Trying To Make Sense Of NFL Draft Talk

With all the shots being taken at former Auburn players Nick Fairley and Cam Newton we decide to look at the real facts of the case for both players.

Analyis

Just for the record Mike Mayock is more much qualified to rate NFL prospects than I will ever be. He's got experience doing just that and he watches film and talks to NFL scouts every day. The one thing he's not more experienced in than me is Nick Fairley and Cam Newton and that is pretty obvious when reading his evaluations.

As the lead analyst for the NFL Network, Mayock recently put out his list of the 32 top players in this year's draft and he has Fairley at number eight and Newton all the way down at 21. That may very well be correct based on talent when everything is sorted out in the wash in the NFL, but it's his reasoning that I find extremely flawed.

On the former Auburn defensive tackle Mayock wrote: "To me he's a lightning rod. I was at his pro day workout, and from a foot-speed perspective, it doesn't get much better than what he can do. He ran through the bag drills, and it was ridiculous. However, he's a boom-or-bust guy. Right now, I have him here, but he's got more talent than that. Depending on what type of kid he is, I could have him dropping out of the first round entirely."

My question is, what has Nick Fairley done to make you question what kind of kid he is? A few personal fouls on the field? A late hit on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray? What else because I see nothing about Fairley that should raise red flags. In fact his on the field personality is actually quite similar to last year's number two pick Ndamakong Suh from Nebraska who was praised near and far heading into last year's NFL Draft.

And who does Mayock have as his first overall pick? None other than Alabama defensive tackle Marcel Dareus. I'll be the first to admit that I think Dareus is going to be an outstanding pro and has a ton of upside, but my question is has he done enough to deserve being the top player in the draft?

In three seasons and 33 games Dareus finished with 71 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks. While not terrible numbers it pales in comparison to what Fairley did in just one year. Playing in 14 games the Mobile native had 60 tackles, 24 tackles for a loss and 11 1/2 sacks.

Nick Fairley runs a cone drill at Auburn's Pro Day.

Numbers alone don't tell the story, but sooner or later productivity has to come into play and in that regard there is no comparison at all.

While Mayock still has Fairley in his Top 10 the same can't be said for Newton. Despite his accolades and the attention being given to him by many of the teams possessing top picks, the NFL analyst has this to say about Newton:

"I know, Cam Newton at 21--why? I believe in this kid. I believe in him as an athlete, I believe in his arm strength, but I don't believe he's in the top 10. He's got top-10 ability, but he's a developmental prospect. As a general manager, I would be comfortable taking him somewhere in the 20s."

Cam Newton

At the same time Blaine Gabbert is the other quarterback that many project as a possible Top 10 selection and even the number one overall pick. The quarterback of Missouri possesses very good physical qualities and has done nothing but help himself since his season ended with the Tigers. Mayock has this to say about Gabbert:

"He's my No. 1 quarterback. He comes out of a spread offense, and his footwork needs to improve, but he has all the rest. He's athletic, has a big arm, loves the game of football, has anticipation to throw into small windows, and the accuracy to back it up. He could be the first guy off the board."

If you're going to make comparisons between the two quarterbacks the first thing you have to do is look at Newton's off the field concerns. While he had some troubles at Florida before getting a fresh start in junior college, by all accounts Newton was nothing but a model citizen and player while at Blinn College in Texas and then last season at Auburn.

Throw in the fact that Newton won national championships on both levels and you have a player that is obviously more than just a talented athlete and his numbers back that up. Nevermind the 1,473 rushing yards and a school record 20 touchdowns rushing for a quarterback, just look at Newton's numbers through the air in 2010 for the Tigers.

In 14 games he completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 2,854 yards with 30 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Those are very respectable numbers for a stationary quarterback but for a player that is also a weapon running the football it's even more impressive.

Despite throwing the football almost 200 more times last season than Newton, Gabbert passed for 3,186 yards in 13 games while completing 63.4 percent of his throws. Throwing the football 475 times he had just 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. In 2009 he had a better season with 3,593 yards and 24 touchdowns with nine interceptions and completing 58.9 percent of his throws.

Just looking at raw numbers doesn't tell the whole story of these two quarterbacks but ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas went even deeper, comparing the two in situations during conference games only. The results are even more in Newton's favor.

On throws of 15 yards or more in conference games last season, Newton completed 49 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. Gabbert completed just 37.5 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and two interceptions. Against the blitz Newton again led by a wide margin as he completed 73.5 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and no interceptions. Gabbert completed 44.8 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions when teams sent five players or more.

Newton throws at Auburn's Pro Day.

Mobility is something that is obviously in Newton's favor as Yasinskas found out. Against SEC opponents he completed 20 of 30 throws outside the pocket with two touchdowns and averaged 9.7 yards per attempt. In similar situations against the Big 12, Gabbert completed six of 20 passes with one touchdown and averaged 4.5 yards per attempt.

In the pocket again Newton held the advantage as he completed 67.7 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Gabbert's completion percentage was better as he hit on 61.1 percent of his throws with nine touchdowns and four interceptions.

What does all this tell us? Not much in terms of how the players will perform when they get in the NFL. What it does tell us is that guys like Mayock need to do a little research for their work.


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