BCS Championship – thoughts on Newton & Fairley

Nick Fairley was again impressive against Oregon

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.


  1. Nano

    Great stuff Rob. With Luck not declaring, and one-year-wonder labels possibly affecting the stock of Fairly and Newton, do you think there’s a chance that a WR (Green) is thought of as the safest-bet top-5 pick? Bowers? So much depends on Carolina’s defensive scheme going forward. They could definitely use a playmaking #1 wideout.

    I’m really curious to see who you mock for Carolina next time if it’s not a quarterback. They’re desperate for help all over, but there’s not many players I’d be too sure about, if it were the ‘Hawks in that spot.

    • Rob

      These are by far the most difficult mocks I’ve done, I’m sure others feel the same way. There’s really no definitive answer at this point. Green is an option – but do they draft a WR that early? Perhaps. I think Bowers is a strong possibility and Fairley may go #1 after Rivera confirmed he’ll run predominantly a 4-3. I don’t think Peterson is an option. I still they think they should go QB because all four expected to go in round one are greater talents than Jimmy Clausen, but it doesn’t mean they necessarily will.

  2. T-Town

    “Really it’s anyones guess what Carolina might do with the #1 pick at the moment.”

    Couldnt agree more with that last sentence.

    After Luck dropped out this pick went from a lock to a question mark. Now with Rivera being hired it is really anyones guess.

    Thats what I like so much about discussing the draft though. Its all speculation formed around educated guesses.

    Also as good as Fairley is, the guy has some character concerns and I worry that his conditioning may be subpar. An NFL trainer should be able to fix the latter but can anyone fix the former? His dirty style of play is not going to be well tolerated in the NFL.

  3. Alex

    I’m hearing AJ Green as the safe pick or Nick Fairley from Carolina fans, which isn’t saying much.

    Btw, I can tell you that the reason Nick Fairley got so much penetration was because Oregon’s offense often (as in almost every game) calls for 1 DT to penetrate and let the remaining OL handle the remaining DL. Once that DT penetrates, the Oregon QB will make a read on that DT to see if he’ll go for the RB or himself. Whichever player he goes for, he gives/keeps the ball to the other/himself. A classic example is play at the beginning of the 2nd quarter where Thomas just predetermined that he would keep the ball and got sacked. If Thomas had read Fairley’s penetration correctly, James would have gotten a TD.


  4. Ed

    Fairley has been superb all year, and last night (with help from the spread scheme) looked all world. I know Rob really likes Newton, but I don’t see a slighlty better Vince Young. Newton running was stuffed last night, and his accuracy and vision were adequate at best. I would not waste the #1 pick on him. I think if their teams stays healthy (rb’s and oline got hit hard) and they get a decent wr (smith and lafell stunk), they could be much better. Clausen was not the reason they lost. He actually played well in spots and should have had two more wins (Saints/Browns) where he played well and should have won (missed fg at end).

  5. plyka

    Cam Newton’s stock fell heavy last night, in my opinion. Last night he looked like a far less athletic Vince Young. Still, to this day, that 05-06 BSC title game was the best game that I have ever seen in any sport. I am a huge USC fan, so i was hating VY, but seriously, the guy looked like a man among boys. And perhaps if VY had a good head on his shoulders and came into the NFL with one and only one topic on his mind, to get better, he could have turned into a great NFL QB.

    That said, if Cam Newton works hard, he may become a better NFL QB than VY, but I still don’t see the necessary tools for him to be a #1 pick. He is very inaccurate and this should be the biggest knock against him. I saw average decision making at best. I’m just not too impressed.

    Physically he is a stud…although, not Vince Young level stud.

    • Rob

      I doubt last night had much impact on Newton’s stock. It’s one game compared to a whole season of tape against top SEC opponents. It’s also a game where he was average – not poor – and most of the disappointment stems from knowing what he’s capable of. His passing numbers were more than acceptable and I think the substantial month long break hurt both offenses and helped the defensive side of things. So while he’s capable of much more and it wasn’t a great game, some context is needed.

