It’s a good time to be Cameron Newton. What’s that you say? He’s in the middle of an ever deepening pay-for-play scandal? No matter. It’s all sunshine and rainbows for the Auburn junior quarterback. While not all scouts and draftniks are enamored with Newton as a prospect, he will be a first round pick. Whether you like this or not, it really can’t be debated. Not only that, but around him is a near perfect storm of factors ensuring his prosperity. Things really couldn’t be looking much better for Newton. Here’s why:
Auburn has a very good shot at playing in the national championship game. Not only is this good news, but in recent history quarterbacks who have played well in this game have gone early in the NFL draft. The 2009 National Championship game featured two solid quarterback performances. Sam Bradford completed 63.4% of his passes for 256 yards and 2 touchdowns. His performance was marred somewhat by his two interceptions, but the second came late in the game with Oklahoma passing heavily down by two scores. Tebow also threw for 2 picks, but balanced it out with a 60% completion for 231 passing yards and 2 passing touchdowns. This was on top of 109 yards on the ground. The Rams made Bradford the number one overall pick this past year, with Tebow going at 25th overall to the Broncos. Just a few years earlier, Texas’s Vince Young tore up the USC defense by throwing for 267 yards on 75% completion, adding 200 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. USC’s Matt Leinart also performed well, putting up 365 passing yards on 72.5 % completion with a touchdown and a pick. Young went third overall to the Titans in 2006, with Leinart going just seven picks later to the Cardinals. If Newton produce his own dominate performance, a high draft selection looks very likely.
Cam Newton is also on the short list for the 2010 Heisman Trophy. Should he win the award, Newton’s draft stock will continue to rise. There has, however, been some question as to whether Newton would receive votes in light of the pay-for-play allegations. The Heisman Trophy committee does not want another Reggie Bush situation, and as such there has been concern that Newton will not have the benefit of the doubt. Fortunately for Newton, many Heisman voters have stated that "allegations make no difference" in their view of Newton. If this holds true, Newton should and will win the Heisman.
More and more NFL teams are placing greater emphasis on statistics when it comes to the draft, especially when evaluating quarterbacks. There is even a commonly used formula for picking who will be your next franchise signal-caller: the 26-27-60 rule. For those unfamiliar, the numbers refer to 26 college starts, a score of 27 on the Wonderlic test, and a college career completion percentage of 60%. How does Newton measure against this scale? Very well in fact. Newton has started 11 games so far for Auburn, and barring injury will add another 3 before the season is over (next week’s game against Auburn, the SEC championship game, and a bowl game). Last year at Blinn College, Newton started 12 games. All these combine for a grand total of, you guessed it, 26 starts. As for completion percentage, Newton also measures out well. He completed 204 passes on 336 attempts at Blinn; a 60.7 completion percentage. Between Florida and Auburn, Newton has passed 198 times and completed 135 of them; a 68.2 completion percentage. These combine for a very solid 63.5%. If Newton can perform as well on the Wonderlic, he’ll have his share of admirers in NFL front offices.
This NFL season has ignited a rebirth of interest in athletic, running quarterbacks. Michael Vick, once disgraced and written off, is playing as well as any other quarterback in the league. Currently, Vick leads the NFL in quarterback rating, a stat that does not factor in his 375 rushing yards and 5 rushing touchdowns. While not quite as impressive, Vince Young has put together his best season with a 10 – 3 touchdown to interception ratio and a quarterback rating of 98.6. And what are the two most common NFL comparisons for Cam Newton? Michael Vick and Vince Young. Other, less obvious comparisons such as Aaron Rodgers (also a JUCO transfer) and Ben Roethlisberger reflect well on Newton. Rodgers uses his feet and athleticism to keep defenders honest and can run for big gains as his 194 yards on 5.2 rushing average can attest to. Rodgers has been the leading rushing quarterback since 2008, a statistic that looks to continue for at least the rest of this year. His current passing rating on the year is 95.7. Roethlisberger, despite his off the field problems, has played at a high level since day one. He’s a big, athletic, strong armed quarterback just like Newton. Roethlisberger has thrown for over 1,500 yards in just six games with 12 touchdowns against only 4 picks. He has been a rushing threat as well. With these players in mind, teams are more desirous than ever for athletic, running quarterbacks like Newton.
But perhaps the best news for Newton is that so many NFL teams are in need of a franchise quarterback and will for one early in the 2011 draft. The Carolina Panthers, currently in position to have the top pick, have seen little in quarterbacks Jimmy Clausen or Tony Pike to inspire confidence. Clausen has looked clueless in his seven games, and this past week Pike was passed up for journeyman Brian St. Pierre. As such, they very well might take a quarterback with their pick. Following close behind them are the Bills. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a pleasant surprise for Buffalo, but he isn’t a long term, "franchise" quarterback. They’ll likely be tempted if a quality quarterback prospect falls into their lap. The Arizona Cardinals arguably don’t even have a quality backup quarterback on the roster. As such, the team is a mortal lock to draft a quarterback early in the upcoming draft. The Vikings have also joined the In-Need-Of-Quarterback club, and Tarvaris Jackson is clearly not in their future plans. As Kevin Seifert put it, "The only coach in the NFL who considered Jackson a viable long-term starter got fired Monday." Also, despite having his best season to date, Vince Young may be on the outs in Tennessee as he has had yet another falling out with Coach Fisher. Unless owner Bud Adams decides to keep Young over his coach, expect the Titans to be looking at quarterbacks as well. With Matt Hasselbeck nearing the end and Charlie Whitehurst showing nothing to validate their investment of a third rounder and second round pick swap, they too could be looking at the position. Both Jacksonville and Miami have acceptable starters, but they too could be looking for an upgrade. While Newton is most likely not going to be selected before Andrew Luck and Jake Locker, he’s right in the thick of the next level of quarterbacks that includes Arkansas’s Ryan Mallet and Florida State’s Christian Ponder. Accordingly, expect someone to pull the trigger on the Auburn signal-caller very early this upcoming April. Not bad for a guy who was in junior college a year ago and is in the midst of a huge recruiting violation scandal. All things considered, it’s a pretty good time to be Cameron Newton.