than a quarterback and uses his size to keep plays alive.
His arm strength can't be questioned either. Against Kentucky, he completed a pass 40 yards while falling out of bounds. That throw was all arm. Against LSU, he chucked a pass 55 yards before the half. All of his throws have good velocity on them. That's just as important as arm strength; having the ability to put enough zip on passes to fit them in small throwing windows that he'll see in the NFL.
Another obvious point is his running ability. He was a human highlight reel in his one year at Auburn. One of the best plays of the college football season came against LSU where he broke multiple tackles on his way into the end zone. He changes directions quickly and shows a second gear in the open field.
Think of Newton as a more mobile Ben Roethlisberger in terms of ability to elude defenders. He isn't an easy player to bring down.
There are a couple less talked about aspects of Newton games that I liked. His pocket presence is better than the typical mobile quarterback.
As big of a threat as he is to run, Newton is willing to hang in the pocket. He won't leave if his first read isn't immediately open. And when he does move outside of the pocket, he keeps his eyes downfield. That's crucial for any running quarterback. No quarterback, regardless of how athletic they are, will succeed at the next level without being able to multitask while on the move.
Con: If everything were rainbows and sunshine with Newton, there wouldn't be any discussion as to what player would be selected first. The most discussed issue with Newton are character concerns. He allegedly stole a laptop while playing at Florida, his first school, and there have been reports that he cheated on tests. Those reports have not been confirmed, however.
Newton wound up playing at Blinn College, a JUCO, before coming to Auburn. The decision to attend Auburn is shrouded in controversy. Reports ran rampant that Newton's services were part of a "pay for play" plan. This prompted the NCAA to suspend Cameron although the ruling was later overturned, citing a lack of evidence that Cameron knew a bribe was involved.
Honestly, it is very difficult for us as fans to know the exact makeup of Newton's character. We only see him on camera. Under the bright lights in a game or in an interview. We haven't seen him off camera when he acts his true self. That's something teams have been able to do. It is impossible for us to get an accurate read on the type of person he is.
There are other potential issues that can be examined easier. One of the most striking issues with Newton on the field is his lack of accuracy on the throw and when throwing off an unsound base. For a pocket passer, this of course wouldn't be as much of an issue. But with a QB like Newton who will be moving so much, it is alarming.
One of the best examples occurred in a game against Kentucky on a 3rd and 1. Auburn ran play-action with the intentions of hitting the fullback in the flats. Kentucky had everyone up at the line expecting a run. That brought a free rusher off the strong side, the same side the FB was releasing into. Newton had no choice but to throw off his back foot. He completely missed the throw and Auburn had to punt.
As a quarterback, you don't want to throw off an unsound base but there are times where you have it. As good as Newton is improvising when running, he needs to improvise better when attempting to throw.
Another publicized con is the offense he played in. Auburn's offense was a simple spread. He did not have to throw the ball downfield very often and usually just read half the field. There wasn't any need to go through progressions.
The Tigers offense, while effective in college, was made up of screens and zone reads. This is a common issue for a lot of quarterbacks so it doesn't weigh Newton down anymore than a quarterback such as Blaine Gabbert. I put less stock into it than most others, but it remains a question mark.
Other issues further involve his footwork. Too often he tries to get by on arm strength rather than stepping into his throws. He throws off his back foot more than you want to see. That is a correctable issue but an issue nonetheless.
Newton will be a top 15 pick. He could go as high as first to the Panthers. The Redskins make a lot of sense and that is where I selected him in my personal mock. Donovan McNabb probably won't be back next year and the team doesn't have any options behind him. Unless Washington wants to get on the Rex Grossman bandwagon.
Mike Shanahan likes big, strong-armed, and mobile quarterbacks. That was the case with John Elway and when Shanny drafted Jay Cutler.
It's no secret that Newton has as much upside as any quarterback in this year's class. If he pans out the reward will be immense. But I can't buy into him as a definite franchise quarterback. He is more than just an elusive runner, but is not refined enough to be called a franchise player.
Not yet anyway.