In 2001 and 2002, Daniel Cobb put up modest numbers. He completed 54.1 percent of his passes for 2,350 yards, 14 TD tosses and 12 interceptions. He saw plenty of playing time both seasons, before giving way to Jason Campbell, who would eventually lead Auburn to one of its greatest seasons ever in 2004.
Cobb watched a young Campbell develop into one of the few Auburn quarterbacks with the skills to start in the NFL. This year, he’s watched Cam Newton, the best Auburn player to take snaps since Campbell was on the Plains.
And Cobb has really enjoyed what he’s seen. But does he think Newton has what it takes to make a successful jump to the NFL after this season?
“There’s no question that Cam has all the physical tools to play at the NFL level,” says Cobb, who, like Newton, came to Auburn as a junior college transfer. “However, his experience within (Gus) Malzahn’s offense will not translate well to the next level. At the end of the day, playing quarterback well in the NFL means taking a snap, analyzing the defense and distributing the ball. Oftentimes that means turning your back to the line of scrimmage for a play-action pass, getting your head around to locate safeties and then delivering the ball on time. In Malzahn’s offense, I haven’t seen Cam asked to do this on a consistent basis. It is my opinion that if he comes out, he will be drafted as a ‘developmental’ QB and not as an immediate starter like (Joe) Flacco and Matt Ryan.”
Now that the Carolina Panthers have locked up the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, it is widely assumed they will target Stanford QB Andrew Luck. And why not? He’s big, has a big arm, can move and plays in a system that translates well to the NFL and his coach is a former NFL quarterback. But if Luck stays for his senior year, would the Panthers look to Newton or Ryan Mallett or even Jake Locker? The possibility of being the No. 1 pick would make leaving early an opportunity Newton would certainly find hard pass on.
Another former Auburn player, receiver Ronney Daniels [Ed. note — read Ken’s recent interview with Daniels here], thinks Newton is ready to make the step to the NFL.
“I think he’s ready. When I saw them play Alabama with Nick Saban—I got much respect for him as a coach,” Daniels says. “When I saw how he exposed his defense and made good decisions—he made great decisions against Nick Saban’s defense. … He picked that defense apart when they were mixing up zones and man. It was good stuff. I was thinking just that—I think he’s ready. I think he’ll go in and perform very well. Just like a Vince Young.”
Cobb says he’s been particularly impressed with the way Newton has stepped up as a leader with all the controversy surrounding him this season.
“He has definitely proven the ability to stay in the game despite getting down to an opponent,” says Cobb. “It’s hard to instill resolve and poise. He’s become the undisputed leader of a very talented Auburn team. Even with all the off-the-field distractions, he had the mental fortitude to compartmentalize the football/team/leadership aspect of his life with the Tigers. There’s a lot to be said about being able to do this.”
Five days after Auburn plays Oregon for the BCS title is the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2011 NFL draft. There is of course a chance that Newton will return. But the general rule when it comes to leaving early is this: if you’re projected to go in the first round, especially the top end of it, you go.
“If it comes down to money, he should stay,” Cobb says. “I don’t think he’ll be drafted before Mallett, Locker or Luck if he comes out. That would put him in the latter half of the first round. If he stays, he could continue to develop as a passer with Malzahn and a great supporting cast of receivers and running backs and probably be the No. 1 or 2 pick in the 2012 draft class. The difference between $5-6 million signing bonus and a $50 million signing bonus is substantial.”
In last year’s draft, the Rams selected Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford with the No. 1 overall pick and Bradford received a contract that guaranteed him $50 million. By comparison, Tim Tebow was taken 25th and got $8.7 million guaranteed. The previous year, Matthew Stafford received $41.7 million in guaranteed money as the top pick. Josh Freeman was 17th and got $10.25 million.
“You can tell what makes a good NFL quarterback—he’s comfortable, he’s relaxed and he knows what the defenses are giving him and he’s taking it,” Daniels points out. “He’s not trying to overdo it. If he has to throw the short passes, he’ll do it. When he has a chance to go down the field, he does it. Right now, he’s in a zone. He’s making all the right decisions.”
After Jan. 10, he’ll have one more to make.
Ken Bradley is the senior editor at Sporting News. A 1994 Journalism graduate of Auburn University, he still proudly claims — somewhere in a box — an Auburn shirt declaring “Auburn, the Best Team on Radio” from the ’93 season. A journalist for more than 15 years, he worked at several media outlets, including an internship with the Birmingham News right out of college (and yes, was to Tuscaloosa) and a three-year stint at the Gainesville Sun where he was working the desk when Damon Duval booted “the kick” to beat the Gators and then again when Grossman-to-Jacobs ruined a (near) perfectly good comeback. He currently lives in Charlotte, N.C. with his wife and kids. Write to him at [email protected] You can also follow him on Twitter.
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