For awhile, Auburn junior quarterback Cam Newton was one of the hottest prospects in the 2011 NFL Draft. He torched the college football landscape in 2010, to the tune of 50 touchdowns, a Heisman Trophy, an undefeated season and a BCS National Championship. When Stanford's Andrew Luck decided to return to school, Newton immediately became a possible No. 1 overall pick.
Newton's stock has cooled somewhat in the early portions of the draft process, mostly because he hasn't had anything to do yet, as he's an underclassman entry. That's probably why Newton, perhaps at the behest of his infamous father, Cecil, has manufactured a media-only workout for himself this afternoon in San Diego. That little morsel of controversial hype has rubbed many NFL personnel men the wrong way.
Even still, Newton's talent is undeniable. So undeniable, in fact, that according to Tony Pauline of DraftInsiders.net, at least six NFL teams have Newton rated as the top available player this year. Yes, not just quarterback - we're talking every player, every position, and Newton is perceived as the best. Writes Pauline:
Last week in San Antonio at least six different teams said they rank Auburn quarterbackas the number one prospect in the draft. The opinions were comprised from scouts, personnel directors and a few coaches. All had Newton rated clearly higher than Da'Quan Bowers, Nick Fairley, Marcel Dareus and competing signal caller Blaine Gabbert.
There are eight teams - that would be one-quarter of the NFL - picking in the top half of the 2011 NFL Draft that not only could be among the teams Pauline is referencing, but should be working hardest to dig up every possible detail on Newton the person and Newton the player. Those eight quarterback-needy teams are as follows...
Carolina Panthers (No. 1): Yes, they have Jimmy Clausen. It is not mandatory that the Panthers take a rookie quarterback; they can easily justify trying to develop their 2010 second-round pick. Here's the thing: in December, everyone was certain that the Panthers would take Luck for a very good reason. They need a quarterback. There's no guarantee that Ron Rivera will be sold on Clausen as his starter; in fact, it's probably easier to argue he won't be. Admit it: the thought of Newton bumping heads with , Matt Ryan and in the NFC South intrigues you.
Buffalo Bills (No. 3): This might actually be a beneficial situation for Newton. The Bills have a quarterback that they think they can win with in Ryan Fitzpatrick, but their brain trust (GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey) seem aware of the fact that he's not a long-term answer, as well. Here, Newton would be out of the spotlight for at least a year as he sat behind Fitzpatrick, worked with Gailey's coaching staff, and learned Gailey's offense. Buffalo has been looking for a franchise quarterback since Jim Kelly's retirement; they'd better be right if they pass on Newton.
Arizona Cardinals (No. 5): Ken Whisenhunt knows the value of a big-bodied quarterback capable of extending plays and making something out of nothing, as he coached - a player that Newton has drawn comparisons to - while the two were together in Pittsburgh. Arizona is desperate for a quarterback, though again, they have a couple of youngsters (John Skelton, Max Hall) that they seem to like. The Cardinals will also be linked to every veteran quarterback available via free agency or trade this off-season, as the team is trying to keep Larry Fitzgerald happy.
San Francisco 49ers (No. 7): There aren't a lot of people projecting Newton here, mostly because the idea of Jim Harbaugh coveting Newton seems far-fetched; they seem like a duo destined to clash. Still, like Arizona, San Francisco is a quarterback away from becoming the front-runner for an NFC West title - and as such, they, too, will be linked to veteran quarterbacks this off-season. Aside from the personality mismatch, another factor seemingly working against this marriage is Harbaugh's west coast offense, which would accentuate Newton's technical deficiencies.
Tennessee Titans (No. 8): This would be a story and a half, now, wouldn't it? Bud Adams is picking up the pieces from a power struggle between Jeff Fisher and Vince Young that was won by, well, Bud Adams. Vince Young is the key factor here; Newton's playing style has also been compared to the Titans' former No. 3 overall pick. How willing would the Titans be, under the direction of new head coach Mike Munchak, to take on another highly-talented personality risk at quarterback? One thing is certain: this team has absolutely nothing in the way of a long-term vision at the position.
Washington Redskins (No. 10): Washington is so desperate for a quarterback now that the Donovan McNabb experiment has failed that people continue to insist that Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan will seriously consider Jake Locker with their first-round pick. If they're considering Locker, surely they have to be considering Newton. Shanahan, like Harbaugh, falls into the category of a coach that runs a specific offense, and Newton may not be a snug fit in that system. The same can probably be said of Rex Grossman, however, and the Redskins don't have a young guy waiting in the wings.
Minnesota Vikings (No. 12): Minnesota has been a popular landing spot for Newton in early mock drafts. The Vikings are probably just about done waiting for Tarvaris Jackson to emerge as the star only Brad Childress thought he'd be, but they do have an intriguing young guy on their roster in Joe Webb. The Vikings, just a year removed from the NFC Championship Game, will be another team linked to veteran signal callers for that reason alone - even with the Lombardi Trophy in their division. Leslie Frazier also profiles as the type of coach that would be able to keep Newton focused on the task at hand should his alleged personality flaws manifest themselves.
Miami Dolphins (No. 15): Here, finally, we arrive at the team that Pauline references by name in his report:
We hear the Miami Dolphins have been inquiring heavily into Newton at this stage of the game.
Reports first surfaced last year that Dolphins upper management had lost faith in hand-picked starter Chad Henne, who fell short of lofty expectations in throwing 19 interceptions to just 15 touchdowns in 2010. If that remains true, the Dolphins once again lack a long-term answer at the position, though they certainly seem ready and willing to give Henne one last shot at a starting job next year. While Newton doesn't seem like a Bill Parcells type of QB - remember, GM Jeff Ireland is a Parcells disciple - there's little question that Newton would bring the type of star power to Miami that owner Stephen Ross clearly covets.