Last night, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Auburn junior quarterback Cam Newton declared himself eligible for the 2011 NFL Draft. Now that it's official, Bills fans, you can expect to see Newton's name repeatedly linked to Buffalo's No. 3 overall pick for the next few months.
We've talked about Newton a couple of times (like here and here), but now that Auburn has wrapped up a national championship and played on the biggest stage of all, more reputable sources are throwing their hats into Newton's evaluation ring. The latest, and one of the most notable, is former Chicago Bears Director of College Scouting Greg Gabriel, who provided his view of Newton in a recent National Football Post podcast.
Gabriel liked a lot of what he saw from Newton in the BCS National Championship game, even though Newton and the explosive Auburn offense struggled throughout the night, and particularly early.
"Part of that was the Oregon defense," said Gabriel. "Was it really 30 days off, or was it the pressure that the defense was putting on? Both defenses played really, really well in that game."
Gabriel chalked some of his struggles in the title game up to a lack of experience, as Newton only made 14 starts as a college quarterback.
"That's the inexperience, and that's what's going to hurt him," said Gabriel. "He just hasn't played a lot of football at a major level. But even though I say that, he was able to make adjustments, and he had a pretty good second half. In fact, after the first quarter, he played pretty good."
Some scouts have pointed out that Newton's collegiate athleticism and mobility won't translate well to the NFL, but Gabriel thinks his athleticism suits him well, particularly at his size. He used another early-entrant quarterback, Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, as a point of comparison.
"He's a big guy, he's 6'6", but he's so much more athletic than Mallett," said Gabriel. "He doesn't have great speed - he's probably going to be a 4.75, 4.8 guy - but he's got real quick feet and a great feel for the rush. Then he throws well when he's on the run."
Along with the lack of experience, Newton's well-documented off-field issues are a concern for Gabriel, as well.
"Until you really find out about his work habits, his intelligence, check into the character and all of those things - those things are really important for a quarterback, the intangibles - you're not going to know what you're buying," said Gabriel. "The teams involved, the teams that are interested, will do all of that work.
"He had issues at Florida, there was (sic) the issues with his family and Mississippi State - how much of that is he going to bring to the NFL? You have to have the answer to that before you can pull the trigger. Otherwise you're gambling. I think it's going to be a gamble no matter what. I like his talent. I don't think he's ready to play; he really needs another year."
In the end, Gabriel reached the only logical conclusion you can come to regarding Newton at this point in time: he's a risk, and he's not a finished product.
"He's going to be a work in progress," said Gabriel. "He may be forced to be on the field, depending on the team that takes him, but he's not really going to be ready to play and be a winning quarterback. It's going to take a while."