By KFFL Staff on April 28, 2011
Howie Long's thoughts on Panthers possibly selecting Cam Newton
The Carolina Panthers are in a real quandary -- sitting with a Jack and a seven, and thinking to themselves, 'do we play the safe odds and stay, or do we take the hit and go for 21?'
I'm talking, of course, about their number one pick in today's NFL Draft, and whether Panthers GM Marty Hurney will go the safe route and select either linebacker Von Miller or defensive lineman Marcell Dareus with that first pick, or try for the jackpot by selecting quarterback Cam Newton. On a team that allowed a division-worst 408 points in 2010, selecting either NFL-ready defensive player is the safe choice.
But think about this: The Panthers sit in the NFC South, where six times a year they see three quarterbacks who put up a lot of points: Drew Brees, Josh Freeman, and Matt Ryan. Carolina has also struggled to generate excitement on the field, which translates to frustrated fans and players, which in turn leads to empty luxury boxes and seats. Yet with today's number one pick, the Panthers have an opportunity to change all that, to hit the voltage switch and let the wave of electricity begin with just eight words: "The Carolina Panthers select Cam Newton, Auburn University."
Is taking a quarterback at the top of the draft a gamble? Hell yeah. Does Cam Newton need work to catch up on the complexities of the pro game? Hell yeah. But the things he does have can't be coached (and does he have a lot of them), and the things that he doesn't have can be coached, as long as he's prepared to make the kind of 24-7 commitment needed to become an elite NFL quarterback.
Need a guy who can perform in the eye of the storm? The mental toughness Newton showed in leading the Auburn Tigers to the national championship amidst a firestorm of controversy answered that question. He locked in like a laser and performed week after week on the way to that championship, including a comeback from being down 24-0 versus the Nick Saban-coached Alabama defense.
Athleticism? He's 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds running a sub-4.6 forty. How'd ya like to see that coming down the highway? Toughness? When you run as much as Newton did in the top defensive conference in college football, you have to be tough. His athleticism will make your protection better or, should I say, he has the ability to cover up for protection breakdowns and to extend plays. Cam's ability to bootleg off of the stretch sweep opens up the cutback running game and forces the backside end into this dilemma: Play the cutback run or play the bootleg?
Look at what Michael Vick did for both Atlanta's and Philadelphia's running games. That kind of ability also impacts how teams can rush the quarterback. The ball-hand side defensive end or outside linebacker can't take the underneath move which would allow Newton out of the pocket and extend the play and the coverage. Cam knows it, you know it and the offensive tackle knows it, too. At times teams will be forced to dedicate a spy defender to mirror Newton to ensure that he doesn't take off running; that defender is usually a great athlete who can run but also has the ability to get the big son of a gun on the ground. But now you've taken one of your better athletes out of coverage to do so. The threat of Newton scrambling will also force teams to play more zone; when you're in man coverage your eyes are on the receiver and your back is to the quarterback, but now you've got a 6-5, 245-pound quarterback running into your secondary for big chunks of yardage before your
defensive backs even realize he's taken off - so zone allows all defenders to drop to a spot while also keeping an eye on the quarterback.
Now there's a good chance that Carolina's only legitimate receiver, Steve Smith, has expressed a desire to move on and could be gone, which means that Newton might not have anyone to throw to. The Panthers were dead last in the NFL in receiving yards, SO Carolina will have to find and develop a receiving corps to go along with their new quarterback.
Cam Newton is a very confident young man with a great personality. I like both of those things. I believe he has the potential to be a great leader for whatever team gets him as long as he takes care of his business, which doesn't include becoming a sports icon. That amounts to putting the cart before the horse.
Immerse yourself in the task at hand of becoming a great quarterback and the rest will take care of itself. Leave crowning you as a sports icon to whoever is in charge of doing that - I guess there's a guy out there that does that kind of thing. That's just not your job, Cam.
Cris Collinsworth, Boomer Esiason, Howie Long, and Phil Simms appeared at an NFL Draft preview event sponsored by Men's Wearhouse in New York City on Monday night as part of the newly formed The Experts Network (TXN) www.TXNSPORTS.com.
The Big Lead and Big Lead Sports has exclusive access to Collinsworth, Esiason, Long and Simms to get their thoughts on the NFL Draft. We will be publishing those insights, as well as additional custom video content from the event which is available at The Big Lead. Don't miss it!