With a strong showing in tonight's BCS National Championship game, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton could position himself as the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Former Colts head coach Tony Dungy made an excellent point about Newton last week on the Dan Patrick Show. He said with Andrew Luck no longer in the draft and quarterbacks being such a commodity could lead to Newton going first overall.
Of course the junior would have to enter the draft first, a declaration that would have be made by Saturday.
Dungy noted that Newton could also be an enticing pick if a rookie wage scale is passed. Although it would be a risk using a No. 1 pick on Newton, it wouldn't be such a monetary burden.There are some factors in place going into tonight's game that could lead to Newton being the top choice.
First, Auburn is facing almost the exact same defense that made Terrelle Pryor look like a superstar in the Rose Bowl last year. After picking apart the Oregon secondary, Pryor looked liked a future star. Imagine what Newton may be able to do against a secondary that doesn't have T.J. Ward.
There is also recent evidence of the title game leading to draft fortune.
In 2005, the national title game turned Texas' Vince Young into a superstar. He ran for 200 yards and passed for 267 more against what was to be a historically great Southern California. It wouldn't be a shock to see Newton put up similar numbers against Oregon tonight. He's rushed for 180 yards or more in three games this season, including 217 against LSU.
Newton rode MVP honors all the way to draft day when the Titans picked him third overall in 2006. In a draft that features no sure thing at the top, and Carolina perhaps thinking quarterback, Newton could be the front-runner for the first overall pick after tonight.
Other National Championship game notes:
This is likely the last game in college for Auburn's Nick Fairley. A potential top-five pick, Fairley is the kind of mean and nasty defensive lineman who could change the attitude of a defense. Tonight will be a great test for Fairley's endurance against the up-temp Oregon offense.
One draft riser to watch tonight is Oregon inside linebacker Casey Matthews. He's no where near the player his brother is for the Packers, but Casey is a heady and physical linebacker. He'll have a spot in the NFL, at least playing special teams. He's a much better all-around linebacker than most think. He may be asked to spy Newton some tonight and will get to show off his lateral agility.
Oregon defensive lineman Brandon Bair is the kind of under-the-radar kind of player who could find a niche as a 3-4 end in the NFL. He has great size at 6-foot-6 and 272 pounds and plays with good technique. He led the Pac-10 in tackles for loss as a senior. He is already 26, so that could have a negative impact on his draft stock.
Ducks wide receiver Jeff Maehl is the key component in Oregon's passing offense. As a senior, Maehl has caught 68 passes for 943 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has solid speed and hands.
Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes hasn't had the kind of playmaking season some expected of him this year. He's a solid fifth-round prospect who could help a team as a backup.
After Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi, Auburn left tackle Lee Ziemba may be the best drive blocker in this year's class. Like Carimi, ZIemba projects to the right side because he's not very athletic. He's strong in the running game and was named a second-team All-American by the Associated Press.
Another Auburn offensive lineman to watch tonight is center Ryan Pugh. In moderately strong center class, Pugh might wait a while on draft weekend to hear his named called. But he's a tough player who could eventually start in the NFL.