      • plyka

        One game can have a huge impact, if its the right game, and the national championship us the “right” game. We will see what happens, but I will be surprised if newton goes top 10.

  6. NateDogg

    Like Alex said above, Fairley was unblocked because Oregon will run their read option off a defensive tackle as much as they’ll run it off an end like most teams do. Although it’s still kind of a fair question since reading Fairley obviously wasn’t working, he was too fast into the backfield and was able to decide where the ball was going faster than Thomas on some plays.

    Did anyone else think that Newton looked like he was playing hurt? He came up gimpy early in the game and I saw him grimace several times thoughout the night. He certainly didn’t look like the Cam Newton I watched all season when he decided to run.

    • Rob

      I think in part it may be down to the fact neither side had played for over a month. It’s hard to switch off and switch on again and it seemed to impact Newton’s rythm and he picked up a back strain or something that he probably wouldn’t have in October or November.

  7. matt

    Alex and NateDogg are right about why Fairly was unblocked from time to time.

    Here is a detailed explanation of the play:


  8. Alex

    Well, not that my opinion matters, but if I were the GM, I would probably lean towards AJ Green. Nick Fairley, while productive, is not the same physical freak at DT Suh was. Size wise, Fairley is average and there is the 1 year wonder thing to think about. Beyond that, I’ve constantly heard that the Panthers already have blocks in place on the defensive side of the ball, so the situation (from what it sounds like) isn’t nearly as bad as the 32nd ranked offense.

    The offense this year was partly decimated by injuries on the OL and RB positions, but the QB and WRs both have done a terrible job as well so a WR would definitely be able to upgrade this team. The more important reason why I lean towards a WR is because we can more properly evaluate Jimmy Clausen (as apparently the Panthers sticking by him for at least 1 more year) as he is A) a second year QB and B) he will have more “weapons” to work with. Steve Smith obviously expressed his dislike of Clausen, but if this thing with Green also fails, then Clausen should be shown the door.

    In other words, drafting Green is 1) safer 2) an upgrade for an aging WR corp and 3) an evaluation of Jimmy Clausen.


    • Blake

      Why is drafting Green safer if-your words not mine- WRs bust higher than any position?

      • Alex

        WR does have the highest bust rate of any position and it has been statistically proven. The common explanation people give is that most WRs in college aren’t truly “ready”. WRs usually take 3 years of development before they become the final product (e.g. Rodney on the Falcons). That is the saying.

        However, the exception to the rule for me if there is a so called (from tape) “can’t miss” prospect. The only WR in this draft for me is AJ Green as he runs ok routes (only real weakness), has amazing hands, has great speed, has amazing concentration, and uses his size and athleticism (some have those tools, but don’t use them). Andre Johnson and Larry Fitz are also examples of WRs in the top 5 (or usually can’t miss prospects). Do note though that even Johnson took 5 years to become what he is now (though Carr at QB may be part of the issue) and Fitz took 2 years.

        What I WOULD have an issue with is the others that clearly aren’t as polished or talented and that is also where I see the higher bust rate. In other words, I’m clearly not in favor of drafting Julio Jones, Jonathon Baldwin, or Michael Floyd. The only concrete thing that these WRs have that translates well into the NFL is their size. The rest don’t translate as well into the NFL and we would probably see the final product 3 years down the line when a less physically gifted 2nd or 3rd rounder might then be more developed than their 1st round counterparts.

        Since this is the case, I would prefer a CB who by comparison has a bust rate that is nearly half of the WR position. I assume the reason why CB have a higher success rate is simply because what they are now in the college translates more easily into the NFL (e.g. the 2010 class’ Joe Haden and McCourtny are both solid corners this year).

        Don’t forget, the whole point of a 1st rounder is that what he was in college should translate into the NFL. CBs evidently translate better than WRs.


