NFL Draft 2011: Cam Newton in Elite College Company, Bad Pro Company
The 2010 Carolina Panthers had an awful season. To earn the first pick in the NFL draft, your team must endure the worst. Good thing Panthers General Manager Marty Hurney didn’t trade away their first round pick for 2011 already.
Cam Newton is that next “it” guy. The player that can’t lose. All eyes must be fixated on him come draft time. Jersey sales are expected to hit the roof for a Newton NFL jersey. Team apparel will sell out of stores, until that player either does or does not produce. Success or failure, everyone wants to see what happens.
The Panthers scored just 17 touchdowns in 16 games. Their passing attack was dead last in yards (just 143.1 per game, which is pretty poor for most high school standards), touchdowns (9) and overall quarterback rating (57.0). With 21 interceptions and only nine touchdowns, the Panthers were the only team that threw more than twice as many interceptions than touchdowns.
The Panthers' first pick in 2010 was Jimmy Clausen, just the third quarterback taken in the 2010 draft. Clausen had a rough rookie year, with only three touchdowns and nine interceptions. At Notre Dame the year before, he threw for 3,722 yards with 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
Newton has had unprecedented success. There have been six other quarterbacks to have won the Heisman trophy and college national championship since the AFL/NFL merger. None of those players were drafted as high as Newton is expected to. Here is a look at those players and their (lack) of NFL success.
Tim Tebow won a Heisman trophy in 2007, as a sophomore, throwing for 32 touchdowns and running in another 23 touchdowns. In 2008, the Florida Gators would run the table with a 13-1 record and won the national championship. Tebow's senior year, was statistically his worse season as a starter, where he struggled passing the ball against a few inferior teams. The Gators finished 13-1 again and Tebow shined in the bowl game against Big East champion Cincinnati, throwing for 482 yards.
Prior to the 2010 NFL Draft, expert Mel Kiper Jr. had Tebow going in the second or third round. Kiper expressed criticism of Tebow playing under center and having too long of a delivery to make it in the NFL. Other experts believed Tebow might be better suited at a different position. On draft day last April, the Denver Broncos, and their head coach Josh McDaniels, made a trade late in the first round for the right to draft Tim Tebow at 25th overall.
Tebow started the final three games of last season, but is expected to still sit behind starter Kyle Orton. Without the help and offensive creativity of Josh McDaniels, the growth of Tebow could be in jeopardy. New coach John Fox hardly made rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen appear to be the next Joe Montana.
Matt Leinart appeared to be the game’s most polished quarterback when the lefty entered the NFL draft in 2006. Leinart could have been the number one pick overall had he chose to enter the draft a year before. After his junior season he, too, was undefeated and won a National Championship, beating former Heisman winner Josh White of Oklahoma. Leinart lost only two games in his college career, including falling one point shy in the 2006 Rose Bowl, nearly winning three national championships.
After playing in 12 games as a rookie and letting the Bears off the hook, despite being who they thought they were, Leinart’s NFL career had fizzled out. Leinart went to the bench with the signing of Kurt Warner in 2007. Leinart had a falling out with coach Ken Whisenhunt, who wasn't the head coach when Leinart was drafted seventh overall, and was released before the 2010 season.
Leinart saw zero action last season as a backup to Matt Schaub.
Carolina Panthers fans got a first-hand look at the Chris Weinke experience. At Florida State, Weinke led his Seminoles in 1999 to the school’s only undefeated season, playing against overmatched Virginia Tech and 19-year-old freshman phenom Michael Vick. In the year 2000, Weinke led the nation in passing and won the Heisman trophy.
Weinke was drafted by the Panthers in the fourth round and 106th overall. He was the fifth quarterback selected. Sure, he was approximately 40 years old his rookie year. After one season as the team’s starter and a 1-15 record, the Panthers went in a different direction. Weinke would play five years in the NFL, never earning a starting job again after a tumultuous rookie season.
