While many draft pundits are already proclaiming that Auburn’s Cam Newton will be the next great NFL quarterback, 10 years from now expect people to look back on TCU’s Andy Dalton as the real star QB of this class. – Jim Weber
When I picture Cam Newton heading to Charlotte to play for the Panthers, I can’t help but think it can only end badly.
Part of it is the situation he will be in. Of course the Panthers are a mess since they are picking first overall in the draft but unlike the St. Louis Rams, who picked first in last year’s draft and came within one game of making last season’s playoffs, the Panthers don’t have young talent to build around.
Instead, they’ve got a prima donna wide receiver in Steve Smith who doesn’t seem to realize he’s on his last legs, an offensive line that was tied for second worst in the league by allowing 50 sacks last season and a porous defense. And without a first round pick in the last two drafts, things for the foreseeable future look very bleak.
The coaches and front office don’t inspire much confidence either. Ron Rivera is a first-time head coach and defensive guru while offensive coordinator Rod Chudzinski was coaching tight ends last season after being shown the door in Cleveland when Romeo Crennel was fired.
Meanwhile, owner Jerry Richardson is a notoriously cheap owner who wouldn’t pony up to resign Julius Peppers and now has drawn the ire of the entire NFLPA for reportedly chastising Peyton Manning during a recent collective bargaining meeting. Good luck getting free agents to come to Charlotte now.
Then you throw that Newton is going to be expected to play almost immediately after Sam Bradford took the league by storm and the fact the Panthers have no one else even capable of going under center. A young quarterbacks’ physique is as delicate and valuable as the arm of a young pitching prospect and a year of getting destroyed in the ultra-competitive NFC South with the likes of New Orleans, Atlanta and Tampa Bay could do irreparable harm to Newton.
And if anyone needs a year to just sit back and watch it’s Newton. Having started just one year at a Division I program, the offense he ran at Auburn under Gus Malzahn was right off the sandlot and Newton will have plenty on his plate between learning an entire NFL playbook and the adjustment to running a pro-style offense. Throw in an NFL lockout that should last well into the summer – at least – and Newton will have even less preparation than normal to get ready for an NFL season.
And Newton’s accuracy – or lack thereof – is extremely troubling. Pinpoint precision is everything in the NFL, just ask Drew Brees. Newton was erratic during the BCS National Championship Game when he airmailed several receivers and raised more concerns after a mediocre NFL combine. NFL defenses are just going to sit back and make Newton beat them by making good reads and accurate throws, something he wasn’t forced to do at Auburn because he could just take off if nothing was there.
Just ask Vince Young how that works in the NFL.
On the flip side, I love Andy Dalton’s future in the NFL.
Yes, part of it is the situation he will end up in. Now widely regarded as the third best QB prospect in this draft, most people think he will land in Seattle to be the heir apparent to Matt Hasselbeck. And there’s even an outside chance that other playoff teams like the Patriots and Colts could draft him with the hopes of grooming him for several seasons like the Packers did with Aaron Rodgers.
But most of all, Dalton has all the essential attributes of being a great NFL quarterback. No, he doesn’t have the same “upside” or freakish athletic ability that Newton does, but how many stud NFL quarterbacks are great athletes that get by on their raw athletic talent? If that was the case, guys like Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith, David Carr and JaMarcus Russell would all be Pro Bowlers right now.
Michael Vick aside, most of the best quarterbacks in the league kill you with their amazing ability to dissect defenses at the line of scrimmage (I know, Peyton Manning’s endless audibles drive me crazy to) and laser-like passing displayed by the likes of Brees and Tom Brady.
Having a cannon arm is so incredibly overrated in the NFL. JaMarcus Russell could throw it 75 yards off one knee but was a career 52% passer in the NFL. Yes, a strong arm is a necessity in the NFL, but Dalton’s arm strength has been overly criticized just because he can’t throw it out of the stadium.
Flash back to the 2005 draft when Aaron Rodgers slid down draft boards in part due to a perceived weak arm that even Packers GM Ted Thompson called “average.” That’s funny, Rodgers is now believed to have one of the strongest arms in the NFL and just led his team to a Super Bowl.
What Dalton does have is ridiculous accuracy that exhibited itself by completing 66% of his passes last year and hitting 49 of his 52 passes at TCU’s pro day despite two drops. He is also an under-rated athlete whose quickness will help him escape sacks and pick up key first downs. And as for experience and leadership, Dalton was a five-year college player and four-year starter for a major program.
If you need any proof that Dalton can do it against the big boys and not just the Mountain West Conference, put on the game tape of him dissecting Wisconsin’s defensive on his way to a Rose Bowl offensive MVP performance this past January.
Assuming Dalton will be able to sit back and watch for the next couple years, he will be deadly when he actually gets a chance to be an NFL starter with a full understanding of NFL play books and defenses.
With the combination of circumstances that Newton and Dalton will find themselves in and traits that carry over to the NFL game, expect us to soon call Newton a bust and Dalton the sleeper of the 2011 draft.
Jim Weber is the president and founder of LostLettermen.com. His column appears each Monday.