Cam Newton: Future NFL Bust
Let’s just get this out of the way now: Cam Newton will not be a successful quarterback at the next level. I firmly believe that. This isn’t so much about skill as it is smarts and common human decency. When it comes down to it, you just can’t convince me that Cameron Jerrell Newton is actually a good person and won’t do something to both screw over his own career and shame whatever team took a chance on him. He is the anti-Tim Tebow, if that makes sense. Sure, Newton’s playing style and on-field accomplishments mirror that of Virgin Air (copyright Bill Simmons), and he throws a prettier ball, too. But, remember, Tebow was universally lauded for his off-the-field exploits, maybe even more so than for what he accomplished as a football player. When you examine Newton’s background, how does the minefield of red flags not signify to you that he’s going to figure out a way to royally screw up in the pros? Why the hell should you trust this guy? Then you factor in the headache that is his corrupt, meddling exhibitionist of a father, and the whole prospect of making Cam Newton the face of your franchise becomes a considerable risk seemingly headed for inevitable disaster. Thanks, but no thanks.
Let’s go back to 2007 and 2008, when Newton was at the University of Florida and languishing on the bench behind his Caucasian doppelgänger. He was a nonentity, a nobody, and had no hope of seeing the field in game action until Tebow got injured or left for the NFL. That’s enough of a reason to transfer. Newton hastened his exit from the school by accumulating three incidents of academic dishonesty that pushed him to the verge of expulsion. THREE! How dumb do you have to be to get caught cheating three separate times? Now, I’m not naive when it comes to this topic. Cheating is rampant at every university, and it’s especially true when it comes to student athletes with no desire to fulfill their academic obligations. Still, three times?! Are you kidding me? Was Newton trying to get caught? That right there is enough of a reason for me to question his overall intelligence and ability to make good decisions.
Cam wasn’t satisfied just being a cheater, though, and decided to try his hand at the art of theft. Unfortunately for him, he was as adept in that endeavor as he was at cheating. Newton knowingly assumed possession of a stolen laptop and attempted to pass it off as his own, going so far as to file off the serial number and write his name in massive letters on the front cover. Then when the cops came to his dorm room to investigate the matter, Newton tried to cover up his crime by chucking the laptop out the window and having an accomplice hide it for him behind a dumpster. Turns out this accomplice wasn’t any smarter than his scummy enabler and got pinched by police officers before having a chance to dump the purloined computer.
Understandably, Cam Newton decided to run far away from his problems and transferred to Blinn College, a junior college in rural Texas. There, he led the football team to an NJCAA national championship but always had his sights set on returning to a FBS/D-IA program. He got his wish when Auburn came calling and offered him a scholarship. So, are we to believe that Newton changed during his time at Blinn and evolved into a morally upstanding person? Forgive me if I’m a little skeptical. Funny thing is, the general public was relatively oblivious to Newton’s checkered past until the whole Mississippi State pay-for-play scandal broke in early November. Yes, Cam was cleared of any wrongdoing and his father took the fall, but the whole thing just stinks to high heaven. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and there’s a ton of smoke here, especially when you consider the subject’s history. You can be sure the NCAA’s investigation into the matter is still ongoing behind the scenes; what kind of odds can I get that those snooping around eventually uncover some damning evidence that implicates Newton?
Alright, now that the character assassination portion of the article is out of the way, let’s analyze Cam Newton, the football player. Make no mistake, at a chiseled 6-5, 250 pounds, he’s the most impressive physical specimen I’ve ever seen at the quarterback position. His arm strength is elite, and he can make every throw necessary to play in the NFL. Despite completing 66% of his passes this season, Newton’s accuracy has been scrutinized by NFL scouts; if you look at the tape and focus on when he tries to navigate the intermediate portion of the field, you start to understand why. At no point when I watched Newton this season did accuracy jump out at me as one of his strong suits, but I also never found myself thinking it was a crippling weakness. The biggest gripe I had with his game was that he ran the equivalent of a playground offense (on top of the fact that he only played a single season at the D-IA level). It didn’t take a trained eye to see that Newton operated in a one-read scheme, meaning that if his primary receiver wasn’t open he’d basically just tuck the ball and run. That works in college when you’re 6-5, 250 pounds and can just run over smaller defenders. In the NFL, however, such a playing style will literally get a quarterback killed.
