Prospect tracker: Studying Cam Newton

What do the numbers say about Auburn's star?

I’ve updated the prospect tracker today, which can be located by clicking here or selecting the logo in the lower title bar (you’ll need to click ‘Home’ to view this). Here you’ll find updated 2010 statistics for all of next April’s top draft prospects. It’s a good way to compare how the different individuals are performing – although admittedly stats only tell one side of the story. 

Nevertheless I wanted to compare Cam Newton’s passing numbers to the other prospects expected to go early in the 2011 draft. I’ll come to that in a moment. 

Newton is predominantly a run first QB and has already amassed 1122 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. Today I watched Newton’s Auburn taking on Ole Miss from the weekend. He threw more passes (24) than he had in any game previously for the Tigers. The game plan was designed to open up the stacked front by passing early, stretching out the field for running back Michael Dyer and Newton. 

Overall I was impressed with Newton’s display. Apart from a couple of throws that were fired in with too much velocity, he generally did very well. He completed 18 passes for 209 yards and a pair of touchdowns. There were some quick screens to the receiver or short slants, but he also flashed the ability to drive the ball on target down the middle and throw a nice face to the left for his first TD. 

Although there are still a number of concerns I have with Newton throwing the ball – displays like this are starting to win me round. My initial review stated I wouldn’t draft Newton to play quarterback. Upon further study, those comments were unfair. Clearly he has a tremendous amount of work to do to become an orthodox passer – but that is generally the case for most college QB’s anyway. Footwork is a major area for improvement, but he has a nice release. 

I remain dubious whether I personally would want to draft him in round one – but I do believe that a team will convince themselves before next April and stand by my latest mock that has him going very early indeed

So what about the pure passing numbers? The chart shows that Newton has thrown 108 completed passes this year from 162 attempts. The stats back up the concern that Newton is generally a run first QB – only Pat Devlin of Delaware has attempted less passes and he’s missed games through injury. 

Blaine Gabbert – another QB who is used in running plays – has almost thrown twice as many balls as Newton (311 attempts). Ryan Mallett (259), Andrew Luck (226) and Jake Locker (246) have all thrown 50+ more passes this year. 

However – Newton’s completion percentage (66.7%) is only bettered by Luck (67.3%). Of course, this will be influenced greatly because Newton has thrown less passes. For example, if he were to have thrown as many passes as Jake Locker this year – he’d need to complete another 56 passes from a further 84 attempts to maintain that high percentage figure. 

Even so, Newton isn’t throwing easier routes to pad out the numbers. From what I’ve seen of Auburn this year, they aren’t afraid to go deep or ask Newton to keep his eyes downfield. There aren’t as many check downs and screens as used by Christian Ponder or Andrew Luck. Newton is throwing 9.71 yards per attempt, higher than any of the other QB’s listed. Ryan Mallett is the next highest with 9.5, but Andrew Luck (8.5) Jake Locker (6.5) Blaine Gabbert (6.75) and Christian Ponder (6.59) are significantly lower. 

If he’s being asked to throw deeper passes, without a certain degree of accuracy this will affect his completion percentage. Even having thrown only 106 completed passes, the 66.7% completion range paired with the 9.75 YPA is impressive. 

Newton’s quarterback rating is currently 172.6 – good for third in the nation behind only Kellen Moore (188.3) and Ricky Stanzi (180.3). Moore in particular works in a fluid passing offense that completes a number of high percentage passes. Stanzi has shown greater poise and accuracy this year – but is a solid college performer. It’s to Newton’s credit that he’s ranked so highly also. Ryan Mallett (163.4) and Andrew Luck (162.5) are 7th and 10th respectively. 

I’ve already listed Newton’s rushing numbers, but they’re good for 4th amongst all players and 2nd amongst QB’s – with only Denard Robinson higher by 165 yards. Newton does have two more TD’s than Robinson. 

So it’s easy to look at the numbers and see why teams will consider Newton very early indeed. It’s also important to add the ‘intangibles’ which people are so quick to mention for people like Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow and Christian Ponder. Newton is carrying his team to, potentially, a BCS title. If you put Newton on Florida (where he previously played) or Mississippi State (where he almost went) I firmly believe they would be in a similar position right now. 

Newton = Auburn. 

Teams will need to do their homework on a prior arrest whilst at Florida for possession of a stolen laptop. However, he must be credited for the way he handled leaving Florida – winning in the JUCO ranks before moving to Auburn. He comes accross well in interviews and certainly has the charisma – on and off the field – to be a star. 

Whatever he may lack in terms of polish as a passer or the serious areas of improvement needed in his technique – someone will buy in to what he’s selling in the early first round.

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