Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2011 NFL Draft - Cam Newton Should Not be a Top 10 Pick

National Title…Heisman Trophy…One Man Show
Pay For Play…Rough Mechanics…Questionable Character

With a certain heralded QB from Gooberville moving on to the professional ranks, Auburn’s Cam Newton was easily the most polarizing figure in college football this season. Not counting the National Title game, Newton finished 10th in the country in all purpose yards per game with 307.54, including 1,580 rushing yards. Numbers like that and being the QB of a championship 14-0 team led to his numerous accolades including the Walter Camp POY, Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien Award, 1st team All American, SEC Player of the Year, SEC Championship Game MVP, AP POY, and Heisman Trophy Winner. With a resume like that one would assume that this young man is destined for NFL greatness. Not to say he can’t get there, but I believe his future success is far from the certainty many claim it will be.

Before getting into the negatives, let me say that I do believe Newton has potential as a QB at the next level. At 6-6, 240 he has great size to handle the physicality of the NFL game. He won’t threaten Michael Vick in a foot race, but Newton brings plus speed and quickness to the position. He’s a strong, shifty, balanced runner who isn’t afraid of contact. When dropping back to pass, he holds the ball up well and doesn’t wilt in the pocket. He hangs in there and keeps his head up enabling him to still make plays downfield despite the pressure. I wouldn’t say he sees the whole field, but he exhibits good field vision for his amount of experience. He has a big arm and makes defenses who stuff the box to take away his legs pay with a nice deep ball.

But there’s a lot of work to do. For starters, Newton has only been a starter at a high level for this season. There’s not a lot of film or trends to take from his file. He’s clearly going to need a good bit of work in both the physical and mental aspects of playing QB in the pros. I haven’t seen a great ability to read defenses. On the rare occasions he was threatened by a defense this season, his decisions were delayed, and his play was shaky. I’m a firm believer in that the #1 skill a QB must possess is the ability to make quick decisions. NFL defenses force you to make quick decisions on a snap by snap basis, eliminating a player’s ability to get by, predominantly, on physical talent. He comes from a system that isn’t exactly pro style in nature and didn’t lend itself to having the QB make a lot of decisions/reads. That’s not his fault, but it is something that will take time to learn; as will consistently taking a snap from under center. He needs to develop smoother feet and better balance in the pocket. I don’t see a consistent clock with him, and that’s something that goes back to decision making. I believe that another area he needs to spend a great deal of time on is improving his throwing ability on the run. He’s really sporadic in this area now, and with his athleticism, becoming a serious threat to throw the ball once he leaves the pocket will serve him tremendously in the pros. Increasing the catchability of his passes and timing in completing them will lead to more yards after the catch by his receivers. Newton’s arm action is overly deliberate on short passing patterns. I’m not sure whether or not that’s something taught at Auburn, but NFL defenses will jump all over it. His skillset reminds me of Tim Tebow’s (duh, they both were recruited by Urban Meyer) in that they both need a lot of coaching up as a QB in the footwork and delivery areas and possess better deep than intermediate passing accuracy.

Did I mention the off field controversy? Now I never pretend to live in a glass house, but to me, if it looks like shit, and smells like shit, it’s probably shit. The NCAA and its buffoonery aside, you cannot look me in the eye and tell me with a straight face that Cam Newton had no idea that his dad was involved in shenanigans with some university-related folks. I’m wondering who was more surprised when it was announced that he wasn’t going to Mississippi State, the Bulldog coaches or Cam himself. To hypothesize a theoretical comment, “Uh, dad. So I don’t want to go to Mississippi State anymore? Huh? Oh, okay, I want to go to Auburn now? How much? Woohoo, War Eagle!” I wouldn’t consider myself a college recruiting guru, but even I heard/read public comments on his desire to go to Mississippi State. And he didn’t know anything at all about what his dad was doing? To quote Cris Carter, “Come on man!” You can’t tell me that there wasn’t one single discussion, comment, or whisper about the sketchy dealings going on between his dad and potential suitors. Do we even need to mention his time at Florida and how well that went? Stealing from anyone, let alone a fellow student, is a pretty classy thing to do, right? Throwing it out the window and destroying it in an attempt to cover up your crime when you’ve been busted by the authorities is commendable behavior as well, isn’t it?

