Thanks to his breathtaking performances in leading Auburn to an 11-0 record in the SEC, junior quarterback Cameron Newton has not only exploded onto the college football scene in a big way this season, but also into the minds of NFL Draft evaluators everywhere. Auburn is still winning, but Newton (38 total touchdowns this season) is mired in controversy off the field - leading many to believe that he'll capitalize on his big season by entering the 2011 NFL Draft.
Wes Bunting of the National Football Post breaks down Newton's game quite adeptly here. If you haven't seen the 6'6", 250-pound Newton play... well, let's just say he's one of those unique talents that you just have to see to believe. Still, that controversy exists. Opinions on Newton will be mixed.
Here's what I'd really like to get into: when I see tweets like this one - even from respected minds such as Bunting - I feel a sense of dread associated with unreasonable expectations.
Just admitted to @miller_dave on our podcast that I think Cam Newton could go as high as the number one overall pick if it's the Bills..
I'm not writing this post to dispute the idea that Newton could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Nor am I here to dispute the idea that Newton's talent is outstanding enough to warrant this type of talk even though he's more hype machine than substance at this point, because Newton's raw talent is tremendous. I just cannot, for the life of me, understand why Newton is being tied to the Bills.
Bunting, to his credit, did an acceptable job laying out his rationale, again via Twitter.
Reason Bills and Cam Newton are a good match...Strong arm to make throws in windy Buffalo and good athlete to buy time behind poor O-line...
OK. Sure. Newton has talents that would make him a nice fit in Buffalo. Newton has talents that would make him a nice fit anywhere.
I'm quite sure that the near-mythical "Chan Gailey prefers quarterbacks with mobility" argument is playing a factor in this opinion, as well. Here's one thing that not enough folks seem to grasp: every single NFL talent evaluator prefers a quarterback with mobility. I am 100% certain that there are zero people in the NFL that prefer a quarterback that can't make plays, or time, with his legs. The days of the statue-esque pocket passer have long since passed. You've got to be able to move in today's NFL. I'm all for an argument that makes Gailey look like an innovator, but I assure you he is not; he's just smart. That argument gets more ridiculous by the day.
The Bills might, indeed, put a high draft grade on Newton. Again - he's a very, very talented football player, and I have no idea how his various off-field issues, including his current pay-for-play scandal, would affect the grade Bills scouts put on him. Every NFL team seems to weigh those concerns differently.
Here's what I do know: not enough people understand how Buddy Nix operates. Or, more accurately, how his past experiences at or near the top of an NFL organization might affect his decision-making.
Buddy Nix was in San Diego when the team passed on drafting Michael Vick, instead trading the selection to Atlanta and landing the picks that would turn into LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees. He has been part of an organization that passed on elite, historically unique talent. Let's not forget that he was also in San Diego when the Chargers essentially passed on Eli Manning for Philip Rivers; sure, Manning was the driving force behind that decision, but it illustrates an important point: Nix, just like most talent evaluators not named Mike Ditka, don't commit themselves to liking, and subsequently drafting, just one prospect.
Let's not forget, also, that there is more than just one quarterback prospect with the traits Bunting describes as making Newton uniquely qualified to play football professionally in Western New York. Andrew Luck and Jake Locker possess those same qualifications in ample supply, and while not as uniquely talented as Newton, don't come with the off-field baggage, either.
I won't even mention the fact that there's at least a good chance that Buffalo doesn't end up with the first pick, because Bunting's opinion is hypothetical, after all.
I realize that I've turned this into something more than it is. Bunting's opinion is not off-base; his points are good. It just irritates me when NFL clubs are intangibly linked, in any way, to college football prospects pre-draft, and particularly in November. It's happening with Luck already, and now it might happen with Newton: that link exists in the minds of fans, and by the time January or April rolls around, it warps into something more real than it should be. (It happened with "Tebow to Buffalo" last year, for instance.) When anything different other than "Luck to Buffalo" or "Newton to Buffalo" happens, the pick is almost immediately panned by the fan base. Confusion reigns. Which is alright, I suppose. It just doesn't need to be that way. Yes - this happens with "need positions," too.
I understand that it's fun to speculate, and that it's fun for some fans to attach themselves to prospects and ride the train through those players' various careers. Bragging rights are on the line, after all. I simply urge you to keep this in mind: Buddy Nix isn't lying when he says that he'll take the best player available next year. That is literally what he is going to do. Yes, that player might ultimately end up being Cam Newton. it also might not. So when you see opinions like these from Bunting, or any other NFL Draft experts with far less common sense and expertise, don't get your hopes up or down - it'll save you a lot of angst in April, and beyond.