In the shocker of all shockers, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton declared for the 2011 NFL Draft, opting to forgo his senior year. After winning the Heisman and National Championship with the Tigers in 2010, his draft stock wasn't going to get any higher with another year. Besides, why should he play for free when he could be making good money doing it?
Now that he's in, experts are scrambling to figure out where Newton will go and if he can be successful in the NFL. After all, Newton is leaving plenty to the imagination, only giving scouts one year of his play against high-level competition to evaluate. Even though we've seen plenty of Newton in 2010, his draft stock remains a mystery as scouts struggle to weight the risk and reward of investing a significant amount of money in him.
While it's virtually guaranteed a team will spend a first round pick on Newton, it's unknown whether he'll flourish or fail at the next level. In 2010, he completed 66 percent of his passes, but was rarely in a position to throw 30 or 40 passes in a game. At Auburn, he was able to freelance, using his legs first, then his arm, to beat the defense.
His 20 completions in the BCS Championship were a career-high, but wouldn't even be a blip on the radar for many NFL quarterbacks. With NFL defenses possessing the speed and size to contain his running, can Newton rely on his arm at the next level?
His physical skills are too tantalizing, but picking Newton early in the first round comes with significant risk. In the end, the impression he made in 2011 will stick, and a team will fall in love with him, likely inside the top-10. Even still, he's far from a guarantee, and it's going to take time for Newton to develop into an NFL passer.
As we've seen time and again, players can get away with being the best athlete on the field at the college level, but see that distinct advantage disappear in the NFL. Whether Newton can learn how to make all the throws, and use his arm as a primary weapon, will determine if he becomes a star in the NFL or another bust that had the tools, but couldn't survive in the league.