I’ve just finished watching today’s brilliant game between Georgia and Auburn which ended in a 49-31 victory for the unbeaten Tigers. It was also the perfect platform for two potential top-ten picks to really flash their amazing talent.
Cam Newton and A.J. Green have found a home early in my updated mock drafts. Both were sensational in this game. One prospect didn’t impress me as much for differing reasons – but more on that in a moment.
It was only revealed at the last minute that Newton would be Auburn’s starting quarterback at the last minute. This has been a difficult week for the one-time Heisman shoe-in (he still should be for me). I can only imagine he was emotionally drained coming into another huge game. You wouldn’t have noticed.
From minute one Newton was bouncing around like he’d got endless energy. On the field he was his usual productive self and on the sidelines he was cheerleading like his life depended on it. He has systematically become Auburn’s football programme.
Not many other draft sites and pundits have seriously looked at Newton yet. That much is obvious – because I’ve only seen one other mock draft that’s included him and even that was published in the wake of this week’s allegations. I’ve thought for weeks he was a certainty to declare and it’s given me a chance to really study his game and get a feel for what his strengths and limitations will be when he’s drafted.
My initial judgement was – this is an athlete playing QB who will struggle at the next level. He might be a gimmick play QB who translated to H-back. That was a poor judgement to make on my behalf.
Newton is so much more than that.
His offense at Auburn essentially requires two quick reads and then a decision to throw or tuck it and run. At the next level things will be much more complex than that and he’ll get a lot more defensive looks than he’s getting right now. He does have a tendency to lock onto his first target sometimes, but on well designed plays I’ve also seen him look off safety’s – a move which worked to perfection on a beautiful 18-yard touchdown pass just before half-time. He bought himself just enough time to disect three defenders and pick out his tight end.
A stunning throw. A pro-level throw.
His footwork needs improving because he’s still leaning his weight onto the back foot and taking away some of the velocity out of his motion. That can be worked on and his arm strength is good enough to compensate. He can make all the throws. His release point is nice and high which is a stark contract to the Tebow/McCoy/Clausen trio of last year.
In fact I think it’s easy to be conned by his athleticism and running ability – and the frequency with which he runs. Today he only attempted 15 passes and completed 12 for 148 yards and two scores. He had two bad drops from WR’s – one led to his only interception and one prevented a big TD. The guy came into this weekend #2 in the country for QB rating behind stat-man Kellen Moore for a reason. He is a good passer of the football. He’s under rated in that sense.
A lot of the issues he has as a passer I had with Josh Freeman, who’s made a solid start to his NFL career. Freeman was a little more polished and experienced, but I think Newton has the potential to be better. It’s time to buy into Cam Newton as a high draft pick next year. He won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but he’s going to go early. There’s lots to work on, but a lot of potential too. Someone will roll the dice.
A.J. Green will get a universal thumbs up from every NFL team when they do their evaluations.
His 9-catch, 164-yard performance (including a pair of TD’s) may have come against one of the worst secondaries a #2 ranked team could have, but he flashed elite skills across the board.
Amazing hands, crisp sharp routes with a natural, fluid ability to get open and buy a yard of space. He’s springy enough to go up for the ball and he can stretch the field when he needs to. He’s also savvy – as emphasised by a barely noticeable push off that led to his second score – a classic pro-style move.
He’s got a skinny frame which is the only thing that isn’t elite. He’s listed at ten pounds lighter than Julio Jones – but there’s a bigger difference in build than that suggests. It’s not an issue now and may not be an issue in the future – but it’s the only thing you’ll ask about in terms of whether he’ll get jammed at the line too easily.
Green made this almost a personal duel with Newton. Georgia would throw to Green and score points – Newton on the other sideline would respond. It was great to see the two fighting it out, improving their stock and really showing why I think they’ll both be top ten picks next year.
One prospect who disappointed me though was Nick Fairley.
His play was typically dominant – he was almost unblockable and permanently in QB Aaron Murray’s line of sight. However, he was always just a split second too late to get the precious sack. So what did he keep doing? Well why not leave a foot in the QB’s face? Why not drive him to the ground several times like a WWF heavyweight champion despite the QB clearly releasing the ball? Take a shot at the knee?
Considering the game announcers made continuos references that the officials had been made aware of his willingness to do this every week – he was never penalised. It seemed like only a matter of time until Murray got hurt.
With seconds remaining Fairley, for once, accidentally caught the QB’s shin with his helmet. Murray went down in some considerable pain as you’d expect. On the next play, after the whistle had blow – a couple of Georgia lineman decided to pile on Fairley in a similar way in a revenge mission. A brawl broke out involving both sidelines.
Whilst this was going on, Fairley ‘celebrated’ – skipping around making an aggressive ‘belt’ gesture similar to a boxer toasting a championship victory. His coaches tried to usher him away – but Fairley felt this was a job well done. Aside from the needless injuries he could’ve been responsible for today – it just stank of bad sportsmanship at the end.
Maybe it’s not my position to say this but I was unimpressed and this kind of approach to the game will cost Fairley thousands of dollars at the next level, yardage by the dozen and possible suspension. He’s too good to play the game this way and it’s unnecessary. Tone it down, get on with the game and leave the cheerleading to others.