Ever read the Heisman’s mission statement? The first sentence ends with the words, “…whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” I assume their mission statement should not mistaken for selection criteria.

To get away from the negatives for a moment, let’s look at who just might be the next team from which Cam collects a paycheck. Here’s the top 10 and a little bit on their current QB situations:

1) Carolina – Jimmy Clausen, Matt Moore, Brian St. Pierre, and Tony Pike
People postulated that the Panthers were going to take a QB at #1 overall, despite selecting Clausen in R2 last year, but that was with Andrew Luck still in the picture. Matt Ryan was the most NFL ready QB entering the league since Peyton Manning, and Luck reminds me a lot of Ryan. Looking back on Ryan’s draft class, it wasn’t that I didn’t believe in his potential. I was just a strong proponent of Brian Brohm’s. That worked out well didn’t it? Anyways, back on topic, Luck > Newton, and I don’t think anyone’s discussing a project of Newton’s nature at #1 overall. Add in the ultra-conservative nature of Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson and the hiring of defensive-minded Ron Rivera as head coach, and I’d be really surprised if Newton’s name was even mentioned in passing as an option for Carolina.

2) Denver – Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, Brady Quinn
He’s not going here.

3) Buffalo – Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Brohm, Levi Brown
If you take a look around, some of the early draft talk surrounding Newton centers on Buffalo at #3. That really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but then again, it is Buffalo. You know, the team that needed help at any position but RB last year and ended up taking CJ Spiller 17th overall. Fitzpatrick had an impressive season and, in my opinion, did enough to stake his claim on the job. He brought the most stability to the Bills’ QB position since Drew Bledsoe’s 2002 season. During that span, the Bills have suffered through Kelly Holcomb, JP Losman, and Trent Edwards. Fitzpatrick is better in yardage, TD/INT ratio, QB rating, and sack rate (% of drop backs resulting in sacks) than the previous threesome. His sack rate is noticeably better, and he’s working behind an offensive line that is no better (at best) than the one that protected the previous passers. No one is going to confuse Fitzpatrick for Dan Fouts, but is a QB really something you need at #3 Buffalo? First and foremost, you need a lot of improvement on the defensive side of the ball. Where should we start? How about a rush defense that finished dead last in the league with 169.6 yards allowed on the ground per game? Or maybe a coverage unit that surrendered 28 passing TDs while forcing only 11 INTs, one of the worst ratios in the league? The offensive line is still a mess, but there isn’t a top 10, let alone top 3, offensive line prospect in this draft. Unless they’re being uncommonly stubborn, I would have to think defense gets addressed with this pick.

4) Cincinnati – Carson Palmer, Jordan Palmer, Den Lefevour
I’m far from a Palmer apologist, but am I the only one who noticed how well that offense ran without Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb around to express their disappointment after every play that didn’t end with the football in their hands? Mike Brown knows what he has in Palmer. He also knows what he had in Akili Smith and David Klingler, and I wouldn’t be shocked if the craptastic Cincinnati careers of the latter two keep him from investing heavily in an unknown QB ever again. But as with Buffalo, and with an even stronger voice here, I have to ask. Is QB really your biggest problem? I believe Palmer’s better days are behind him, but is it worth ditching or humiliating (I’m guessing he would be) him by taking a QB in the top 5 and sitting through at least a couple more years of 4-12 football while waiting for Newton to develop? Drafting a pass rusher like Da’Quan Bowers or Robert Quinn would be a better way to use the pick than Newton.

5) Arizona – John Skelton, Max Hall, Richard Bartel, Derek Anderson
Call me crazy, but I think the Cardinals already have their QB of the future. I can’t (didn’t) claim to know a ton about Skelton this time last year, but from what limited footage I did see, I saw a QB who reminded me a lot of Josh Freeman – great size, solid build, big arm, strong in the pocket, impressive speed/mobility for a guy his size. He didn’t set the world on fire in limited action this year, but going 2-2 in his first four starts as a 5th round pick out of Fordham showed me something. As he needed to do coming out last year, Skelton must improve his accuracy, especially in the intermediate game. The one thing that stands out to me is that in 126 attempts, only 2 of them went to the other team. I believe investing in another rookie QB would be a huge mistake for the Cardinals and that a wiser option would be to pursue a viable veteran like Donovan McNabb this offseason as a bridge to Skelton.