Personally, after watching Newton attempt to be a real quarterback against Oregon in the national championship game, I came away unimpressed and convinced he wasn’t going to replicate his collegiate success in the pros. The Ducks’ defense flummoxed the Heisman Trophy winner and coerced him into a number of poor decisions — only one of which actually resulted in a turnover (there should’ve been a few more) — and missed opportunities. What I saw in that game was a quarterback who was noticeably confused by coverages and in moments of distress steadfastly locked onto his primary receiver instead of going through his progressions. Just wait until NFL defensive coordinators start game planning for Cam Newton. Defensive masterminds are always going to win that battle. Fact.
Remember, this is a guy who got caught cheating three times before getting busted for possessing a stolen laptop during his brief stay at the University of Florida. And I’m supposed to believe he can flawlessly comprehend and command an NFL offense, read complex defensive schemes, and process copious amounts of information in nanoseconds? Ooooooookay. To be honest, I’d feel more comfortable drafting Greg McElroy in the sixth round, but I’ll save that argument for later. This Cam Newton infatuation just reeks of a classic case of style winning out over substance, and I’m not going to fall into that trap.
While I have to commend Newton for the way he handled the myriad distractions that threatened to derail his historic season, I can’t ignore the fact that they were still present. Besides, handling distractions in the pros will be a little different. If I’m about to invest tens of millions of dollars in a quarterback expected to lead my franchise for the next decade, I’d prefer there not be serious questions regarding his character. I’m telling you, there’s a shitstorm destined to surround whatever team drafts Cam Newton. His past couldn’t be a more foreboding warning about his future, and I just don’t have a good feeling about him. At all.
The most recent incident in the Cam Newton circus was that farce of a controlled workout his father (dude, just get the fuck out of the way) staged for the media. There were so many things wrong with that decision, I don’t even know where to start. In addition to making Cam and his father look like even bigger douchebags, what did that workout accomplish? I can tell you it didn’t impress anyone in the NFL, and it perturbed more than a few of the very player personnel executives that will determine where Newton gets drafted. I bet league veterans don’t respect that look-at-me horse shit either. I don’t care that Trent Dilfer could hardly contain himself as he gushed about how well Newton performed during the workout — the kid could have walked on water and it still wouldn’t have mattered to me. What does it say about a prospect when he’d rather first appeal to the media than his potential employers? Nothing positive, that’s for sure. It makes me question his maturity and selflessness. Further, I have to ask myself, is Newton serious about being a professional football player, or is he more concerned with being a celebrity?
Now it’s time to address the much-maligned father, Cecil Newton, Sr. Why hasn’t he retreated from the spotlight and slinked into the background, especially after the Mississippi State fiasco? I’m not sure how he doesn’t understand that he’s only hurting his son by intervening all the time. It makes you wonder about the senior Newton’s priorities, and whether he has his son’s best interests in mind or is just another run-of-the-mill attention whore. As always, it’s probably a little bit of both. Put simply, Cecil Newton, Sr. has no idea what he’s doing here and is in way over his head — and it doesn’t appear like he’ll be going away anytime soon. I’ve seen how an overbearing father can interfere with his son’s career as a professional athlete, and it never ends well. Remember, I grew up as a Philadelphia Flyers fan during the Eric Lindros era of the ’90s, so I know all about his prick of a dad, Carl.
It’s easy to get seduced by a player’s accomplishments on the field, especially when said player is someone like Cam Newton and possesses truly unique, breathtaking talents. However, you can’t let all the flash cloud your objectivity. Separate Cam Newton the football player from Cam Newton the person. If you still think he’s worth the risk, more power to you. I don’t, and I’d be willing to bet a sizable chunk of money that in five years we’re mentioning Newton’s name in the same sentence as Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell. If I have the option of taking a less talented guy with impeccable character or a highly talented guy who also happens to be a rotten person, I’m taking the former eleven times out of ten. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to step down from my soapbox, but I still won’t let Newton’s enticing skill set override my reservations about his character.
You know something, I bet Dan Snyder absolutely loves himself some Cam Newton.
PS - If Cam Newton turns into “Donovan McNabb with stones” (copyright Ari Lowell), I’ll be the first person in line to admit I was wrong and eat that massive serving of crow.
(Edit, 6/12/12: Since most people/commenters can’t be bothered to find this on their own, here is my Cam Newton mea culpa, as promised, that I wrote a year after penning this ill-fated article… "Owning What You Write / Cam Newton: Current NFL Star")
Further reading: http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/Senior-Bowl-notes.html (this is the opinion of a former NFL player personnel executive; content starts in the middle of the article)