NFL Preseason: Cam Newton and 10 Young Players Who Are Still a Year Away
The NFL preseason is a time for young draft picks to make their case for a starting job. They are given the chance to play in a low pressure situation and show off the skills that made them attractive to NFL talent evaluators.
For some, the preseason is a springboard to a starting job. For others, it is a clear indication that what they really need is another season on the bench, watching, waiting, and learning.
Here are eleven players, led by the 2011 Heisman trophy winner, Cam Newton, who fall into the second category.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR Oakland Raiders
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When the Raiders made Heyward-Bey the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft, they were openly derided by almost all major football analysts.
The receiver, coming out of Maryland, had the one attribute that Raiders owner Al Davis can't seem to resist, blazing speed.
He did not, however, possess the ability to run polished routes. Heyward-Bey struggled to get on the field in his rookie season, but last year, showed improvement.
He is still not ready to be a team's number one receiver, and the Raiders quarterback situation will not do him any favors.
Darrius Heyward-Bey needs at least one more season to learn how to harness his speed and run crisp, precise routes. That will not come this season, but the Oakland Raiders should not give up on the receiver just yet.
CJ Spiller, RB Buffalo Bills
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At Clemson, CJ Spiller was an electric open field runner, receiver, and returner. Last year with the Bills, he found the going a little more difficult.
Players like Spiller sometimes find the transition to the NFL a little more difficult than straight ahead runners. Reggie Bush is a good example.
The Bills need to find a concrete role for Spiller. He is not cut out to be an every down back in the NFL, but the Bills could find a way to use him in a role like Bush with the Saints.
It will probably take another year for that role to be determined. Bush was in a better situation with the Saints. The Bills offense is not good enough yet for Spiller to excel as a receiving running back. The Bills need at least one more year to figure out how best to deploy CJ Spiller.
AJ Green, WR Cincinnati Bengals
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AJ Green is not on the list due to deficiencies in his own skills. With the Bengals, he is just not in a very good situation for a young wide receiver.
In Cincy, Green will be paired with a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton that many do not believe will ever be a viable NFL quarterback.
Green has all the skills in place to excel. He would have benefited by being drafted from a team with a more stable quarterback situation.
Robert Quinn, DE St. Louis Rams
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Robert Quinn was dominant in 2009 at North Carolina. Then, he got caught up in the scandal that has embroiled the Tarheel program throughout the Butch Davis era.
If recent examples of players who entered the NFL after a year away from the field like Maurice Clarett and Mike Williams are any indication, it will take some time for Quinn to produce on the field.
An NFL player simply cannot miss an entire season of football and not experience a decline in production. Quinn will need at least one year to get back to his pre-suspension level of play.
Prince Amukamara, CB New York Giants
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Giants fans were excited about the team's selection of Prince Amukamara. Then he broke his foot during practice last week. He is out indefinitely.
Even if Amukamara is able to come back later in the season, his development will be severely hampered. Cornerbacks need experience in preseason playing at NFL game speed. It will be hard for Amukamara to jump right back on the field after extended time off.
Like Quinn, Amukamara will need some time to adjust to the NFL game.
Shonn Greene, RB New York Jets
Shonn Greene appeared to be emerging during the 2009 postseason. Jets fans were expecting a break out season in 2010, but with the resurgent LaDanian Tomlinson in the fold, Greene was not given as many carries as expected in 2010.
Tomlinson is still around for the 2011 season, and the two will continue to split carries. Greene will continue to develop in 2011, and after this season, Tomlinson will most likely be on his way out, clearing the way for Greene to be the every down feature back.
Nick Fairley, DT Detroit Lions
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Coming out of Auburn, Nick Fairley was a potential top five pick. Then questions about his maturity and limited resume caused him to drop out of the top ten.
Now, Fairley is sitting out after having foot surgery. He will need time to get back into football shape. How hard Fairley works during his rehab will go a long way to answering the questions about his maturity and motivation.
Nick Fairley still needs to develop his raw talent. One season of success in college does not guarantee a translation to the NFL. Fairley needs to prove he was not a one season wonder at Auburn. With the Lions and their emerging defense, Fairley is in a good position to develop.
Ndamukong Suh needs a partner to wreak havoc on the defensive interior. Nick Fairley could be his partner, just not this season.
Colin Kaepernick, QB San Francisco 49ers
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The rookie from Nevada, Colin Kaepernick, looked rough in his preseason debut. Coming from the WAC, Kaepernick will need time to adjust to the speed of the professional game.
He is not in a bad situation to develop in San Francisco. Alex Smith has one more chance to prove he can play quarterback in the NFL. This will give Kaepernick a full season to sit on the sidelines and improve.
The 49ers will probably not be bad enough this year to win the Andrew Luck sweepstakes thanks to the Bengals quarterback situation. Alex Smith has failed numerous times. He has not shown any indications that this time will be any different.
Kaepernick has a higher upside than fellow non-BCS quarterback Andy Dalton. Given one year to learn the NFL game, his talent should translate to the pro ranks.
Jake Locker, QB Tennessee Titans
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Matt Hasselback is holding the quarterback position for one year before Jake Locker is ready to take over. He will be a good mentor for Locker.
Jake Locker has an NFL caliber arm, and showed great toughness at Washington. He was not surrounded by a lot of NFL level talent with the Huskies, and his statistics suffered because of this.
One statistic that was not influenced by his teammates was Locker's completion percentage. Completing fewer than 60 percent of his passes shows that Locker's arm is still a little scatter-shot.
Locker played well in his first preseason action. The Titans signing of Hasselback all but guarantees Locker will not be rushed along this season. He will be given the time to work on his accuracy.
Tim Tebow: QB Denver Broncos
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Tim Tebow is still making the transition from the college game to the NFL, where his flaws were hidden by Urban Meyer's offensive scheme.
Tebow has worked hard to fix his mechanics. They are still a work in progress. Tebow's accuracy is still not on the level of Kyle Orton's.
Tebow played well in his extended audition at the end of last season, but he is still not the Broncos best option at quarterback. For all his desire and winning pedigree, the Broncos need a quarterback who can make every NFL throw.
Tebow's winning characteristics will one day make him an NFL quarterback. He needs at least one more year to become a viable starting quarterback.
Cam Newton, QB Carolina Panthers
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Cam Newton showed flashes of brilliance in his preseason debut. He also showed flashes of inconsistency and inaccuracy.
Newton played only one season in college, and while he was brilliant, he did not play in a pro style offense and was not required to make all the throws the Panthers will need him to make.
Newton is an incredible athlete. If given the chance to develop, he will reward the Panthers. There have been too many cases of young quarterbacks being rushed. David Carr is still having nightmares about running for his life behind the Texans hastily assembled offensive line.
The Panthers need to give Newton time to learn. This season is not as important as next for Cam Newton. Ron Rivera would be better off letting Jimmy Clausen play out the season while Newton learns on the sidelines.