Back in January, after Auburn won it all and people started thinking about the upcoming draft, most prognosticators and scouts had Cam Newton as a first round pick—not near the top, more like in the 20th pick range.
In fact, on January 6th, Eric Edholm of Pro Football Weekly—when discussing the Panthers options after Andrew Luck opted to stay in school—dismissed Cam Newton in 2 sentences:
"Cam Newton is a terrific athlete, but is he a sure thing as a QB?....That's why I think it's far more likely the Panthers will look at other positions."
Since then, Newton's stock has risen and risen and risen, and now everyone has him as the top pick come next Thursday. Heck, all four guys at Sportsline.com picked Newton to go first.
If you watched Auburn at all this season, you can see why teams are high on him. And if you haven't, just check out some of the scouting reports—they are practically pornographic in their depiction of Newton's athletic attributes:
"Can make all the throws with ease."
"Elite size and athletic ability."
"Outstanding natural athleticism and is very smooth."
Newton can scramble and run, throw a 50-yard spiral and can take/deliver a hit. He's the total package, physically.
It's the other part of the equation that raises the most questions—the mental and technical aspects, that bother people.
First off, Auburn runs a one-read and run system, which worked great down in the SEC, but in the pros...not so much with success.
Also, instead of constantly being in a shotgun offense where he gets to see the defense right away, Newton will have to learn to take the snap and drop back and read the defense and his progressions—something that probably wont be easy against a Rex Ryan or Dick Lebeau defense.
And college quarterbacks who played in the spread option system—a shotgun system designed to take decision-making away from the QB, and base them on the offense design—haven't fared too well.
And its not just me saying it. Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun, a former NFL quarterbacks coach (courtesy of Smartfootball.com) is quoted as saying this about college spread QBs:
"And then they find it's tough to take that full drop behind center, a five- or seven-step drop, because at that level, in the NFL, the ball has to be released immediately without taking a gather or a hitch step. Guys just aren't able to get the ball out when it has to be released."
Gary Kubiak said this:
"Quarterbacks in this league don't play that deep (in the backfield) so it's an adjustment and one that can take some time. They have to see it more quickly and they have to do while having the footwork to get back from center, set up and throw."
Now wait a minute...what are the two knocks on Newton?
"Seems content to short step throws and get rid of the football before the pressure is able to reach him, causing his accuracy and ball location at times to suffer...He also will get lethargic with his footwork at times..."—National Football Post
• Raw footwork and operated primarily out of shotgun
• A tendency to get sloppy with mechanics at times
• Touch, timing and anticipation are all merely average—NFLDraftCountdown.com
"...an option-type offense who rarely uses good footwork...his accuracy looks better than it would in a traditional offense because he is often throwing to receivers who are completely wide-open...Newton rarely had to go through his progressions in Auburn's offense. Most of the time he just caught the snap and made quick throws to wideouts behind or at the line of scrimmage"—Sporting News
"Played in a simplified, run-first, dive-option read offense with very basic high-low reads. Worked exclusively out of the gun and was very quick to run at the first flash of coverage. Limited field vision—does not process the passing game. Inconsistent throwing mechanics with a flick delivery—generates all of his power from his upper-body strength and too often arms the ball. Streaky passer with spotty accuracy. Makes his receivers work hard and throws into coverage."—Pro Football Weekly
So NFL coaches say the most necessary attributes a college spread quarterback needs to succeed in the NFL are 1) Good footwork and mechanics & 2) Quick field vision.
Now, this isn't to say that the Panthers shouldn't take him with the No. 1 pick.
If they feel that they can coach him up, or tailor an offense to work with his strengths, then more power to them.
And this is not to say that Newton won't be a great NFL player. He led the Tigers to the National Championship and he has all the physical tools to be a champ in the NFL—a howitzer arm and the ability to extend plays and/or run.
That said, guys drafted primarily for their great arms and/or athleticism (Kyle Boller, JaMarcus Russell, Jeff George) haven't always fared too well.
This is just to say that when you are taking the No. 1 pick in the draft, and are giving millions of dollars to a guy who will have your franchise put on his shoulders, you'd want that player to be as problem-free as possible.
Best of luck to you, Carolina.