At Auburn, he was either a cheater or savior. He was either a kid who worked hard to get past his issues at Florida, or a kid who who still didn't care about playing by the rules at Auburn. He was everything that's wrong with college football, or he was everything we love about college football. Since turning pro, he's either been a phenomenal athlete with unlimited upside, or an arrogant athlete with major red flags. It just depends who's looking.
This has always been the story with Cam Newton, where too much about us and less about him. So it's only appropriate that it'd all continue on draft night. This wasn't the same as Tim Tebow sneaking into the first round and giving sports talk shows a story to beat into the ground. Just like always, Cam Newton managed to polarize us in the most spectacular way possible.
So what do you think?
My mancrush on him is on the record by now—how his investigation was unfair, why his year at Auburn was is the best college football story in years, and more recently, why NFL scouts questioning his character are full of crap—so nobody's claiming 100 percent objectivity here.
But let's try to focus on the facts. And this much we know: With the entire world dissecting his every move for the past six months—parsing every throw, quote, and smile for some deeper meaning that confirms how we feel about him—Cam Newton's won the Heisman Trophy, a National Title, and turned himself into the number one pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. It's not to say he's been perfect, but how many prospects have ever been better?
If winning is what matters in the NFL, then you gotta admit, he's off to pretty impressive start. And he's done it under more pressure than anyone has ever given him credit for.
As for what happens in Carolina, let's see... His teammates won't be as good, and NFL defense will be a thousand times better and more complex than the ones he faced in the SEC. He'll play in an offense that asks him to understand more, and succeed with less talent. Factor in the likelihood that he'll probably get thrown onto the field earlier than he should, and those problems compound themselves. Plus, he'll still be dogged by reporters on a weekly basis, and he's playing in a division with three of the best teams in the NFC (Falcons, Saints, and Bucs), and winning gets harder.
But that's true for every quarterback drafted in the top five. Like, ever. The deck is stacked against him, but as far as becoming an NFL superstar, the deck is stacked against everyone. And if you're looking to gauge whether Cam Newton can succeed in Carolina, remember that he's already done more than just about any prospect the Panthers had to choose from.
Every time Auburn needed to make a play last year, Cam delivered. When they needed a throw to be perfect, it was. When they needed first down, Cam ran for it. When they went down 24-0 in the second quarter at Alabama, Newton scored four touchdowns to win it, 28-27. Under the most intense media scrutiny toward an athlete this side of Tiger Woods, he only got better as the year unfolded. During a draft process where some of the biggest names in NFL media openly called him overrated, selfish, and arrogant, Cam never snapped. And in the end, he's won and won and won.
That's what's so amazing to me when people question his "intangibles" and call him a character risk. Forget the insane athleticism or the arm strength or the ticket sales that come with him; not a single player in the draft has more proven intangibles than Newton.
In the end, if he's going to pay off for the Panthers, he'll have to stay healthy, plenty of his success will depend on teammates, and his transition to an NFL offense will a story of its own. It'll take time, and probably some luck. But whatever happens, Carolina picked the right guy.
Beyond all the complexity that plays into whether he succeeds or fails, it's pretty simple: you don't pass on a player with that much athleticism and potential, and that much winning to go with it. You see one or the other all the time in the NFL Draft, but you almost never see both.
The thing about a Rorschach test is, if you look too close, you might be missing the bigger picture.