With Auburn winning the BCS Championship last night – it was an opportunity to put their two top prospects under the spotlight.
I’ve been mocking Cam Newton as a potential #1 pick ever since Andrew Luck’s decision to stay at Stanford. His performance against Oregon wasn’t one you’d necessarily associate with a prospect so highly touted.
This wasn’t classic Newton – he was a complete non-factor on the ground (22 carries for 64 yards) and while he put up decent numbers in the passing game (20/34 for 265 yards and two scores) it wasn’t a crisp display.
He threw one interception – a bad decision against double coverage – and almost had another thanks to a common problem he’s had all year. Newton’s arm is strong enough that it doesn’t really matter when he throws off balance or when he leans his weight onto the back foot. He’s still capable of getting the ball out and placing it downfield, but his accuracy and velocity suffers as a consequence.
Shortly after throwing that first pick he almost had another by taking a chance down the right sideline, leaning back and floating a pass dangerously into coverage. The defensive back made a great play for the ball and was unfortunate not to maintain possession in bounds.
Both touchdowns were products of smart game planning – exploiting Oregon DE/OLB Kenny Rowe in coverage to grab two comfortable scores.
Overall it was slightly underwhelming considering what we’ve seen from Newton in the past. It highlighted the project he’ll be as a rookie – his footwork at times looked awkward and certainly he’ll have to learn from scratch how to drop back from center and read a field without advice from the sideline. The brilliant playmaking qualities weren’t there to offset those issues.
However, it’d be too easy to drop him down the board after one average game against a strong Oregon team. Newton has dominated the SEC – clearly CFB’s toughest conference – and beaten many good defenses on his own along the way. I still maintain that he’s capable of becoming a big-time playmaker at the next level. His ceiling may be higher than Blaine Gabbert’s, but the drop may be more significant too if it doesn’t work out.
I still maintain, however, that both are still substantially better long term investment’s for Carolina than Jimmy Clausen. That doesn’t mean Carolina will necessarily agree. In my next mock I’ll have a look at what they could do if they don’t draft a quarterback with the #1 pick.
A lot of people will be projecting Nick Fairley as an option after another big performance last night. He took his sack tally to thirteen for the year and had a major impact on Oregon’s defense.
It has to be qualified though that he was often unblocked for some unknown reason. Time and time again the Ducks offensive line allowed Auburn’s best defensive player a free route into the backfield. When he was being monitored he still found ways to make significant plays, whether it was collapsing the line to help make a 4th-and-goal stop, dropping into coverage to keep an eye on screen passes or just using his speed off the snap to explode through and make the splash.
Fairley’s main strength, in my opinion, is when he’s playing three-technique and can line up with the intention of getting through the gap, using his speed and getting into the backfield. I don’t think he translates as well to 3-4 DE (or five technique) position lining up against the tight end and tackle where he’ll have to stand up blocks for the outside linebacker and rush from an angle. He could probably do the job, but you’d want him lining up in the heart of the line attacking the passer. He’s not a logical fit at the nose due to a lack of size/strength.
Carolina appear to be on the brink of appointing Ron Rivera (DC, San Diego) as their next head coach. He’s used both the 3-4 and 4-3 schemes in the past. If he switches the Panthers to a 3-4, I think it makes it less likely that they’d draft Fairley and more likely they’d take Da’Quan Bowers.
If they stick with a 4-3 even then there are some concerns about Fairley perhaps being a bit of a one-year wonder.
Really it’s anyones guess what Carolina might do with the #1 pick at the moment.