Pelissero: Pro day won't answer the real questions about Cam Newton
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Expect headlines by Tuesday afternoon about Cam Newton's redemption.
Expect story after story about a sensational campus workout erasing the memory of Newton's erratic showing at last month's scouting combine.
Then, expect the Minnesota Vikings and every other quarterback-needy NFL team to think long and hard about whether it actually means anything, considering Newton might be the highest-rated player on 32 draft boards if all that mattered were physical tools.
"Cam's almost too good to be true," a college scout for an NFC team said. "Big, athletic, arm strength -- but he has all these other flags.
"If you don't take him and he does turn out to be a great player, it's like, 'Well, you should have known that. The guy fricking came in and dominated college football one year.' And then if you take him and he's a bust, it's like, 'Well, you should have known all the off-field distractions would have caught up to him eventually.'"
Start with the flags on the field -- and there were a few, even as Newton was leading Auburn to a national championship.
According to scouts, Newton's overall accuracy is at least a minor concern. His 11-for-21 performance in Indianapolis confirmed the mechanical issues that showed up on college tape.
Scouts are reluctant to grade any quarterback's combine passing session too harshly, given the unfamiliarity with receivers who may have been taught different cues and breaking points in their routes. And unlike this draft's other top quarterback prospect, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, Newton at least was willing to compete.
"We love to see them do that there, because we want to see competition," an AFC personnel director said. "We want to see the players compete with one another."
Compared to that environment, Newton's pro day on Tuesday afternoon will be roughly a choreographed dance routine performed for about 200 scouts and a national TV audience that will gawk at his skills -- and learn nothing about his clouded ability to run an NFL offense.
Auburn's spread-option attack included a "check-with-me" system that deferred many pre-snap reads to the sideline, taking decision-making out of Newton's hands.
"You have to study how it is," the AFC personnel director said, "because that's not how it works at the pro level."
In the NFL, quarterbacks generally walk to the line of scrimmage with four, five or even six reads (including run) at their disposal based on the look the defense gives.
Newton found success rushing to the line without a huddle, giving coaches time to diagnose the defense for him and dictate the portion of the field to read on a given play.
"That drives you nuts when you see it," the NFC scout said. "It's so hard, obviously, to evaluate the quarterback and how he's going through his progression, because once they get the sub-call from the sideline, it's basically probably down to two reads then."
That doesn't mean Newton necessarily is incapable of functioning in a pro-style scheme. Coaches can tweak mechanics and match a system to a quarterback's strengths, particularly a quarterback with as many tools as Newton.
Perhaps more complicated is the issue of whether Newton will be willing to put in the time to make those improvements, as well as stay out of trouble and avoid being pulled off course by a team of handlers and enablers headed by his father, former Dallas Cowboys safety Cecil Newton.
An arrest for alleged theft of a laptop -- all charges were dropped after Newton completed a pretrial diversion program -- led to his suspension from the Florida football team and his eventual withdrawal from the school. He ended up at Blinn College in Texas for a season, during which Cecil Newton allegedly made a pay-for-play pitch to Division I schools that drew NCAA scrutiny but ultimately no reprimand.
Couple that with a seeming lack of humility and perspective in some of his public comments -- he backtracked at the combine from saying he's "an entertainer and icon," but one scout said such remarks remain "a little concerning" -- and Newton has earned more than one comparison to fellow workout phenom and No. 1 bust JaMarcus Russell.
One NFC pro scout compared Newton to another failed quarterback project: former Louisville star Brian Brohm, who surprisingly plummeted to the second round in the 2008 draft and lasted all of two training camps before the Green Bay Packers cut him.
Brohm was coached throughout high school and college by family members. Instead of taking the step forward the Packers expected when removed from that environment, Brohm fell apart and his brother, former NFL quarterback Jeff Brohm, attempted to assert control through accusations against Wisconsin media.
Newton certainly isn't lacking confidence. But how badly does he want to be a star? And if he ends up going No. 1 overall -- a possibility that seems to be growing, in part because no other player has seized the starring role -- will there be too many people around Newton saying he's already on top?
The NFC college scout, whose team doesn't need a quarterback, said he'd rank Newton as the best prospect at the position but cautioned there is no "number one no-brainer in this whole class."
Gabbert widely is considered the safest bet, but he's another spread quarterback whose production is largely manufactured through presnap adjustments and timing routes. There are flags on the quarterbacks in the next tier, too, including Washington's Jake Locker (accuracy and mechanics), Florida State's Christian Ponder (arm strength and durability) and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett (character).
None of them are likely to make an immediate impact. That makes the player with the highest ceiling and a healthy dose of big-game experience the most attractive of the bunch -- even if Newton's performance on campus Tuesday afternoon won't answer the questions that seem destined to dog him until draft day.
"What the guy does best is when the Xs and Os break down, because all the plays aren't drawn up perfect," the NFC scout said. "They look perfect on paper, but once they break down, he's got that ability to make some throws that you just say, 'How did he do that?' Or the athleticism to keep plays alive.
"You're damned if you do, damned if you don't, especially if you need one. As we all know, it's a quarterback-driven league. That's the guy that drives you."