Newton's NFL Future

It's not a question of if, but a question of when will Cameron Newton head to the NFL. Director of Scouting Scott Kennedy breaks down Newton and where he'll fit in the NFL.

Auburn University has a quarterback that's a pretty good football player. Cameron Newton. Maybe you've heard of him? He's been in the news a lot this college football season.

No matter how the media circus surrounding Newton and the allegations against him and his father play out over the course of the next several weeks, or years if the NCAA gets involved more heavily, college football isn't how Newton's legacy will be defined.

While he's not finished leaving his mark on the NFL's minor leagues, the question might now be whether the hypocrisy of trying to be a student athlete in the billion dollar business that is the NCAA will push him to leave for the NFL draft this year or if he'll want to stick around for his senior season.

That is a question that will have a definitive answer in the next few months (the deadline for underclassmen to declare is the third week of January), but there is never a definitive answer when it comes to projecting how players will fit on the next level.

What is Newton's NFL future?

Nearly everyone knows Newton can run. He needed only eight games to break the SEC record for rushing yards by a quarterback. He extends that record every week, and he currently has 1,146 yards and 15 touchdowns heading into this weekend's showdown against Georgia in the South's Oldest Rivalry.

We know he can run, but so can Georgia Tech's Joshua Nesbitt who eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing in 2009 but will not get a look from the NFL as a quarterback.

At a listed 6-6 and 250 pounds, Newton compares physically with former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones. Jones was dubbed the Freak at the NFL Combine after posting a 4.40 forty while measuring 6-6 and 242 pounds. Jones was drafted in the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2005.

Sound familiar?

On a play in the first quarter against Ole Miss, Newton looked like the NFL version of Jones. Former starting quarterback Kodi Burns lined up behind center and threw a fade pass to the back corner of the end zone. Newton elevated over defensive back Jeremy McGee, caught the ball, twisted his body on the way back down, and did a double toe tap in the back corner of the end zone that would have made Larry Fitzgerald proud.

Newton is a first round athlete.

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis) 

Many of Newton's highlights to this point of his career at Auburn have been jaw dropping runs, leading many people to mistakenly believe that he was a special athlete playing quarterback. On the contrary, Newton is a quarterback that is a special athlete.

While being second in the nation in passing efficiency is an indicator that Newton is much more than a run-only quarterback, stats are of little use to an NFL Scout. Measurables take over when it comes time to draft a quarterback, and college production becomes less of a factor.

So, let's take a look at Cam Newton the passer, because after all is said and done, his right arm will dictate if he's a quarterback on the next level.

Size? He's a prototype at 6-6/250. Even if he loses the requisite inch at the NFL combine, 6-5 is in the ideal range when it comes to height.

The standard for pocket passers in the NFL are arguably Peyton Manning (6-5/230), Tom Brady (6-4/225), and Ben Roethlisberger (6-5/241). Newton measures favorably with all of them.

Arm strength? Newton without question has the arm to make all of the throws in the NFL. The 20 yard comeback to the sideline is the benchmark throw on which quarterbacks are judged. Put it on a rope, and scouts start to perk up; bounce one to the receiver and names get crossed off of lists.

Newton can hit the 20 yard comeback to either side of the field.

His size and arm strength alone are going to be enough to warrant him serious looks in the upper half of the draft, but that won't be enough to put him in the first round as a quarterback.

Newton has tremendous accuracy on his touch throws, and his height makes him a particularly dangerous weapon on crossing routes as he has no trouble seeing over his linemen to the middle of the field.

Mechanically speaking, Newton has his flaws. He has a quick release in which the ball doesn't drop below shoulder level, a well documented problem that Tim Tebow suffered from going through the draft process in which the ball would make loop before leaving his hand. Ironically, for a quarterback who has made a name for himself with his ability to run, Newton's flaws start with his feet rather than his arm.

His problem with balance is most noticeable when he's rolling to his right. Newton falls off of his back foot rather than driving off of it to throw. It gives an impression of a semi-jump pass which robs him of both velocity and accuracy.

When he's in a drop set in the pocket, his feet at times can be too square to the line of scrimmage, causing his shoulders to be square rather than in a cocked and ready to throw position. It's the same posture as when he's set to take a snap from center. When he decides to throw, his back foot then has to drop as a plant foot, his back shoulder turns, and at times his head turns with his torso.

Part of this can be attributed to the offense he's running. A quarterback taking a snap from center has to turn his shoulders immediately to take his drop. Newton rarely takes a snap from center, and he can get too comfortable in a shotgun formation that doesn't require him to focus on his footwork. Unlike most quarterbacks with a loop in their delivery, Newton's loop isn't with the ball; it begins with his feet and ends at his shoulders.

From a mechanics standpoint, teaching a quarterback better footwork is considerably easier than trying to refine the motion he's been using since he first picked up a football. To his credit Newton has already shown improvement through the course of the season at Auburn.

Most importantly Newton will need to work on going through his progressions. At Auburn, Newton has the luxury of making a read, and if his first read isn't open, taking advantage of the fact that he's the best athlete on the field.

But there are two flaws to this method in the NFL. First, he won't be the best athlete on the field, and second, the busted play is not a basis for an offense on Sundays. As Newton has gotten more comfortable in Offensive Coordinator Gus Malzahn's offense, Newton has taken more time in the pocket and trusting his reads.

Purely as a quarterback, Newton is no less refined than Josh Freeman was coming out of Kansas State. Tampa Bay made Freeman a first round pick in 2009.

Newton is a first round quarterback.

While he could benefit from another year of refinement in college before heading to the NFL, and let's be honest, all quarterbacks can, Newton is a player that's not just a first round NFL athlete, he's a first round NFL quarterback.

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