Cam Newton at the Combine, via usatoday.com
With the NFL combine going on this week, it’s time for us to begin turning our attention to the NFL draft here at FootballRelativity.com. And in this year’s draft, no player will draw more attention or be under more scrutiny than Cam Newton. So we want to begin analyzing the stock of the Heisman Trophy winner and national champion to see if Newton really is worth the investment as the No. 1 overall pick.
Newton is the harbinger of this year’s draft. Like Tim Tebow last year, he’ll elicit more conversation, more questions, and more analysis than any other player. The difference is that, while Tebow was a developmental project whom the Broncos picked at the end of the first round, Newton is a more developed prospect with elite physical gifts who could go No. 1 overall.
But is Newton worth the No. 1 pick, or is his draft stock a scam? Is it wise for the Panthers, clutching the No. 1 pick, or the Bills (No. 3) or Bengals (No. 4) to invest a top-five pick in a player with one year of major-college starting experience? And is Newton’s college controversy or self-professed desire to be an icon a sign of trouble?
The answer lies not in Newton’s connection to Tebow but in his similarity to another evolutionary quarterback - Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman.
The Panthers, for their part, have expressed interest in Newton. That’s because they have to. For one, due diligence demands they take a hard look at a prospect with the accomplishments and talents that Newton has. But taking a public interest in Newton also helps to buoy Newton’s stock, and thus the value of the No. 1 pick. If Carolina is interested, than a top-10 drafting team that decides it simply must have Newton can’t sit back; they would have to trade up. It seems from the outside that trading down and adding picks (the Panthers dealt their 2011 second-rounder in a draft-day trade for WR Armanti Edwards last year) is a better result for Carolina. And if the Panthers believe that another of the potential first-round quarterbacks – Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Mallett, Jake Locker, or even Christian Ponder or Andy Dalton – is equal to or even better than Newton, a trade down makes sense.
But what’s best for the Panthers still doesn’t indicate whether Newton is worth the top pick. His combine workout was inconsistent at best, as he had a lot of trouble hitting the deep out. Questions about his footwork persist, since Newton played in the shotgun last year and most NFL teams demand a quarterback play under center most of the time. It seems that Newton will require some development time, which is a hard thing for an also-ran NFL franchise with a quarterback need to provide.
But Newton also has elite physical gifts. His leaping ability in Combine drills set Twitter abuzz, as did his quick 40 time. And Newton’s accuracy and progression skills at Auburn were significantly better than what Tebow did at Florida. Newton led his team to come-from-behind victories and stepped up in big moments, which are essential traits for an elite NFL quarterback. There’s definitely a lot to Newton that would make NFL scouts drool.
This means that Newton isn’t a scam. He isn’t a perfect prospect, and he isn’t as safe a pick as a guy like Da’Quan Bowers or Marcel Dareus or A.J. Green. Newton’s future will rely, in part, on the franchise that picks him providing the coaching and time he needs. But Newton could be the next Freeman, which is pretty high praise indeed. Freeman has already become the centerpiece of a rebuilding project in Tampa Bay, and his quick growth allowed the Bucs to jump to 10-6 in 2010, with even better things on the horizon.
If a team believes Newton is greater than or equal to Freeman, it should take Newton No. 1 or trade up to do so. That strategy might be a bit of a leap of faith, but it’s certainly no scam.