NFL

Cam Newton's NFL Stock; Colin Kaepernick Impresses

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Today is the sexiest day at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine as far as the fans are concerned because they get to watch the skill position players take center stage. Working out today will be the QB’s, RB’s and WR’s. Let’s face it – the majority of NFL fans don’t get excited over watching the guys that don’t touch the ball work out.

Yesterday these guys faced the media and gave their first impression on how they would carry themselves as NFL players and most of the buzz was centered around Heisman Trophy Winner, Auburn quarterback, Cam Newton. Cam didn’t disappoint as he gave us quotes o-plenty as NFL Scout Jayson Braddock tweeted, “Cam Newton just said ‘obviously everyone has seen Cam in just the spread offense.’ He's NFL ready when it comes to 3rd person references” and I commented that Newton must have listened to too many Bob Dole speeches.

Forming an opinion on a player’s ability to perform between the lines based on how he can perform behind a microphone is not really the best way to gauge the potential of a player coming out of college. I can remember listening to JaMarcus Russell speak when he was leaving LSU. I know that if you are not from Mobile, AL, and particularly if you are from the North, listening to a native of Mobile, AL speak can be a challenge. There have been plenty of intelligent, successful people to have come from Mobile, however; JaMarcus just wasn’t one of them (well, from a financial standpoint I guess he was). Russell was 6’6”, 270 and could throw the ball very far, but I never saw what the Raiders or anyone else who was high on him coming out of college did. To me he never had a chance from the start. If you can recall what it was like watching Russell drop back to pass in an NFL pocket, the most obvious thing that had to jump out at you was that he had no awareness of his surroundings.

Ryan Leaf was a well spoken kid from Montana, but being well spoken didn’t translate to winning in the NFL. Leaf didn’t have the pear-like body shape as Russell did, but he was a pretty big guy too. At 6’5”, 245, Leaf was one of the bigger QB’s in the league and like Russell, Leaf had a gun for an arm. As we all know by now, being able to throw the ball hard and far doesn’t necessarily make you a good NFL QB. There’s more to it than that, because you have to know who to throw it to and when. Also as a QB, sometimes you have to be able to put touch on the ball or even know when not to throw the ball at all. Neither Russell nor Leaf were ever able to do that with any level of success.

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No one was going to confuse Vince Young with a Rhodes Scholar coming out of college, but he’s someone who gets it, at least when he’s between the lines. For all the off the field problems we’ve been led to believe he’s had, the guy is as physically gifted a QB as they come and has started his NFL career with a record of 26-13. I don’t know how or why people complain about Young’s body of work so far to be honest. Most quarterbacks who start their careers 26-13 get streets and sandwiches named after them, followed by a franchise tag being slapped upon them, not a ticket out of town. I don’t have any direct knowledge of this, but somehow, some way, I don’t think that Vince has gotten a fair shake here and in the end, I think Vince will be remembered more for his on the field heroics, than his off the field antics. Whether you like what Young brings to the table or not, you can’t say that the guy doesn’t know how to win. I’d take him as my QB.

Tim Tebow is a heck of an athlete who was certainly well spoken coming out of college - even too well spoken for some. The jury as a starting QB in the NFL is still out on him though. I couldn’t tell you if he has what it takes to play QB on an every down basis, week in and week out or not. On the surface, it would seem that he has quite a bit of work to do, but the guy just seems to know how to win and I certainly wouldn’t bet against him. Tebow may not do it the conventional way or the way a prototypical NFL QB does it, but does it really matter how a QB wins the game? As long as he leads the team to a win, what’s the difference? Is the win worth any less if Tebow takes a broken play the distance and barrels over a linebacker at the goal line for the win rather than throw a beautiful fade pass? Tebow may win the game throwing the ball, running the ball, throwing a block, making a tackle on a turnover, heck they guy might win it by something he says, the guy is just a winner.

When Auburn’s Cam Newton, addressed the media Saturday, it didn’t feel like Russell or Leaf, it felt like Young or Tebow. He was extremely confident at the microphone, but he was also respectful, intelligent and engaging. His speaking in the third person thing needs to stop ASAP though, and I suspect the first time a linebacker or lineman flattens him in an NFL training camp it will.

Newton took charge of the situation by reading a statement addressing his comments last week that he wants to be “an entertainer and an icon” that he obviously wishes he could take back. Personally, I didn’t think that was so bad to begin with, perhaps if Ryan Leaf or JaMarcus Russell had those goals in mind, they may have made it as NFL quarterbacks. Newton also addressed the character flaw issues that have been following him like a shadow all year head on. Speaking like a wise old man, Newton suggested that the learning process includes making mistakes that are so regretful, you don’t make them again.

The fact Newton didn’t play under center in college is probably the biggest problem he faces going forward, but Tim Tebow faced that too. At this point in his development, Newton is a far more advanced passer than Tebow was coming out of college. I say he succeeds, maybe not immediately, but over time I think he’ll thrive. The kid played under intense scrutiny and pressure every single week at Auburn this year, and against the best competition in the nation, passing the test on the field with flying colors.

I don’t think any team that picks Cam Newton will be making a bad pick. That said, as I look, listen and learn more about all the quarterbacks in this year’s draft, I think the team that takes Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick will end up with the best QB in this year’s class. To those who say he has to put on weight and shouldn’t be drafted before some of the other more prototypical looking QB’s, I have two things to say about that:

1) He’ll put on the weight he needs. Remember Tom Brady actually sat on the New England Patriots practice squad while his football body was brought up to speed with his football brain.

2) Try telling coaches, players and defensive coordinators that lost their jobs trying to stop Randall Cunningham that he didn’t have an NFL QB body; that’s who Kaepernick reminds me of.

Mike Cardano is the founder of Around the Horn Baseball and Xtra Point Football. You may email Mike @ [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @ MC3 SportsMedia

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