6) Cleveland – Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace, Jake Delhomme
He’s not coming here.

7) San Francisco – Alex Smith, Troy Smith, David Carr, Nate Davis
If I’m a Niner fan, I don’t want any of these guys taking a snap next year. Troy Smith is the only one I’d keep on the roster, and I’d prefer he was holding a clipboard rather than a football. Gone is Mike Singletary, in is Jim Harbaugh, and while Harbaugh’s Stanford Cardinal didn’t face Newton’s Auburn Tigers this year, I’m guessing he’s fairly familiar with his play. Would Newton be the type of QB Harbaugh wants to build his system around? Nothing against Newton, but he wasn’t exactly entrusted with the same offensive responsibilities as was Luck. Back to the decision making I mentioned earlier, far more was asked from Luck in that regard than Newton. With the Niners in desperate need for a QB, I’m not saying it’s out of the realm of possibility, but I don’t see a match here.

8) Tennessee – Kerry Collins, Chris Simms, Rusty Smith
I’ll be the first to admit that the middle finger flipping owner of the Titans, Bud Adams, is a little off his rocker, but would the old guy draft Cam Newton in the top 10 after finally washing his hands of Vince Young? Sure, their situations are (somewhat) different, but both are national championship winning QBs who got by more on athleticism than their passing prowess. Not that Collins, Simms, or Smith should be under center come week one, but would Adams really go down that road again, and so soon?

9) Dallas – Tony Romo, Jon Kitna, Stephen McGee
He’s not coming here

10) Washington – Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, John Beck
The first guy on this list is almost certain to be gone. Not to get too far off track, but I’m kind of caught in the middle here. On one hand I think too much (too quickly) is made of McNabb’s benching. He’s not 28 years old anymore and isn’t likely to be the best offensive player on a lot of teams. On the other hand, the guy can still make plays and should (deservingly) get an opportunity to start for any team looking for that “bridge QB”; a team like San Francisco, Arizona, Tennessee, Minnesota, or Miami. Moving down the depth chart, if I’m a Skins fan, I honestly don’t think I could stomach watching my team being led weekly (and weakly) by Rex Grossman. Is Mike Shanahan really that ignorant/senile? This team needs help in a lot of other places too; the offensive line, receiver, corner, free safety, and defensive line. They could have their pick of Jake Locker, Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, and maybe even Ryan Mallett at this point if they go the QB route. Is Cam Shanahan’s guy?

Anyone want to set the odds of Auburn having their national title revoked in the next 10 years? I’m not saying it will happen because, honestly, I believe that all involved parties aren’t going to say another word about it unless bound by law to do so, but are the kinds of controversies with which Newton’s been associated what you’re looking for in a long time leader of your franchise? But wait. Isn’t this America, the land of opportunity and second chances? Sure, look how quickly a large majority has re-embraced dog killer Michael Vick. I’m sure some find peace in that, but if I’m an owner of a team, its coach, its staff, its players, or its fans, Cam Newton’s baggage isn’t something I’m interested in bringing into my home. Despite the obvious upside, is his athleticism such a “must have” that he deserves to be one of the first players selected? Do the speed and the flash outweigh the weaknesses and negatives?

Of the top 10 teams I listed, if forced, I’d put my money on Washington, but I, personally, wouldn’t do it and I don’t expect that they will. For every NFL success story, there are a ton of failures, and while I am not forecasting complete failure for Newton, I don’t see the next big thing when I look at him. The areas in which I believe he needs improvement – accuracy, footwork, pocket clock, defensive reads, etc. – are all related. It’s not like he’s a quick mechanical fix, and boom, you’ve got your guy. I hate (no I don’t) to keep going back to it, but I see a lot of development needing to be done as a decision maker, both on and off the field, if Cam Newton is going to be a success in the next stage of his life.

No comments:

Post a Comment