This season Cam Newton has played like the second coming of…Vince Young, David Carr, Jamarcus Russell, Akili Smith and yes, Ryan Leaf. Right now, you may be asking how the reigning Heisman winner who has yet to play his final college game has been added to this illustrious group. The answer is really quite simple – he will be a huge NFL bust just like all the others.
No doubt many team’s are looking at Newton’s “evolutionary skills” and thinking about how great he would look in their uniform, especially now that it appears Andrew Luck will return to the college ranks for another season. The only problem is that Newton has all the markings of a one-year wonder NFL bust.
One year wonder NFL bust?
Yes a bust and remember you heard it here first when Newton falls flat on his face in the pros. Has he had a remarkable season against one of the toughest schedules in the nation? Absolutely – but when it comes to making a pro football quarterback that is not the only indication of a sure thing.
Journey with me, if you will, back to 1999. Three quarterbacks were about to be selected 1, 2, 3 in the draft. One of them, Tim Couch, was a dink and dunk, noodle-armed player who in hindsight never really had a chance in the pros. The second was a strong armed one year wonder from Oregon. The third was Donovan McNabb.
Only one of them was entering with the perfect combination necessary for NFL success – McNabb. For a couple of years he had been a solid player for Syracuse and had all the tools necessary for success in the big leagues.
Naturally he is the only one who had any semblence of a career out of the three men. Smith (who some, like SI touted as a potential top pick) fell to the Bengals with the third pick in the draft. However, the warning signs for his eventual NFL failure in the pros were evident even before his name was called. How does this bear on Newton, the one year wonder de jour?
1) Appeared from nowhere to rise to the top of the Collegiete ranks – Like Akili Smith, no one gave Cam Newton any publicity for the Heisman this season. No one gave Auburn a national title shot. Some left them completely out of the top 25. One of the reasons was that Newton came into the season an unknown who transferred out of juco and Florida. Yet, at the end of the season he stood on the podium hoisting the trophy amidst allegations his father recieved money from schools and that he recieved academic “help” while at Florida. (Auburn naturally ignored the fact that this was happening since they were winning football games for the first time in the last five years) Akili Smith, David Carr, Jamarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf all had similiar leaps into the front of the national stage. With each of their miraculous seasons they jumped to the top of draft boards despite their shaky and non-existent long-term histories. (Exception to the rule: Vince Young who had a great career at Texas and went into the draft on the high of his National Title victory…a la Cam Newton?)
2) A Prototype NFL QB…or an “Evolutionary” One – Some scouts stated Jamarcus Russell had the best arm any of them had ever seen. While he could throw it a long way, unfortunately he could not hit the broad side of a barn at the best of times. Ditto David Carr…ditto Akili Smith…ditto Ryan Leaf…Newton on the other hand appears to be a semi-accurate college QB, completing 67% of his throws this season. However, that does not always translate to the pros. David Carr could throw accurately at times too. Guys like Newton, Young and Smith draw in GM’s with tantalizing potential that they can never live up to. Vince Young never had the right attitude to become an NFL quarterback, Jamarcus Russell never had the drive (because he was paid 40 million dollars before playing a snap), David Carr never had the right situation or the body to hold up, Smith and Leaf were just downright terrible. Teams have often played up “the prototype” and in some cases the guys they draft in the sixth round (Tom Brady) live up to it a lot more than the first round players.
3) Lack of an overall great college career – Jamarcus Russell did well enough at LSU to secure himself the number one selection overall thanks to his monster arm. He was a “can’t miss” prospect. He missed…badly. Philip Rivers completed 73% of his passes while at NC State and people felt he would be hit or miss. Which one of them is playing in the Pro Bowl? Not Russell. Vince Young rode a wave of glory in the Rose Bowl to declare for the draft. He went third and is mired in an ugly divorce with the Titans due to the fact that he is downright terrible. While college success does not always indicate a good pro prospect (see Tebow, Tim) at times it can be a solid way to make a pick. Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford were great in college (but avoided the unreachable-tantalizing-potential problem) and have become all-stars and franchise players in the NFL. One of the major problems with players whose potential exceeds their limitations is that teams never quite know what they are getting themselves into since they enter the league a bundle of raw talent. With Vince Young, Alex Smith or Jamarcus Russell their knowledge of intricate pro-style offenses was extremely limited. They could run and throw but they never understood the progression of recievers; they either threw short or long. Another thing that doomed them was the limitations of the pro system as running became less and less of an option against fast, tough NFL linebackers and safeties just waiting to knock them clean out of the game.
The best example of how it may turn out for Newton lies with the improbable return of Michael Vick. In Atlanta he admits he had no idea how to run a pro-style offense. His physical gifts were unlike any the NFL had ever seen and yet he barely scratched the surface of his abilities (for one he had the best arm in the league and chose to throw randomly all over the field). Only now, after he has been incredibly humbled, has Vick begun to play to his potential. He is patient and uses his running ability to keep defenses honest while he surgically dismantles them with his powerful arm.
While Newton (character issues! character issues! Lazy?) has potential to go either way, it is my firm belief he will ultimately be an NFL bust due to the fact he will struggle with pro offenses and will not work hard enough to improve. He will be coast by on his natural abilities and believe they can move him through the rough patches and frighteningly fast defences. Unfortunately, none of his “evolutionary skills” will carry him very far in the pros without an equal amount of dedication and hard work; thus his career may be similiar to Russell’s or Smith’s or, more likely, Vince Young’s.
Then again – he will be getting paid, and we all know how hard he plays for a good payday…