Cam Newton’s record-setting season at Auburn University has stamped the junior quarterback as the Heisman Trophy favorite. It’s also grabbed the attention of National Football League teams.
Newton has accounted for 49 touchdowns in leading Auburn to a 13-0 record and may become the school’s third recipient of college football’s top individual prize when the vote results are announced tonight in New York. In his first year as a major-college starter, he wasn’t even on Sporting News magazine’s list of top contenders for the honor until October.
While only two of the eight quarterbacks to receive the Heisman since 2000 currently have starting jobs in the NFL, former scouts say Newton is more likely to follow the path of Carson Palmer, a two-time Pro Bowl pick, than Eric Crouch, who never played a regular-season NFL game and is out of football after stops in Canada and Europe.
“He’s got every quality you’re looking for in a franchise-type quarterback,” said Dave Razzano, who has been a part of three Super Bowl-winning teams during 22 years as a scout in San Francisco, St. Louis and Arizona. “He seems like he plays with a lot of poise, especially in clutch situations.”
Newton, 21, is a 1-3 favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, according to Antigua-based Internet sports book Bodog.com, meaning a winning $100 bet would only yield a $33 profit. University of Oregon running back LaMichael James is the second betting choice at 3-2, followed by Stanford University quarterback Andrew Luck at 7-4.
Winning the trophy hasn’t automatically meant NFL success for quarterbacks. Since 1980, Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals is one of three Heisman-winning quarterbacks to make a Pro Bowl appearance. The last recipient to quarterback an NFL team to a Super Bowl victory was Jim Plunkett, who picked up the award 40 years ago at Stanford and two NFL championships with the Oakland Raiders’ franchise.
Crouch, Gino Torretta, Charlie Ward, Danny Wuerffel, Chris Weinke and Jason White are among the Heisman winners who failed to make it in the NFL.
Palmer and Sam Bradford (2008) of the St. Louis Rams are the only Heisman-winning quarterbacks to currently hold starting jobs in the NFL. Troy Smith, the 2006 winner at Ohio State, started five games this season in San Francisco before being replaced this week by Alex Smith.
Eddie George, who received the honor in 1995 as a running back for Ohio State, says the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Newton has the size, speed, arm strength and intelligence needed to succeed in the NFL.
Things to Learn
“He has to work on a couple things in the pocket, like coming from under center, handing the ball off and playing in a traditional pro-set offensive philosophy,” said George, 37, an analyst for Rivals.com, a college sports recruiting website. “What I like best is his leadership abilities, his ability to play under duress and distractions. That’s what the NFL is all about.”
Newton led Auburn to the national championship game while facing off-field distractions including a probe into a pay-for-play demand organized by his father and allegations of cheating while he was at the University of Florida.
Newton was a backup at Florida for two years and then won a junior college title at Blinn College in Texas before transferring to Auburn.
“He has that ‘It’ factor going for him,” said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, who lists Newton as the eighth-best college prospect this year and the No. 3 quarterback behind Luck and the University of Arkansas’s Ryan Mallett.
Although Kiper says Newton is “fine mechanically,” former Cleveland Browns scout Russ Lande is among those who think the 6-foot-6, 250 pound quarterback needs work as a passer. Newton completed 67 percent of his throws for 2,589 yards and 28 touchdowns while throwing six interceptions.
“I said the same thing about (Tim) Tebow and Vince Young,” Lande, the president and founder of the NFL scouting information website GMJR.com, said by telephone. “They’re great talents, no question, but it’s a developmental job.”
Tebow, who won the Heisman at Florida in 2007, is a backup for the Denver Broncos after being taken in the first round of this year’s draft. Young, a Heisman runner-up at the University of Texas in 2005, lost his starting job with the Tennessee Titans after a hand injury and confrontation with coach Jeff Fisher.
“He’s better than those guys playing the same kind of offense,” said Lande. “The guy who he’s not being compared enough to is (Pittsburgh’s) Ben Roethlisberger in terms of size, strength and a guy who could just stand there in the pocket, get pounded on, pull free from sacks and make plays. That’s what’s so intriguing about this kid, but he’s still a ways away as a passer.”
Newton also can run, leading Auburn with 1,580 rushing yards and a school-record 20 touchdowns on the ground. Michael Vick has had success this season as a dual-threat quarterback in Philadelphia, where he’s the NFL’s second-rated passer with 15 touchdowns and two interceptions while rushing for 467 yards and six scores.
“The running is kind of a bonus and at the NFL level that won’t be (Newton’s) forte because it’s too risky to run the ball all the time,” Razzano said in a telephone interview. “He can make all the throws, he’s good in the clutch and he’s poised when there’s a pass rush in his face. A talent like that, you put him on the field and he’ll win games for you.”