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Is Cam the next V.Y.? Depends on your perspective

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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I was talking to a head coach the other day when I asked him to name the third-best quarterback in this year's draft.

"Depends on who your first two are," he said.

"OK," I said, "how about Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton?"

"Well, then," he replied, "we differ.'"

Is Vince Young a more natural passer than Cam Newton? One AFC assistant says so. (Getty Images)  
Is Vince Young a more natural passer than Cam Newton? One AFC assistant says so. (Getty Images)  
Uh, pardon me? Gabbert and Newton seem to be as inseparable as Dolce and Gabbana, with one or the other at the head of this class of quarterbacks. But not on this coach's board. He agreed with Gabbert as the first choice but did not have Newton as his number-two. He had two others, and the reason, he said, was that he doesn't believe Cam Newton's game translates to the pros.

Hmmm, that's not the first time I've heard that about a Heisman Trophy- winning quarterback who just walked off with a national championship. So that got me to thinking: Is Cam Newton a better prospect than Vince Young? The similarities between the two are obvious, but Newton is supposed to be the latest and greatest athletic phenomenon to play the position -- an "icon" waiting to happen.

Only some scouts, personnel directors, coaches and GMs aren't con-Vinced. In fact, I had a handful who told me that, based on collegiate careers, they'd take Young.

Seriously.

"This guy has no natural throwing motion," said one AFC assistant. "To be honest, Vince Young looked like a more natural passer. You look at this guy's passes, and they're heavy. There is nothing natural about the way he delivers a pass."

That was apparent at last week's pro day, and it was apparent at the annual scouting combine when Newton had trouble making completions against air. He looked more comfortable at his Auburn workout, but you'd expect that. What you wouldn't expect is more fallout afterward about someone once touted as the best prospect in years.

Then again, I heard that in 2006, too.

"He's OK if he can see the field and everything is in front of him," said one coach. "But if he has to make a quick read, then turn and throw the ball he can't. The thing that really stood out at his workout is how he stared down everyone. If he can see it -- like the comeback -- he can make the throw. But if he has to turn to throw to his left, the ball can go anywhere. And that's what playing in the NFL is all about."

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Newton has been working on polishing his mechanics, but they're still a work in progress -- so incomplete that one of his most ardent supporters, a scout I trust, said it might take a year to straighten them out. But his point was: So what? So you might have to clean up his footwork and work on his accuracy. The way he sees it, if someone has an abundance of talent you find a way to develop it.

"My guess is that the guys poking holes in him," he said, "are the guys who won't have a shot at him. They may end up being right, but this is the time when they pull everyone apart. No one is perfect."

He's right about that. I remember critics questioning Young's abilities as a passer, his smarts, his ability to play in a pro offense. Then he became the third pick of the 2006 draft.

Of course, that didn't work out so well for him or his head coach.

Now, five years later, many of the questions asked of Young are asked of Cam Newton. Is his accuracy acceptable? Can he read the field? Will he take off and run when his first receiver is covered? Can he make it in a pro offense? How long can he last as a running quarterback?

"But that's the point," said a scout who admires Newton. "This is not a running quarterback. This is a quarterback who can run. Big difference."

Newton tested better than Young on the Wonderlic, and one personnel director told me he had no doubt that if you drew up a Red Zone offense on a board "he could run it and run it damn good."

OK, that's a start. Because there are a lot of people out there who believe, just as they did with Young, that if you draft Newton there are built-in limitations -- namely, that you don't change him to fit your offense; you change your offense to fit him.

"You're going to have to play something he's comfortable with," said one scout. "If you're going to try to make him a pocket passer, why would you draft him?"

But that's not all. Questions move from Newton's mechanics to Newton's character, and here is where the conversation begins to boil. In fact, he fares so poorly in this department that a head coach at the annual NFL scouting combine told me he absolutely, positively, would not draft the guy. And he's not alone.

"There are so many red flags," said one GM, "it's like he's telling you, 'Don't take me.' "

There were issues at the University of Florida. There were issues at Auburn. Now, of course, there are those oh-so-regrettable quotes about wanting to be an "icon" and "entertainer" that he tried to disclaim at the combine. Put them together, and you have a multi-talented quarterback with multi-layered concerns.

"I could not make him the face of the franchise," said an NFC general manager. "My feeling is that there are going to be problems, and there are going to be issues."

The bottom line, of course, is: Will there be success? There was with Young, but it was short-lived. Now, he's a quarterback looking for his next team.

So is Newton, only he hasn't played a minute of pro football, and there's a big difference. Nevertheless, there's a lot of Vince Young in Cam Newton, and that can be good ... or bad. It all depends on the perspective.

"If I have a question about him," said one scout, "it's moments of inaccuracy that, I believe, stem from lapses in concentration. He'll miss two or three passes he shouldn't; then you see him get mad at himself and start making the plays he should have made before.

"He's tougher and more dedicated than Vince Young. I guess what you're asking me is if I think he's a better prospect than Vince Young? Yes, I do. And I'd have no problem turning my club over to him."

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