Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cam Newton goes to Carolina Panthers with first pick in NFL draft

Pros: On quarterback draws, Newton shows a command of play-action, and he hits gaps very quickly. Extremely impressive burst in the open field — he has a second gear that he can turn on at any time. Glides past defenders like a big receiver more than a running back — his size (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) speaks to that. Uses his quick feet to redirect in space before defenders can catch up to his moves. Nifty footwork in the pocket; Newton doesn't fall apart before rolling out like a lot of more mobile quarterbacks.
Throwing motion is over the top, but there is a slight lag that will need to be worked out. Newton's superior rushing skills makes play-action devastating in the Auburn offense and makes him particularly tough to deal with in the Pistol formation. Obviously, he's great when throwing on the move — he keeps his looks downfield as he extends the play. Newton has a huge arm and can make every throw. He has good arc on bombs and outstanding velocity on stick throws.
Cons: As a thrower, Newton doesn't always spring back in his dropbacks to optimal throwing setup, leading to inaccurate arm throws. Used to taking one read before throwing or running — perhaps two at most — leading to questions about the time it would take to get him prepared to play in a multiple-read offense.
What does he bring to the team?: Newton has a few fixable mechanical issues. He doesn't have any obvious idiosyncrasies to his game; no odd motions and his upfield speed is a wonder to behold. The real questions about Newton come from the things one can't always see on the field — football I.Q., ability to make every read consistently, and ability to take snap after snap under center.
These are the same questions that have dogged every option quarterback trying to transition to a pro-style offense, but Newton has advantages that his predecessors didn't. First, while most spread-offense quarterbacks had noodle arms, Newton can air it downfield as well as any quarterback at any level. Second, with the number of shotgun snaps increasing by over 300 percent in the last decade, those quarterbacks who played in these types of offenses aren't doomed.
In 2008, current Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey employed the Pistol offense with former college spread quarterback Tyler Thigpen to great effect, and in 2009, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger ran the triple option with Vince Young at quarterback — the result was an incredible offense in which running back Chris Johnson gained over 2,000 yards on the ground. If Newton finds himself on the right NFL teamhe could reinvent the position of quarterback in the NFL by becoming the first read-and-run field general to succeed year after year.
Newton is as talented as any quarterback of this type has ever been. But will the Panthers meet him halfway, and is he ready for the transition?
Is it the right pick? In the long term, perhaps. But it's a curious move when the team has little in the way of receiving talent, and Jimmy Clausen(notes) was picked in the second round last year. It sends a clear message that the Ron Rivera Panthers will be a run-heavy team, and Newton can use his familiarity with read and run, option, and Pistol stuff to make that offense very interesting.

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