Looking over the shoulder of (collegiate) greats

Staring over the shoulders of (collegiate) greatness

A hot topic currently swirling among scouting circles is the viability of Auburn’s Cameron Newton as a legitimate first round talent for the 2011 NFL Draft.

To take a closer look at this inquiry, TFY’s DraftInsider.net would like to welcome our newest guest contributor, Richard Alan Phipps.

Phipps take the time to break down two similar talents who were drafted highly as they compared with the Tigers’ Heisman Trophy front runner…

With the relentless spectacle surrounding the recruitment of Auburn junior gunslinger Cameron Newton likely to linger long after his weird eligibility journey earlier in the week, most draft pundits and college football observers expect the athletic quarterback to announce his intentions to enter the 2011 NFL Draft shortly after the Tigers impending bowl game in January.  As Stanford’s junior signal-caller, Andrew Luck,  settles in at the top of most draft boards, followed by Arkansas junior Ryan Mallet and Washington senior Jake Locker, Newton continues to carve his niche into the cluttered landscape of this draft class.

Scouts and evaluators have mixed reviews on Newton as a quarterback transitioning to the NFL.

“A prospect that could revolutionize the position,” claimed one national scout.

Another insists, “Newton will use his athleticism to transition to an h-back or he’ll go the rounds.”

Regardless of the shady recruitment of Newton, his prospects as a pro-caliber quarterback have skyrocketed due to his play on the field. Newton has an impressive arsenal of tools, possessing elite arm-strength, impressive mobility to get out of the pocket, and ideal height for the position. Newton also has an uncanny ability to produce under the lights, and he seems to possess that “it” factor, as his head coach, Gene Chizik, told the nation months ago.

“You can just see Cameron, physically, when he walks in the door you know he’s a very athletic, very talented young man,” Chizik said at his SEC media day in July.

There are detractors out there, and they are quick to point out Newton’s problems, mainly a host of footwork issues and mechanical concerns in the pocket. He has a bad tendency of staring down one side of the field before he tucks it and runs, and the offensive philosophies of Florida, Blinn College, and Auburn all limit coverage reads in the passing game. He is fairly accurate out of the pocket, but he consistently shows bad balance and telegraphs too many of his intended passes.

Outside of his physical tools, it is hard to evaluate Newton without bringing up the names Tim Tebow and Vince Young; two mobile quarterbacks with similar collegiate success and cult followings and two players who left lasting impressions on the field in their final seasons.  Each one of these prospects faced three daunting challenges in their final season that many professional scouts would equate to playing on Sunday’s in the NFL.

Vince Young

( @ Ohio State )

18/29  62%  270yds  2 td 2 int

76 rush yds

( Oklahoma )

14/27  52%  241yds  3 td 0 int

45 rush yds

( USC )

30/40  75%  267yds  0 td 0 int

200 rush yds  3 td

Tim Tebow

( @ Alabama )

20/35  57%  247yds  1 td 1 int

63 rush yds

( Tennessee )

14/19  74%  115yds  0 td 1 int

76 rush yds  1 td

( LSU )

11/16  69%  134yds  1 td 1 int

38 rush yds  0 td

Cameron Newton ( @ Alabama)

13/20  65%  216yds  3 td 0 int

39 rush yds  1 td

( LSU )

10/16  63%  86yds  0 td 0 int

217 rush yds  2 td

( Arkansas )

10/14  71%  140yds  1 td 0 int

188 rush yds  3 td

When it comes to comparisons with Young and Tebow, it is often the things that are left unspoken that seem to differentiate these prospects in terms of draft positioning. Young, for example, was drafted by an Oklahoma native in Bud Adams, an owner with strong ties to the state of Texas and its university. Young has yet to claim his position as the unquestionable full-time starter for the Tennessee Titans, seemingly in a constant struggle to hold off the ageless Kerry Collins while continuing to battle maturity issues and mediocre success at the position.

Tim Tebow, the quintessential poster-boy for the Cameron Newton hype, brightened living rooms and bars around the country for four years at Florida  begging the question… If Tebow was Superman, what does that make Newton, a player who has put up similar seasonal numbers in just one year of SEC play? If Tebow only warranted the 25th pick in the draft, where does that put Newton in terms of market value?

The Denver Broncos ultimately pulled the trigger on Tebow late in the 1st round of the 2010 NFL Draft, amid some controversy over the pick. In terms of value, Tebow brought instant financial benefits to Denver, along with a Christian pedigree and a strong work-ethic that all coaches crave. Tebow has a total of three yards passing for his rookie season. The single completion being a goal-line touchdown pass.

Newton has led his team to success this season using an offensive philosophy tailored to his individual talents. Like Virginia Tech’s Michael Vick at the beginning of the decade, Newton’s coaching staff will not put the career 63% passer in many situations where he must complete a pass, something that many NFL brass will frown upon.  One undeniable fact working in his favor is his decision-making in these big games, throwing no interceptions while enduring enormous pressure at certain points in all three of his big games.

As the hype and glamor of the college football season winds down and scouts get the film rolling on Cameron Newton, expect them to find too many flaws and questions marks in his toolbox to warrant a high first-round grade. The grumblings surrounding his recruitment, along with his felony arrest and consequential court  approved deal to dismiss the charges and enter a diversion program, will cast a giant cloud over his head for some teams in the league. Still, with is ability to create buzz and excitement, and the potential to strike gold with his physical talents, his name will probably be called late on the first night of the annual draft.