Cam Newton was the hottest topic of speculation leading up to the 2011 NFL Draft.
Would the physically gifted and equally troubled Newton be worth the risk of the first overall selection? Can a one-year wonder make it on the NFL level or will Newton turn out to be another Akili Smith?
Newton was able to put up the Tebow-esque numbers in 2010. That gets you a Heisman and a front row seat at most of the postseason award ceremonies, but unlike Tim Tebow, Newton only did it for one season.
One character questioning, controversy riddled, championship season in which Newton threw for 2,854 yards, 30 touchdowns, and only seven interceptions, while running his way to 1,473 yards and an additional 20 touchdowns.
Whether or not the Auburn quarterback was going to be the first overall pick has given way to more speculation.
Can a rookie quarterback coming from a simplified offense lead 2010’s worst NFL team into a season hindered by a lockout?
With a track record of stealing, cheating, and a larger than life personality that typically does not bode well for the longevity of a starting quarterback in the NFL, the more pressing question remains whether or not Newton is the right choice for the Panthers in 2011.
The big powder-blue and silver elephant in the room is without a doubt the character questions concerning Newton’s recent and not so recent past, and the baggage that goes with those questions.
Whether it’s stealing a laptop, cheating in college classes, or allegations of payment for play involving his father, Newton always seems to have a cloud of controversy hovering over him everywhere he goes.
While Newton appears to have worked hard in the off-season leading up to the draft, he certainly has not endeared himself to anyone’s confidence in his ability to be a “team first” type of player.
Speaking in the third person and referring to himself as “an entertainer and an icon”, further complicate the ideology of a successful NFL Quarterback.
The most successful quarterbacks currently in the NFL, should we choose to name them, would ultimately require the mentioning of the names Manning, Brady, and Brees. Naming them historically would invoke the names of Unitas, Staubach, Starr, Montana, Elway and so on.
All of which are names of quarterbacks that led teams and won Super Bowls. On this list you will not find names like Vick, McMahon, or Vince Young.
All three have won their fair share of games, McMahon even achieving a Super Bowl ring thanks to arguably the greatest single season defense in history, but none have lived up to the greatest of natural ability.
Neither Vick, Young, nor McMahon have found a way to put their teams, coaches, and their craft above selfish desires.
Newton has resembled a younger version of the latter examples more than that of the game’s greatest and most successful quarterbacks to date. Incredibly gifted, but willing to settle for poor decisions in order to serve a “me first mentality.”
If Newton is going to be an elite NFL quarterback and help a struggling Panthers franchise find a way to win football games he is going to have to start with the decision to be less of an entertainment icon, and more of a leader on and off the field.
DeMaurice Smith talks to media after mediation session
The NFL lockout has the potential to derail some young players coming into the 2011 season, especially those at positions with a greater learning curve.
Aside from his character issues, the greatest sources of skepticism concerning Cam Newton was the simplified offense he ran at Auburn. Calling a play in an NFL huddle, much less being able to handle the vast variations of that play, will be far more complicated than simply calling “play 23”.
Without the advantage of OTA’s and much of the off-season to learn and process a much more advanced NFL playbook could have a major impact on Newton’s ability to start right away for the Panthers.
Without a contract in place, and no way of getting a deal done before the end of the lockout, there is no telling what delays may result from contract negotiations once the lockout is lifted.
If the Panthers, or Newton for that matter, are coming into the 2011 season with expectations of him being the starting quarterback, there will have to be a great deal of dedication in terms of signing and getting to work.
Is it possible that a quarterback drafted first overall that combines Ben Roethlisberger or Steve McNair type size with 4.5 speed might not be the best option for his team to win?
Lets take a closer look at the state of his new team, and how Newton fits into the equation.
The Panthers ranked dead last in points scored, yards gained, first downs, passing yards, passing touchdowns, and net yards per passing attempt in 2010. They also ranked in the bottom three in rushing touchdowns, turnovers, and fumbles lost, while ranking 26th in total interceptions.
Despite the fact that the Panthers employ a star-studded stable of running backs, and known commodities like Steve Smith, their impotence offensively points to an offensive line that gave up 50 sacks and left insecure young quarterbacks running for their lives.
As of right now the Panthers have five quarterbacks on their roster other than Cam Newton. Of the five three have only one year of NFL experience, and certainly not a full season of playing time. Matt Moore (5) and Brian St. Pierre (8) are the veterans in terms of time taking up an NFL roster spot, but neither has done better than spot duties and mop up activities.
Of the five quarterbacks on the roster Clausen, last season’s 2nd round pick, and Moore held the starting role for portions of the season. Neither of which performed admirably with any type of consistency.
The Panthers earned a 1-9 record with Clausen at the helm. A 10 game span in which the rookie threw for just 1,558 yards, three touchdowns, and nine interceptions. Clausen, who is certainly not a scrambling quarterback, rushed for 57 yards on 23 carries, most of which came from trying to avoid being sacked more than the 33 times opposing defenses were able to do so in his 10 games as a rookie.
Matt Moore faired no better with a 1-4 record as the team’s starter in 2010. His 857 yards passing produced just five touchdowns, while he threw for 10 interceptions.
Cam Newton if introduced into a starting role his rookie season certainly possesses certain tools that neither Clausen nor Moore do, primarily the ability to run with the football and throw the ball while on the move.
At 6’5”/248 Newton has the strength and size to withstand oncoming pass rushers on a level that the smaller pocket passers do not have.
Aside from his mobility Newton seems to posses every quality Clausen does or more so in terms of passing ability.
While Newton posted solid passing numbers during his Heisman winning season at Auburn (2,854 yards/30 TD’s/7INT’s), the thing that kept opposing coaches awake at night was his ability to run the football.
1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns later, Cam Newton achieved a 2010 season that many college running backs failed to match running the ball exclusively.
While the hopes of matching his collegiate running statistics on the NFL level are slim in his rookie season, Newton’s running ability may be worth 8-10 additional offensive touchdowns as a result of his ability to avoid the pass rush.
Newton will certainly take his lumps as a rookie quarterback, but his ability to move outside the pocket, and throw with accuracy while on the move will play a major role in his early success, and the success of the Panthers’ offense.
If the lockout finds its way into training camp the possibilities of seeing Cameron Newton doing much more than standing around with a clipboard are slim.
Character remains a concern with Newton, and will continue to until he proves otherwise. If he approaches the game and his life off the field with a sense of humility he is without a doubt the type of quarterback the Panthers need in order to succeed with their current roster.
His athletic ability, and ability to make plays outside the pocket are essential to the success of the Carolina offense. If Newton is able to dedicate himself to becoming the type of player he is capable of being he is absolutely the Panthers’ best option for success in 2011 and beyond.