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Auburn QB’s drive biggest question heading into draft

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Paul Domowitch
April 27, 2011
— With the draft just two days away, the lingering question NFL teams have about Cam Newton is the same one they had three months ago, and three months before that.

How bad does he want it?


“What worries me, what worries everybody, is Cam Newton the person,” said former NFL personnel executive Mike Lombardi, who works for NFL Network. “Is he going to work hard? Is he going to be committed? Is the money going to spoil him? Is he going to be dedicated to be the best player he can? Will he take coaching as coaching and not take it as criticism and not get down? That’s what everybody is most concerned with.”


That includes the Carolina Panthers, who own the first overall pick in this week’s draft and are considering taking Newton with the selection. They, like most teams, seem to have few reservations about the Auburn quarterback’s talent. Terrific arm, great mechanics. A 6-foot-5, 250-pounder with 4.6 speed.


But measuring a player’s work ethic and commitment to being the best is considerably more difficult than measuring his athletic ability. And with tens of millions of guaranteed dollars on the line, the Panthers, or any other team that might select him near the top of the draft, really can’t afford to screw this up.


“You know me, franchise quarterback trumps all needs,” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. “But you’d better believe in the kid. The work ethic and football IQ have to be at the highest level possible. From what I’ve seen of (Newton), he’s doing everything right.


“Now, you’ve got to decide whether it’s a money grab, which we’ve all seen in the past where kids get in great shape and work hard for the draft. But once he gets drafted, it’s a matter of how good he wants to be. Because he’s smart enough and I think he’s talented enough. It’s going to come down to work ethic.”


In case you haven’t noticed, there is a dearth of good quarterbacks in the NFL right now. That, combined with the fact that the lockout has indefinitely frozen all trade and free-agency activity, has many teams in a panic regarding their quarterback situation.


It’s why Newton, with or without work-ethic questions, will be no worse than the fifth player taken Thursday night. It’s why a league-record eight quarterbacks are expected to be selected in the first three rounds.


“There’s going to be a feeding frenzy for quarterbacks this year,” Mayock said. “Seven of the top 10 teams (in the draft) need quarterbacks. ... But the worst thing you can do is reach for a quarterback and miss.”


Mayock believes there are four quarterbacks in this draft with first-round talent: Newton, Blaine Gabbert (Missouri), Jake Locker (Washington) and Ryan Mallett (Arkansas). He expects both Newton and Gabbert to go in the top 10 and thinks Locker could as well, despite major accuracy issues.


“There is not one quarterback this year that I can pound the table for and tell you he’s (the next) Sam Bradford or Matt Ryan,” Mayock said.


Mayock’s opinion of Newton has improved since January. He had him rated as the 10th-best player on his board last week. But if he were calling the shots for the Panthers, he wouldn’t take Newton with the first pick.


“Gabbert’s the only one I would take with one of the first five picks,” he said. “And even with him, there’s going to be a time frame of learning, whereas with guys like Bradford and Ryan, you could see (they were ready).


“I like the way Newton has approached things since the season ended. He came in shape to the combine. He ran. He threw. He had a good pro day. He has some accuracy issues.


“But this isn’t a JaMarcus Russell situation. This isn’t a kid showing up 20 pounds overweight at the combine. I still may have questions about the kid, but I like how he’s gone about his business.”


The question about Newton isn’t whether this is a JaMarcus Russell situation so much as whether it’s a Michael Vick one. Vick, taken first in the 2001 draft, played OK in five seasons with the Falcons. He made it to the Pro Bowl and got his team to the NFC Championship Game in 2004.


But he never was really interested in learning how to become a better quarterback, instead relying on his unique running skills. Since signing with the Eagles two years ago after being released from prison, he has acknowledged that his work ethic in Atlanta could have been better.


“If you take Cam Newton with the first pick in the draft and give him all that money, he needs to be the hardest worker on your team,” said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper.



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