        • Rob

          Virtually no receivers are as polished as AJ Green leaving college. He’s unique. While I agree on Floyd (3rd round at best) I certainly think Jones warrants high first round consideration and there’s a chance for Baldwin to move quickly up the board after the combine.

          • Alex

            Exactly, that is why he’s a “safe” pick. He’s the exception to the general rule.

            As for the others like Jones (I can’t say for Baldwin since I don’t watch the Big East even though I’m worried about the level of competition), I too would give him a 1st round grade. He is exactly that, a 1st round WR prospect that needs coaching and might become a TO (hopefully without the off-the-field issues) 3 years down the road. He also might be out of the league in 3 years when you take into consideration of the uncertainty of the development of WRs (again, 36% 1st round success rate).

            Jones in particular has great physical size, very crisp route running (I don’t see how this is an issue according to the scouting reports and he’s better than Green in this area), and uses his body well. My problem with him is the inconsistency, the lapses of concentration, or in a simple word, his hands. He’s inconsistent catching the ball and that happens to be the most important aspect of a WR (Green is amazing in this regard). Granted, I could grade him lower just simply because I watched some of his worse games. For example, I didn’t see the Tennesse game where he had over 200 yards. Regardless, I see the reason why he’s a 1st rounder based on potential, but would I draft him if I was in the middle of the 1st round? Probably not unless he is by and far away the BPA (such as at #32).


            • Rob

              I think the inconsistency thing is over played with Jones. That was a big concern in 2009 and his numbers suffered as a consequence. This year he’s been much more reliable to the point where he’s almost completely eliminated those mental lapses and it shows in the much improved production. I think he’ll benefit more from the NFL and the increased importance of the passing game. Alabama have two excellent backs and in particular last year – Jones was a bit part. His role increased more this year because ‘Bama weren’t always controlling the score and clock. But even so – it was mainly the Ingram & Richardson show. He’s got amazing potential and if the mental lapses are behind him – I’m not sure how he gets past St. Louis.

          • Alex

            I don’t doubt the potential of Jones or where he would be picked (IMO no later than St Louis due to the need for WR for Bradford), but that doesn’t mean I like him if we were at say #13. 1st round WR bust more and Jones’ inconsistency is concerning.

            As for the consistency issues. I’ve looked at his stat sheet and there are times where he blows up and times where he was non-existant. I didn’t see one of the games he blew up (e.g. tennesse), but I also saw games where he was solid. Again, I think it may just be the fact that we saw different Jones games. I certainly did keep an eye on him and clearly remember that there were lapses of concentration where he dropped easily catchable balls that would stall drives if it were in the NFL. What I was impressed though was his physicality, his crisp route running, his toughness, and his size that he uses well. Certainly a 1st round talent and will be picked no later than #14.

            Regardless, it’s true that Jones will probably be more successful in the NFL because of Bama’s preference to run the ball with their two RBs.


      • Alex

        I also must add that I meant “safer” partially in the context that he wasn’t a 1 year wonder like Bowers or Fairley. Green has shown consistent production against top competition.


  9. Blake

    With such a crazy year for the draft, I hope Schefter, Mort, and the camera men don’t ruin everything by showing us each prospect crying on the phone before the pick is in. Its so annoying knowing who the pick is 30 seconds before it’s called in. Should be illegal. It was so much more exciting earlier in the decade when you didn’t know until it rolled off Tagliabu’s tongue.

    • Rob

      Completely agree Blake. I have no idea why they have the cameras in the green room… surely they can show the ’emotion’ of being picked shortly after the pick is called via replay? And we all know Schefter and co are well connected, we don’t need evidence of that by having them spoil the first 15 picks 90 seconds before they’re announced. Completely ruins the experience and loses all the tension of waiting to hear the pick called.

      • Alex

        Jason Locanfora also does it for NFL.com which I like better because of Mike Mayock. Can’t seem to avoid it either way. Jason would be playing with his Blackberry constantly.


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