Danny Weurffel was a great college quarterback for the University of Florida. Weurffel won the Heisman trophy in 1996 and shredded hated in-state rival Florida State 52-20 in the National Championship game. Weurffel passed for over 10,000 yards in his career at Florida and threw 114 touchdowns. Weurffel bested Peyton Manning and Tennessee 35-29 in 1996, and 62-37 in 1995.
Weurffel was drafted in the fourth round by the New Orleans Saints, with the 99th overall selection and just the third quarterback taken. The top quarterback off the board in 1997 was Jim Drunkenmiller to the 49ers. Yikes.
Weurffel had a short-lived NFL career, where he had 10 NFL starts in six seasons for three teams. Weurffel had a career record of 4-6 and a quarterback rating of 56.4.
Charlie Ward was one of the more accurate passers to play college football. Ward played for Florida State and finished sixth in the Heisman in 1992 and won the Heisman in 1993 when the ‘Noles would win Bobby Bowden’s first national championship with an 18-16 victory over Nebraska.
In 1993, Ward would complete nearly 70 percent of his passes, throw for over 3,000 yards with 27 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Ward won every football award he was eligible for his senior year.
Similar to "Neon" Deion Sanders, Ward was a two-sport athlete in college. Playing basketball, Ward's ‘Noles made the Elite Eight before being ousted by Kentucky in 1993. Ward also guided the Seminoles to the Sweet 16 in 1992.
Ward had the best professional career of all the Heisman/National Champions, playing 13 seasons in the NBA mainly for the New York Knicks. After going undrafted in the 1994 NFL draft, Ward made it known prior that he would pursue basketball. The Knicks selected Ward with the 26th pick of the 1994 NBA draft.
Like Tim Tebow and Chris Weinke, Gino Torretta won the Heisman trophy and a National Championship, just not in the same season. In 1991, the Miami Hurricanes were co-national champions after a 22-0 win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Gino Torretta had a great college career; he was a backup on the 1989 national championship team as well as starting on the 1991 team. In 1992, Miami lost to Alabama (badly) in the championship game.
Torretta had back-to-back 3,000 yard passing seasons his junior and senior years. Torretta won the Heisman despite an uproar that San Diego State's Marshall Faulk was the best player in college.
In the 1993 draft, Drew Bledsoe was the top overall pick, Torretta was the 192nd overall selection in the seventh round by the Minnesota Vikings. Torretta would play in only two NFL games, taking a knee for Minnesota in his first action. Three years later he would enter the last game of the season for Seattle. Trailing the Raiders, Torretta threw a 32 yard touchdown to Joey Galloway in a game they eventually won. Torretta would finish his career with 41 yards passing.
Enter Cameron Newton
Cam Newton will be on uncharted waters. Never has a player entered with such lofty record-breaking expectations. Newton will be the first pick taken. He threw 30 touchdown passes, ran in another 20 touchdowns along with nearly 1,500 rushing yards last year for Auburn.
How difficult was the 2010 Auburn schedule? How many players did Newton play against last year that you can expect him to see next year? Patrick Peterson? Against LSU, Newton threw for 86 yards on 16 attempts, with no touchdowns. Lucky for Auburn, Newton ran for over 200 yards and two touchdowns. Doubtful that you see him do that next year.
Not since Joe Montana has a quarterback won the National Championship in college (1977, Notre Dame) and won a Super Bowl (four with the 49ers) in the NFL. Not since Jim Plunkett has a quarterback won the Heisman (1970, Stanford) and won a Super Bowl (two with the Oakland Raiders). So why must teams fall over each other in attempts to sign college football's quarterbacks on the best team?
Cam Newton's too good not to take, but the Panthers do not necessarily have to draft first. They have the option of trading down to a team that may want to pay heavily for the chance to pick the next Joe Montana.
Why pass when you have potentially the greatest player to ever put on a helmet on the top of your draft board? Why must people put extreme expectations on every player that enters the draft undaunted by the college game? LSU’s Patrick Peterson is hyped to be the next “Deion Sanders.” Those are hard expectations to pass up as well.