Auburn quarterback Cam Newton throws as he runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
The National Football League draft is eight weeks away, but it can’t come soon enough for Cam Newton. Facing NFL defenses could be a breeze for the Heisman Trophy–winning quarterback compared to the poking, prodding and intense scrutiny he received in Indianapolis this past week at the player evaluations known as “the combine.”
What Newton did on the field for Auburn University in 2010 should matter much more than what he did in Indianapolis. So what if he completed just 11 of 21 throws to unfamiliar receivers in a passing drill? At Auburn, he completed an impressive 66 percent of his passes and led his team to an undefeated season in the Southeastern Conference—college football’s toughest league—and the national championship.
Newton won the Heisman Trophy in one of the biggest landslides ever because he was that good. Now it’s as if people are going out of their way to find flaws in his game and character. If that’s the endgame, then those people are losers, not Newton.
Five of the first seven teams in the April 28–30 NFL draft need a quarterback—Panthers (first pick), Bills (third), Cardinals (fifth), Browns (sixth), and 49ers (seventh). If those teams pass on Newton because of concerns about a “lack of accuracy,” or that him saying he wants to be “an entertainer and icon” suggests an oversized ego, then they’ll regret it for years.
No player in the 2011 draft has a bigger upside than the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Newton. Nobody has more potential to dominate a game with his arm, legs, and brain than the native of College Park, Ga. And no one in the draft is more likely to indeed become an entertaining, iconic player than Newton.
That’s not to say NFL teams shouldn’t closely evaluate a young man who played one year of major college football, who left the University of Florida under a cloud of controversy after stealing another student’s laptop computer, and whose minister father admitted to asking Mississippi State University for money to procure his son’s services.
Teams do have a right to ask an athlete probing questions before deciding whether to pay him tens of millions of dollars. But for some to label Newton’s performance in Indy “terrible,” or suggest that his character raises “red flags” for NFL teams is ludicrous.
Newton has the versatility, leadership qualities, and charisma to make an NFL team successful for a long time. We’ll soon find out which team is smart enough to draft him.
Cecil Harris is the author of three books, including Charging the Net: A History of Blacks in Tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters.