Owning What You Write: Cam Newton, Current NFL Star

I wrote a not-so-nice article about Cam Newton and his pro prospects nearly a year ago. This is my mea culpa. Also, thoughts on the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs.

On the heels of Cam Newton's record-setting rookie season as a passer and runner, not to mention this feature in the NEXT issue of ESPN The Magazine, I figure it'd be a good time to do this (coincides nicely with the New Years resolutions I won't honor, too). Especially because I, like most everyone else, am enthralled watching him play. Newton is unlike anything we've ever seen before, a superior and more graceful version of Daunte Culpepper. The only question becomes whether or not he can sustain such a high level of play and make what was unprecedented the new precedent.

Part of this whole writing and sharing your opinion with the public thing is accepting that, at times, you're going to be wrong. Sometimes you'll be very, very wrong and look like a total dickhead in the process. Just like it's nice to be credited when you get something right, there should also be a certain level of self-awareness and humility that prompts you to acknowledge when you fuck up. Sure, I could've easily deleted the article and pretended it never happened, but that's taking the dishonest coward's way out. I was a hater, a doubter. As such, now's the time to own what I wrote about Newton back in February. I've had people ask me if doing an about-face was even necessary. In general? No, probably not. However, it's necessary to me. This is my mea culpa.

Here's the original post, titled "Cam Newton: Future NFL Bust." I also submitted the piece to this site. It has since been removed -- I don't know why; maybe the site, now defunct, didn't want to be associated with such misguided tripe -- which is a shame because the comments section was pretty entertaining. I guess the comments accompanying the article from my own blog will have to do (more on this later). I figure the best way to approach this type of exercise is to go through the original piece by piece. Time to survey the carnage.

Let's just get this out of the way now: Cam Newton will not be a successful quarterback at the next level. I firmly believe that.

Ugh, pretty much the worst start possible here. I immediately regret this decision. Cam Newton is already a successful quarterback at the next level, and now one of the prototypes at the position. Is there any chance I can even recover after an opening like that? Let's just get this out of the way now: I'm an asshole. Probably a little too smug, as well. I firmly believe that. But it does serve me well from time to time.

This isn't so much about skill as it is smarts and common human decency. When it comes down to it, you just can't convince me that Cameron Jerrell Newton is actually a good person and won't do something to both screw over his own career and shame whatever team took a chance on him.

Jury's still out on the second sentence, but that doesn't make me look like any less of a douche. The guy's a charmer with charisma to match, and he's well on his way to becoming the A-list celebrity he envisioned. Fine, I admit it, I got caught up in the firestorm surrounding Newton's supposed pay-for-play scandal that nearly derailed his historic 2010 season. That was on top of his shady and shameful departure from Florida two years earlier. I let myself get swallowed up by it all. I probably also read Deadspin too much.

He is the anti-Tim Tebow, if that makes sense. Sure, Newton's playing style and on-field accomplishments mirror that of Virgin Air (copyright Bill Simmons), and he throws a prettier ball, too. But, remember, Tebow was universally lauded for his off-the-field exploits, maybe even more so than for what he accomplished as a football player. When you examine Newton's background, how does the minefield of red flags not signify to you that he's going to figure out a way to royally screw up in the pros? Why the hell should you trust this guy? Then you factor in the headache that is his corrupt, meddling exhibitionist of a father, and the whole prospect of making Cam Newton the face of your franchise becomes a considerable risk seemingly headed for inevitable disaster. Thanks, but no thanks.

The red flags surrounding Newton were impossible to ignore. I'd have felt the same way about any prospect regardless of talent... and, since it's still unfortunately an issue in this country, skin color.

Looking back, I'm also pretty content with the Virgin Air reference. I definitely could have gone with a much lamer Simmonsism (well, one of his Twitter follower's-isms), like an annoyingly pointless Karate Kid or Teen Wolf reference that no one cares about.

Let's go back to 2007 and 2008, when Newton was at the University of Florida and languishing on the bench behind his Caucasian doppelgänger. He was a nonentity, a nobody, and had no hope of seeing the field in game action until Tebow got injured or left for the NFL. That's enough of a reason to transfer. Newton hastened his exit from the school by accumulating three incidents of academic dishonesty that pushed him to the verge of expulsion. THREE! How dumb do you have to be to get caught cheating three separate times? Now, I'm not naive when it comes to this topic. Cheating is rampant at every university, and it's especially true when it comes to student athletes with no desire to fulfill their academic obligations. Still, three times?! Are you kidding me? Was Newton trying to get caught? That right there is enough of a reason for me to question his overall intelligence and ability to make good decisions.

Anyone who gets nabbed for cheating three times at the same school in less than two years is an idiot. Being an insanely talented football player doesn't make that any less true. However, had I done more research here, I'd have found out that Newton scored well on his SATs. He's a smart, sharp guy. The cheating scandal didn't mean Newton was stupid on an intellectual level -- he just made dumb, regrettable decisions as an 18- and 19-year old. I remember doing that, too, and at later ages.

Cam wasn't satisfied just being a cheater, though, and decided to try his hand at the art of theft. Unfortunately for him, he was as adept in that endeavor as he was at cheating. Newton knowingly assumed possession of a stolen laptop and attempted to pass it off as his own, going so far as to file off the serial number and write his name in massive letters on the front cover. Then when the cops came to his dorm room to investigate the matter, Newton tried to cover up his crime by chucking the laptop out the window and having an accomplice hide it for him behind a dumpster. Turns out this accomplice wasn't any smarter than his scummy enabler and got pinched by police officers before having a chance to dump the purloined computer.

Anyone who engages in theft greater than petty lacks moral fiber. That said, people make mistakes. They do things in the heat of the moment, in a fit of panic, without thinking or considering the consequences of their actions. Or maybe they're just actually shitty. Either way, the true test of character is whether the perpetrator learns from his (or her) transgressions.

"I believe that a person should not be thought of as a bad person because of some senseless mistake that they made," said Newton in 2010. "I think every person should have a second chance. If they blow that second chance, so be it for them." - Cam Newton (Link, via his WIkipedia page).

Touché.

Understandably, Cam Newton decided to run far away from his problems and transferred to Blinn College, a junior college in rural Texas. There, he led the football team to an NJCAA national championship but always had his sights set on returning to a FBS/D-IA program. He got his wish when Auburn came calling and offered him a scholarship. So, are we to believe that Newton changed during his time at Blinn and evolved into a morally upstanding person? Forgive me if I'm a little skeptical.

Less skeptical.

Funny thing is, the general public was relatively oblivious to Newton's checkered past until the whole Mississippi State pay-for-play scandal broke in early November. Yes, Cam was cleared of any wrongdoing and his father took the fall, but the whole thing just stinks to high heaven. Where there's smoke, there's fire, and there's a ton of smoke here, especially when you consider the subject's history. You can be sure the NCAA's investigation into the matter is still ongoing behind the scenes; what kind of odds can I get that those snooping around eventually uncover some damning evidence that implicates Newton?

Turns out I would have lost that bet.

Alright, now that the character assassination portion of the article is out of the way, let's analyze Cam Newton, the football player. Make no mistake, at a chiseled 6-5, 250 pounds, he's the most impressive physical specimen I've ever seen at the quarterback position. His arm strength is elite, and he can make every throw necessary to play in the NFL. Despite completing 66% of his passes this season, Newton's accuracy has been scrutinized by NFL scouts; if you look at the tape and focus on when he tries to navigate the intermediate portion of the field, you start to understand why. At no point when I watched Newton this season did accuracy jump out at me as one of his strong suits, but I also never found myself thinking it was a crippling weakness. The biggest gripe I had with his game was that he ran the equivalent of a playground offense (on top of the fact that he only played a single season at the D-IA level). It didn't take a trained eye to see that Newton operated in a one-read scheme, meaning that if his primary receiver wasn't open he'd basically just tuck the ball and run. That works in college when you're 6-5, 250 pounds and can just run over smaller defenders. In the NFL, however, such a playing style will literally get a quarterback killed.

The character assassination portion of the article is where I really erred. It's my biggest regret. I should have just done an impartial analysis focused on Cam Newton's talent and ability. I'm not going to make that mistake again when profiling an athlete -- well, at least not to such an extreme extent (lesson: learned).

Oh, and as for Newton's bruising running style not holding up in the NFL... uh, nevermind. I don't know what I was thinking here because when you're 6-5 and 250 pounds, you're one of the biggest, most imposing guys out on the field even in the NFL. And you can sure as hell still run defenders over. I don't think it's a good idea for Cam to continue taking a pounding regularly into the middle stages of his career, so he'll have to continue developing as a passer. However, he should always be the first option at the goal line if the objective is to score touchdowns (which I think it is).

Personally, after watching Newton attempt to be a real quarterback against Oregon in the national championship game, I came away unimpressed and convinced he wasn't going to replicate his collegiate success in the pros. The Ducks' defense flummoxed the Heisman Trophy winner and coerced him into a number of poor decisions -- only one of which actually resulted in a turnover (there should've been a few more) -- and missed opportunities. What I saw in that game was a quarterback who was noticeably confused by coverages and in moments of distress steadfastly locked onto his primary receiver instead of going through his progressions. Just wait until NFL defensive coordinators start game planning for Cam Newton. Defensive masterminds are always going to win that battle. Fact.

Not fact. Jesus, this just isn't going well for me at all.

Remember, this is a guy who got caught cheating three times before getting busted for possessing a stolen laptop during his brief stay at the University of Florida. And I'm supposed to believe he can flawlessly comprehend and command an NFL offense, read complex defensive schemes, and process copious amounts of information in nanoseconds? Ooooooookay. To be honest, I'd feel more comfortable drafting Greg McElroy in the sixth round, but I'll save that argument for later. This Cam Newton infatuation just reeks of a classic case of style winning out over substance, and I'm not going to fall into that trap.

Looks like Cam's doing an ooooooookay job comprehending an NFL offense, though I suppose it helps when said offense is molded around his talents (as it should be, given his unique skill set). Suffice to say I'd rather draft Newton first overall than Greg McElroy in the sixth round (and if I'm a Jets fan, I'd rather have McElroy as my quarterback than Mark Sanchez). Turns out Cam has both style and substance; I should've fallen into the trap, which wasn't a trap at all.

While I have to commend Newton for the way he handled the myriad distractions that threatened to derail his historic season, I can't ignore the fact that they were still present. Besides, handling distractions in the pros will be a little different. If I'm about to invest tens of millions of dollars in a quarterback expected to lead my franchise for the next decade, I'd prefer there not be serious questions regarding his character. I'm telling you, there's a shitstorm destined to surround whatever team drafts Cam Newton. His past couldn't be a more foreboding warning about his future, and I just don't have a good feeling about him. At all.

Whoops.

The most recent incident in the Cam Newton circus was that farce of a controlled workout his father (dude, just get the fuck out of the way) staged for the media. There were so many things wrong with that decision, I don't even know where to start. In addition to making Cam and his father look like even bigger douchebags, what did that workout accomplish? I can tell you it didn't impress anyone in the NFL, and it perturbed more than a few of the very player personnel executives that will determine where Newton gets drafted. I bet league veterans don't respect that look-at-me horse shit either. I don't care that Trent Dilfer could hardly contain himself as he gushed about how well Newton performed during the workout -- the kid could have walked on water and it still wouldn't have mattered to me. What does it say about a prospect when he'd rather first appeal to the media than his potential employers? Nothing positive, that's for sure. It makes me question his maturity and selflessness. Further, I have to ask myself, is Newton serious about being a professional football player, or is he more concerned with being a celebrity?

While we haven't heard a peep about the elder Newton, I still don't agree with the media-only workout. It was a crock of shit. I'd also say that Cam has proved he's pretty serious about being a football player, not just an entertainer and icon. Hey, what do you know, people looked way too deep into an innocuous, off-the-cuff remark that a 21-year old made during an interview.

Now it's time to address the much-maligned father, Cecil Newton, Sr. Why hasn't he retreated from the spotlight and slinked into the background, especially after the Mississippi State fiasco? I'm not sure how he doesn't understand that he's only hurting his son by intervening all the time. It makes you wonder about the senior Newton's priorities, and whether he has his son's best interests in mind or is just another run-of-the-mill attention whore. As always, it's probably a little bit of both. Put simply, Cecil Newton, Sr. has no idea what he's doing here and is in way over his head -- and it doesn't appear like he'll be going away anytime soon. I've seen how an overbearing father can interfere with his son's career as a professional athlete, and it never ends well. Remember, I grew up as a Philadelphia Flyers fan during the Eric Lindros era of the '90s, so I know all about his prick of a dad, Carl.

Again, we haven't heard a peep about (or from) the elder Newton. It's not an issue.

It's easy to get seduced by a player's accomplishments on the field, especially when said player is someone like Cam Newton and possesses truly unique, breathtaking talents. However, you can't let all the flash cloud your objectivity. Separate Cam Newton the football player from Cam Newton the person. If you still think he's worth the risk, more power to you. I don't, and I'd be willing to bet a sizable chunk of money that in five years we're mentioning Newton's name in the same sentence as Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell. If I have the option of taking a less talented guy with impeccable character or a highly talented guy who also happens to be a rotten person, I'm taking the former eleven times out of ten. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to step down from my soapbox, but I still won't let Newton's enticing skill set override my reservations about his character.

You know something, I bet Dan Snyder absolutely loves himself some Cam Newton.

I guess you could say perhaps I let all the off-the-field stuff cloud my objectivity. Score one for hypocrisy. Thankfully, I never bet that sizable chunk of money, although I do think I owe a certain someone a steak dinner. Just a hunch: I don't think we'll be mentioning Newton's name in the same sentence as Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell, at least not in the dreaded "bust" context. My soapbox is in tatters and has been retired... for the time being.

Lastly, I bet Dan Snyder does absolutely love himself some Cam Newton, and with good reason. But the Redskins owner is still an abhorrent piece of shit who has destroyed his beloved franchise and alienated an entire fan base.

PS - If Cam Newton turns into "Donovan McNabb with stones" (copyright Ari Lowell), I'll be the first person in line to admit I was wrong and eat that massive serving of crow.

And here I am, ready to stuff all that tasty crow down my gullet. I'll always love the "Donovan McNabb with stones" comparison, but Newton, as I wrote earlier, is a better version of Daunte Culpepper.

I never denied the kind of monster Newton could become, I just had my doubts whether he'd do it. But man, the guy is a total freak of nature and can do whatever he wants on the football field. Now, what's really shocked me is how much Newton improved his intermediate passing game from the end of his college career to his first pro game. It's night and day. Newton's deep passing game was always a strength because he has a cannon for an arm and can put touch on the ball, but now he's also putting the same touch on intermediate routes. I'd have never expected him to complete 60% of his passes as a rookie,* and I have to believe even his most ardent supporters didn't either. Newton will throw interceptions, it's going to happen, but the positives in his game far outweigh the negatives right now. Most importantly, killer Cam is playing the position with confidence and savvy, which is just another way of saying he has that crucial intangible, the "it" factor.

* I guess all that work with Warren Moon really paid off. Turns out the Hall of Famer really is smarter than everybody when it comes to evaluating a pro quarterback prospect!

I was wrong about Cam Newton. Not the first time, and it certainly won't be the last. Though this goof is definitely the most embarrassing because it was so high profile. Yeah, yeah, in my face and all that. I'll take it like a man. THROW IT IN MY FACE, CAM. EVERY GAME. Just know that it will only get harder from here on out, and resting on your merits will ensure a one-way ticket to regression town.

I'm not asking for forgiveness, and I don't want, need, or deserve it. That's not why I'm doing this. I just felt like saying I enjoy watching Newton play on Sundays, and I'm sure he will continue to entertain me as long as he's in the league. I'm more than happy to sit back and watch the show. But now I have to hope that for every Cam Newton (and 2011 St. Louis Rams), there's a (commence #humblebrag) Michael Morse, Claude Giroux, DeMarco Murray, Brooks Reed, J.J. Watt, Ryan Kerrigan, Torrey Smith, Randall Cobb, Vincent Brown, Mason Foster, Chris Culliver, Norris Cole, Andre Carter, 2011 Philadelphia Eagles, and, hey, maybe even Prince Fielder (end #humblebrag). Otherwise I'm going to keep looking like a fucking idiot.

Time for the comments...

Sight4DaBLIND: You should question everything you believe.

Interesting suggestion.

BurnaBill31: I bet you feel like a complete dick you bitch ass faggot

10/10 for creativity.

Dusander: "He'll need 107 yards against New Orleans next week to become the first quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 500 yards in a season. Newton is the second player in NFL history with at least 20 touchdown passes and at least 10 rushing touchdowns in a season, joining Kordell Stewart, who did it in 1997. "You are a genius. Turn in your keyboard and modem at the door, please.

You got me good, dude. Speaking of Kordell Stewart, he's somehow managed to be worse as an "analyst" than he was as a quarterback (and he was terrible). It's quite remarkable.

Divisional Round predictions:

Saints vs. 49ers (+3.5)

This is the first time since the 1996 season that a home team in the Divisional Round has been an underdog. It last happened when the defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys traveled to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers, who were in their second year of existence. The result: Panthers 26, Cowboys 17.

The 49ers are a true old-school team, built on defense and running the ball. I don't like the Saints nearly as much away from the Superdome (because they've never won an away playoff game in their history), and San Francisco has the kind of defense that can stifle Drew Brees and company. Remember, Brees threw two should-have-been-interceptions against the Lions last round, except defenders dropped the ball, and the game was close until the fourth quarter. I think the Niners are going to physically beat the shit out of the Saints and emerge with one of their patented knock-down-drag-out victories powered by five David Akers' field goals. It seems like everybody's picking New Orleans, which is always enough of a reason to go with the other team, especially when said team is playing at home. The Sean Payton versus Jim Harbaugh coaching matchup should also make for great theater.

49ers 22, Saints 20

Broncos vs. Patriots (-13.5)

Tebow magic runs out, Tom Brady and the Patriots roll. Plus, the teams that sneak into the playoffs with a .500 record or worse and win their first game typically get thrashed in the second one. Sorry, I just don't see the monumental upset happening. I'm rooting for it, of course, but I can't bring myself to nut up and make the prediction.

Patriots 35, Broncos 17

Giants (+7.5) vs. Packers

Since before the playoffs started, I've been saying this was the worst possible matchup for the Packers in their first game because of the Giants' strengths on offense and defense. Also, the Giants have already proven they can play with Green Bay. I've had plenty of second thoughts about this game, especially since the Giants have become the trendy upset pick. Normally for that reason I'd reverse field and take the Packers in Lambeau, but I'm sticking with my gut on this one. Reluctantly.

Giants 24, Packers 21

Texans (+7.5) vs. Ravens

This would be such a classic Ravens loss. Big favorites at home, where they're 8-0 this season, and coming off a bye. Now Joe Flacco is whining like a butthurt loser because he doesn't think he gets enough respect? Shut up and focus on not getting outplayed by T.J. Yates.

Shit, now I really want to take the Texans. I'll appease that urge by picking the rat birds to win but the oil-rich longhorns to cover.

Ravens 20, Texans 17

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