February 11, 2011
Most pre-draft quarterback workouts are conducted at school pro days, and they're monitored by the NFL scouts and personnel people who are there to see specific things. I remember Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com telling me that one of the reasons Mark Sanchez(notes) went so high in the 2009 draft was his ability to make specific throws on request from NFL decision-makers. And when Sam Bradford(notes) completed 49 of 50 passes at his pro day, people got that much more of an idea what that guy was all about. These types of workouts are generally conducted with the quarterback in question throwing to a few of his buddies while wearing a shirt and shorts and facing no defensive pressure or coverage. It's about showing what the player can do, isolated from scheme or the talent around him.
But what do we say when a quarterback holds a workout for the media in which talent evaluators aren't invited? That's what Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton did on Thursday at a high school field in San Diego -- he went through his paces for a media throng with not a single coach, scout or front-office person in attendance.
Two former players and current analysts weighed in on the event. ESPN's Trent Dilfer, who was at the workout, couldn't stop gushing about what he saw. "A few things jumped out at me," Dilfer said. "First of all, his physical stature -- he's a giant, giant man. He dwarfed me, and I'm 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds. The other thing was how the ball jumped out of his hands. This is a guy who has a powerful arm. George Whitfield, his quarterback coach, has done a masterful job coaching him from the feet up. He showed great balance and foot energy, as he dropped back and took snaps from under center.
"I think the third thing is that he has quarterback passer DNA, and that's the thing we weren't sure about, because he's such a great athlete. [But he] threw about 30 very challenging throws, and on each one of those throws, he kept his eyes down the center of the football field, spun his eyes back to the perimeter, and delivered the ball early with anticipation. This is a gifted, gifted passer -- something I don't think many people know."
Well, I'll disagree with the "challenging throws" concept -- as Mike Tyson once said, everyone has a plan until they get hit, and Newton was basically engaging in a public workout without any pressure. Throw a perfect 30-yard post-corner with a 300-pound geeked-up maniac in your face, and we'll add "challenging" back into the vocabulary.
Former New York Giants defensive back Mike Mayock, who has become one of the pre-eminent draft analysts based on his work with the NFL Network, seemed to put things into perspective.
"I really didn't need to see the workout, nor do I need to hear about the workout because I can tell you what that workout entails. I've watched five of his game tapes, he's got a classic over-hand delivery, he's got a big arm. You and I in gym shorts at the local high school can throw pretty accurately, so I would guarantee you he would look great in a pair of gym shorts, he would throw with accuracy and arm strength. His mechanics are very good but I would also [offer] one cautionary note, and that is the best pro day for a quarterback I ever attended was JaMarcus Russell(notes). That same day, even though I admitted it was the best pro day I ever saw, I also said I wouldn't take him in the first round. For me, it's not about him throwing in shorts; it's about a lot of other things.
"A choreographed day like today is fine, but the NFL is not really even allowed to be there so they're looking at the clips, the same that you and I are. They want to see him throw the ball at the Combine with the other quarterbacks, and then they want to see him at the Auburn pro day. And even then, that's really not going to tell the tale because he's going to throw the football beautifully in those controlled environments. To me, there are two issues with this kid. Issue No. 1 is he came out of a shotgun [formation], and if you watch the tape it's basically a very simple offense. One read and either the ball was out or he was out. Can he adapt to, can he process and assimilate a very structured and complex pro offense against a complex pro defense? And secondly, and most importantly, when you get to a certain skill level in the NFL, which this kid certainly has, at the quarterback position what kind of kid is he? Is he going to be the first guy in the building? Is he a gym rat? Is he football smart? Is he a leader of men? All of those things to me are way more important than any workout in shorts."
And that's the key to this. Once Newton throws the same passes as everyone else at the NFL scouting combine, and is asked to make specific throws during his pro day, we'll have a slightly better idea what he's all about. A choreographed workout doesn't tell you much that can be applied to game day.
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