At 3-9, most fans of the Arizona Cardinals have given up on the season, except for one thing-securing a solid draft pick. There certainly more than a little chatter calling for the team to tank the rest of the season (and some saying that they don't even need to try to tank -- they are that bad). And while there are a lot of needs the team has, the most glaring one is that of quarterback. With that being said, Andrew Luck, Ryan Mallett, Jake Locker and Cam Newton will likely all be available in the 2011 draft. Most agree that Luck is the best NFL prospect, but the most intriguing guy in that group is the (probably) soon to be Heisman Trophy winner, Cam Newton.
The kid is 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds. He can run a sub-4.5 second 40-yard dash. He can throw the ball through a wall, and yet put touch on throws when he needs to (in other words, he's not Derek Anderson). He is the difference maker on an Auburn team that may end up being national champions. The crazy thing? If it weren't for Newton, the Tigers would be lucky to be 7-5.
There is a lot of doubt as to whether he will make it in the NFL as a starting quarterback. There is a long list of Heisman winning quarterbacks that achieved nothing in the pros (Ty Detmer, Danny Wuerffel, Charlie Ward and Matt Leinart). Newton is playing in an offensive system that is geared towards a lot of running the football and does not have complex passing schemes.
It is unclear if he will have the patience as a passer, rather than being quick to take off and make plays with his legs. He has not had much experience starting in college and there are some concerns about his character (incidents in Florida and current questions about improprieties made in his behalf).
The potential for greatness is also there. We have seen the impact that a gifted runner at quarterback can have on the game. Michael Vick, the younger Atlanta Falcon version, showed us that a flawed passer can be a playmaker consistently. Newton's running skills are on par with Vick's. Vick has now also shown us that a player can make the necessary corrections and improvements as a passer to become a new, almost indefensible breed of quarterback.
Now for the important question for Arizona fans: would Newton be a good fit for the Cardinals?
It would appear that, at least for now, Newton is a project that would best be served by having a couple of years to watch and learn, getting used to the pro game. That would require a solid veteran to be on the roster who is capable of performing well enough so that fans are not one bad play away from screaming for Newton to play. Note: Derek Anderson is not that guy.
The Cardinals do not have that. This is fixable, but right now that piece is not in place.
If it were to play out that Newton would start his rookie year, another piece that is essential for success as a young QB is to have a great running back. Matt Ryan had Michael Turner. Joe Flacco has Ray Rice. Ben Roethlisberger had Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis. Sam Bradford has Steven Jackson. Even Eli Manning had Tiki Barber.
The Cardinals have Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells. Thus far, they have been anything but a great running attack. We still believe that Wells can be that guy, but he has not had the health or the carries to show it yet.
Another issue is the coaching, something that many would believe is a strength for Arizona. Cam Newton is going to be a star and will be a star as a young player. Ken Whisenhunt does not have a good track record with potential young stars. The Matt Leinart saga played out terribly. Beanie Wells is heading in that direction.
Whisenhunt has a blue-collar personality. He never had anything handed to him. He coaches the same way and seems to go out of his way to make life more difficult for players like Wells, Leinart and likely Newton, trying to make them better. The problem is that, so far, it has not led to positive results from the two examples we have seen.
Not all is this ominous. There are some definite positives. The Cardinals have struggled with pass protection. A guy with the running and scrambling skills of Newton would certainly help the offensive line and bail them out.
In Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston, the Cardinals have great receivers who will help out Newton by breaking off routes and getting into positions to make plays when plays break down, helping him remain still a dual threat as he moves around. Neither Vick nor Vince Young (another comparable quarterback) ever had the talent at receiver that the Cardinals have.
Newton is also the type of star to get fans excited about the Cardinals. The Arizona sports scene is hungry for a new star. Steve Nash is quirky and Larry Fitzgerald's demeanor is humble. Justin Upton is not there yet and Amare Stoudemire (who fit the bill perfectly) is gone. Newton would become immediately the biggest name in Arizona sports.
As a quarterback, he is as special as Vick as a runner. He is more accurate than Vick was when he began his career. He has better mechanics than Vince Young did coming out of college. He has a better throwing motion than Tim Tebow did last year. He is a winner - he won in junior college, he won as a backup in Florida and he is winning now (and bringing his team from behind to win).
Should the Cardinals select Cam Newton if he is available? Considering the team's current status, could it really hurt?