published Sunday, April 24th, 2011

Newton's unconventional route may take QB to No. 1 in NFL draft

DRAFT COUNTDOWN

Today: Newton rises again

Monday: Ingram’s issue

Tuesday: Wonderlic concerns

Wednesday: Dareus vs. Fairley

Thursday: Replacing Peyton

Leave it to Cam Newton to take another unexpected route to the top.

Newton, who quarterbacked Auburn to the 2010 national title after a troubled start at Florida and a detour to Texas for a year at Blinn College, is expected to be the No. 1 pick in this week’s NFL draft. He was a borderline top-10 pick in January but has ascended despite several less-than-flattering evaluations, including a Pro Football Weekly report that labeled the 6-foot-5, 248-pounder as “very disingenuous.”

“He is, by far, the most intriguing prospect in this year’s class and probably has the widest variety of opinions on him than any other player,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “I know plenty of guys who I trust in evaluating who believe he’s worth the No. 1 overall pick, and I know plenty of guys I trust who wouldn’t draft him in the top 10 at all and really would struggle to use a first-round pick on him.”

The Carolina Panthers will be on the clock Thursday when the draft commences, and they likely will take Newton a year after using their first pick, which didn’t occur until the second round, on Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

Newton was described by former Georgia coach Vince Dooley as “the best one-season football player I’ve ever seen” after a regular season in which he completed 67.1 percent of his passes for 2,589 yards with 28 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 1,409 yards and 20 scores and had a 20-yard touchdown reception at Ole Miss.

His late-season heroics, which included leading Auburn to a 28-27 win at Alabama after the Tigers trailed 24-0, occurred amid an NCAA investigation into pay-for-play allegations involving his father.

In the days after the BCS championship, when Newton suffered two interceptions and a fumble in a 22-19 victory over Oregon, he was projected by McShay and fellow analyst Mel Kiper as the 10th overall pick going to Washington. He had mixed reviews at February’s combine in Indianapolis, running faster than expected but not being overly accurate, so what has happened to cause this rise to No. 1?

“What’s happened is that there are so many teams that need a quarterback,” McShay said. “If he does wind up going No. 1 overall, it is simply this: Carolina has a major need at the quarterback position, they realize that, and they see the potential in Cam Newton. He has size, athleticism, arm strength, a quick release, and this guy hasn’t lost a game in two years.

“He won a national championship at both levels that he played the past two years, and he’s a winner. If they draft him, then they are comfortable with all the question marks in terms of his character and those types of concerns. That’s the bottom line.”

The biggest boost Newton received since leaving Auburn took place in San Diego a couple of weeks before the combine, when he threw in front of the media. Former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer attended the workout and said, “If scouts saw this, they would be slobbering.”

Then Nolan Nawrocki weighed in. The Pro Football Weekly writer, who correctly pegged former LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell as a bust, provided a scathing view of Newton in late March.

Nawrocki wrote that Newton was selfish, had an enormous ego, had issues with authority and would taint a locker room.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik and Tigers offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn rushed to Newton’s defense, praising his character and questioning the locker-room critique by pointing out his undefeated record two straight seasons. Asked recently by former Oakland and Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden about the negative evaluations, Newton described himself as a gun that is using these assessments as ammunition.

“I just like the look in his eyes, the eagerness and feeling that he has a lot to prove to everybody, including himself,” Gruden said. “Newton has impressed me in that regard.”

There is no shortage of opinions on Newton, but the ones that matter most right now are those in the Panthers organization.

“They have a quarterbacks coach in Mike Shula who they brought in from Jacksonville, who basically every year he was with David Garrard, David Garrard got better,” McShay said. “You just wonder if they’ve brought in Mike Shula as a guy who can develop quarterbacks and has a great feel for it and has experience coaching at the college level and can basically deal with a college kid and get him ready.”

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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