Auburn quarterback Cam Newton apparently did nothing but help himself Wednesday during his 45-minute workout held solely for the media in San Diego. (Kent Horner/Getty)
When Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck announced last month that he was returning to Palo Alto for his junior campaign, in part because he wanted to finish his degree in architecture, most everyone assumed the Panthers would address a position other than the game's most important with the No. 1-overall pick in the NFL Draft.
However, based on what Auburn's Cam Newton did Wednesday in San Diego, when the Heisman Trophy winner put on a private workout for members of the media, the Carolina organization may have to reconsider and indeed pursue its QB of the future come April. There is no evidence to suggest it's going to be Jimmy Clausen, who the Panthers begrudgingly took in Round 2 a year ago -- putting an end to a draft-stock freefall that would have made Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers uncomfortable -- and watched him post a miserable passer rating of 58.4 and a laughable touchdown-to-interception ratio of 3-to-9 in 13 games as a rookie.
Newton's decision to subject himself to the scrutiny of the same print, radio and TV personalities that questioned his oftentimes-shady collegiate career turned out to be a stroke of genius, with the 6-6, 250-pounder nailing his 45-minute display at a suburban high school. Under the direction of quarterbacks guru George Whitfield Jr., with whom he's been working six days a week since shortly after leading the Tigers to the national title, Newton made all the throws and made a lot of them following a traditional snap from center -- he's another in a long line of spread-option signal callers that spent almost all of his time on campus in the shotgun formation. On a sun-drenched California day, he flashed his trademark smile from start to finish, too.
Originally starting the evlauation process somewhere in the 20s on most draft boards, Newton appears to be on the rise and is starting to hear less about his ability to make the jump from Saturday to Sunday.
"That's the competitor that I am," Newton said after the workout. "I won't be surprised. I'm making that leap right now, until I'm a Super Bowl champion. That's what I'm going for from Day 1: reaching for greatness. The supporting cast that I have is pushing me to be great, I'm pushing myself to be great and I demand greatness for myself. So coming in the door, working out every single day, I'm shooting for greatness."
Part of that supporting cast is Warren Moon, who isn't a bad mentor to have since he had to spend six seasons in the CFL before finally getting a chance to embark on what turned out to be a Hall of Fame stint in the NFL.
|"The supporting cast that I have is pushing me to be great, I'm pushing myself to be great and I demand greatness for myself."|
"He wasn't transferring well," said Moon when asked about Newton's mechanics. "He was throwing leaning backward. Even though he has a very strong arm, I don't care how strong of an arm you have, if you're not in the right throwing motion, you're not going to get good accuracy on the football. The ball is going to go high on you. As soon as he gets that weight transferred, he throws the ball as accurately as anyone you've been around."
After Carolina at No. 1, there's Buffalo at 3, Cincinnati at 4, Arizona at 5, San Francisco at 7, Tennessee at 8, Washington at 10, Minnesota at 12, Miami at 15 and Jacksonville at 16 that can all justify taking a developmental quarterback in the first round.
Another factor working in Newton's favor is the absence of Luck, as that leaves the draft void of a no-brainer prospect at his position. Right now, the closest is Blaine Gabbert of Missouri, and while he did complete 41 of 57 passes for 434 yards the last time he buckled up his chinstrap, those numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt -- they came in a 27-24 loss to Iowa in the rather anonymous Insight Bowl.
Ryan Mallett of Arkansas? He's slipping out of Round 1 altogether in a lot of mock drafts because he's not very mobile and came up small in some of his biggest games. Jake Locker of Washington? You'd need an armored truck the size of Optimus Prime to haul around the money he cost himself by not entering the draft after his junior season. Christian Ponder of Florida State? His MVP performance in last month's Senior Bowl was the equivalent of being the valedictorian of summer school.
The reporters-only session was even more brilliant since they're all now writing, talking and tweeting about how terrific Newton looked, when the truth is their credentials to gauge talent aren't on par with those of a professional scout.
"I just see him improving," Moon said. "Every day he does something a little bit better than he did the day before, whether it's taking the snap from center or whether it's transferring his weight from dropping back to throwing the football. That's where he's making his biggest adjustment, to me, is being able to drop back, because that's something he's never had to do, and then transfer that weight forward to get velocity behind your throws and also to get accuracy."
All it takes is one franchise to fall in love with him, as the Broncos did year with Tim Tebow, so if Tebow magically went from a third-round grade to No. 25 overall, that means Newton can conceivably go from 20-something to… well, who knows, maybe No. 1.
"This whole transformation from the college level to the NFL is a big leap," said Newton. "But at the same time, you have to be mature enough to be able to work on your talent when nobody is looking. This is your profession, this is your job, and I have to come at it every single day trying to get better at what I do."
And now, the same media members that ripped him for the way he conducted himself in the past as an (tongue planted firmly in cheek) amateur -- only his father's bank account knows for sure -- can't stop gushing about his future as a professional.
|John Crist is an NFL Analyst for Scout.com, a voter for the Heisman Trophy and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America.|