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Accuracy: Newton’s accuracy has taken criticism that he does not deserve. During the 2010 season he showed promising accuracy, but his inconsistency is what hurts his stock. Newton has the ability to hit any target, he just does not do it routinely right now. This points to a mechanics flaw, since he will sometimes miss on a pass that he made before under the same conditions. This is encouraging, as mechanics can be taught and refined.
Newton’s strengths right now are hitting backs out of the backfield on screens and his deep ball accuracy, which is actually among the best in the class. Has shown good touch on both long and short passes. Puts the ball in a catchable position on underneath routes and lets his receiver run in to the ball.
Arm strength: Phenomenal arm strength. Has no trouble putting the ball over 50 yards in the air. Can make every throw you could ask of him. Unlike his accuracy, Newton shows great touch and understanding when throwing the long ball. Arm strength is top notch. Newton has thrown at least 70 yards in the air that we have seen- and that is during a game.
Athleticism/mobility: Has unquestioned athleticism. Was allowed to tuck and run at any time at Auburn. Can get outside the pocket and hurt a defense. Is not only fast, but has rare size for the quarterback position. Imagine Ben Roethlisberger with Vince Young’s speed. Does a nice job moving around in the pocket, freeing himself to throw.
Decision making: Has been asked to make at most two reads pre-snap at Auburn. Will need time to learn to read multiple fronts and coverages. He has the ability, but will need time and reps in practice to learn this. Some have questioned his Football IQ and ability to pick up reads, but Newton has never been taught these things. He’s a blank canvas in terms of IQ.
Field vision: Has enjoyed playing in a shotgun system that lets him stand back and read the field. Newton has little to no experience reading a defense, as he was fed his keys from the sideline. Must show better vision pre-snap. Keeps his eyes up and down field. It is hard to judge his field vision at this time, as he has only played in wide-open systems that have not asked him to make difficult reads or decisions. This will be determined in the NFL.
Mechanics: Does a nice job stepping up and through his throws. Needs to do a better job setting his feet when throwing short-to-intermediate throws. Has played in a shotgun-only system at Auburn, and also during his time as a back up at Florida. Has virtually no experience coming from under center. Will need his drop steps taught to him before any other work can begin.
Has a compact delivery and a good over-the-top motion. His delivery and release will not need work. He will fail to step in to passes at times, which results in an incomplete pass.
Pocket awareness/poise: His accuracy seems to drop off when forced to move in the pocket, which is somewhat surprising considering how athletic he is. Has good vision in-pocket while moving. Does not get scared or rattled by defenders flying around him. Great poise in the pocket.
Final word: A one-year starter for the National Champion Auburn Tigers, Newton comes by way of small Blinn College in Texas after leaving Florida instead of playing behind Tim Tebow for another year. At Blinn College Newton led the team to the 2009 NJCAA championship game before signing with Auburn. Newton quickly asserted himself, rising to the position of starter and winning the Heisman Trophy in 2010.
All of this comes with controversy. As is well documented, there are allegations that Newton’s father Cecil offered a play-for-pay deal to Mississippi State, among other schools. Cameron was cleared of any wrongdoing by the NCAA, but the cloud continues to hang over his name.
It is undeniable that Newton is an electric athlete and leader at the position. Much like Michael Vick, Vince Young and Tim Tebow before him, there are questions not about his athleticism, but his ability to succeed long-term in the NFL as a pure passer. Newton’s production cannot be argued, he was simply fantastic during the 2010 season, but can he fulfill his potential? That is the question NFL teams will be left pondering this April.
Newton is, by all accounts, a likely top ten pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. While he is not ready to start at the NFL level as a rookie, the promise of his potential is too great to pass over.