What a whirlwind year for Cam Newton. From junior college national champion at Blinn Community College (TX) to Heisman front runner for undefeated Auburn, with allegations of play for pay thrown in, it certainly hasn’t been an uneventful time.
I wanted to get a look at Newton from an NFL prospect perspective, and not just focus on the amazing way he’s played through the SEC this season, making all but perhaps those in Gator country, forget about one Timothy Tebow.
I got tape on three games from this season, Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi State to try to compare and contrast.
Size: The first thing you note about Cam Newton is his size. If he were to step into the NFL right now, he’d be the biggest quarterback out there from the get go. Size at the quarterback position is a must. You have to have the size to be able to take the repeated pounding a QB will at the NFL level. Just ask former Dolphins QB Pat White about that.
Arm Strength: One thing that pops out at you right away is the arm strength Newton possesses. He gets the ball out quickly and with the velocity needed to succeed at the next level. He can throw outside the numbers, and I don’t see a throw he doesn’t possess the ability to make.
Accuracy: Newton has great placement on the deep ball, but I have noticed some inconsistencies in his short to intermediate game. A lot of this stems from mechanical issues, which I’ll cover momentarily. Newton is often passing into very wide passing lanes thanks to Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn (whom I consider the top offensive mind in college football) and his spread attack. Most of these throws Newton generally made pretty well, catchable at least, but he needs to do a better job hitting open receivers in stride, and leading open receivers for bigger gains. A perfect example of this was during the Alabama game where Newton threw the ball behind a wide open Terrell Zachary in the second quarter. Zachary managed to put hands on the ball, but ultimately dropped what would have been a minimum 10-12 yard gain, which would have been a huge spark to an Auburn team already down 21-0. Newton faced very little pressure, and attempted an unnecessary “jump pass” when simply setting his feet, and leading his receiver would have been the thing to do. Is it possible Newton was rattled from the pressure Alabama had been so adept at bringing early on? Sure, but in looking over this play it simply seems like Newton hasn’t had much coaching in the mechanical area of the game, instead simply coasting by on athleticism (and being allowed to do so by his coaches).
As I said it was tough to find a lot of window throws on Newton, and what I did find when charting them, wasn’t very impressive (that amazing sideline fourth down conversion against Alabama not withstanding). He has a tendency to throw the ball high, and not spin it cleanly when throwing into tight coverage, especially on shorter routes. Auburn tried a WR mid screen early against Alabama, and the receiver actually had to jump to catch the football. The lost time in the receiver resetting his feet, allowed the Crimson Tide linebacker to shed his block and make the tackle for no gain.
Mechanical:This is quite possibly the weakest area of Newton’s game. His mechanics are quite often down right awful. He has a propensity to throw off balance and off his back foot, even when not facing any measurable pressure. Both throws I mentioned above featured Newton doing some sort of ridiculous “hop pass” despite have absolutely no reason to. A good NFL QB coach will do nothing but footwork drills for the first few weeks he’s in camp.
Newton will sidearm the ball at times, though I haven’t found him to do so at inappropriate times. For some reason on a lot of intermediate throws, the ball seems to come out with an odd wobble, and not be spun cleanly. This is usually an indicator of a poor grip on the football which can stem from either small hands, or simply a poor gripping technique to begin with.
Mobility: I don’t think anyone who has watched college football this season really needs this aspect of Newton’s game covered. Newton is a long strider with enough straight line speed to beat you in a foot race, and the power to break tackles if you don’t use proper technique and wrap up. He’s not shifty, like a Michael Vick, and his running style doesn’t really translate to the NFL in the way Vick’s has, but he will have to be accounted for, and he will be able to buy himself plenty of additional time at the NFL level.
Pre/Post snap reads: Another glaring weakness in Newton’s game is the lack of pre-snap reads. This isn’t his fault, it’s a product of Auburn’s offensive style, but taking the audible ability out of the hands of your quarterback, does a disservice in preparing him for life in the NFL. Since all of the calls come from the sideline, Newton will be behind the curve in diagnosing defensive looks at the NFL level.
Post snap, Newton has been given mostly simplified half field reads, thanks to the offensive system he’s in. Most pass plays are designed 1-2 reads and then for Newton to take off. We’ve seen quarterbacks struggle mightily to transition from this type of offense before (Vince Young). I’m not saying Newton can’t, I’m just saying he certainly has his work cut out for him.
Intangibles:Newton certainly has that “it” factor. Looks like he has absolute command of the huddle, never looks panicked, always seems to be beaming from ear to ear…that type of infectious behavior is motivational and goes over well at the professional level.
Character: Relying only on second hand accounts is usually a poor way to judge character, but at the moment it’s all I have. Newton is said to be very charismatic, humble, and perpetually upbeat. That said, the cloud of this “play for pay” scandal, as well as some prior transgressions before leaving the University of Florida should certainly have some teams questioning whether or not you want to make him the face of your franchise. Teams will definitely want to sit him through a couple of interviews to get a good assessment.
Overall Newton is an intriguing prospect. He will be a project for whatever teams eventually drafts him. Personally given the amount of work that’s going to have to go into him, as well as the potential character risk, I wouldn’t touch him before the second round. You just don’t make a guy with as many things swirling above him as Cam Newton, the face of your franchise. That said, given the raw physicality, size, and athleticism, I can definitely see a team that thinks they can coach him up, snapping him up in the late first round, where salaries aren’t prohibitively high to sit a guy for awhile.