Five reasons why Gabbert will be drafted higher than Newton
Blaine Gabbert is following the model that worked for Sam Bradford, other QBs
Cam Newton will have difficult time satisfying teams in 1-on-1 interviews
One of Newton's biggest strengths, running ability, matters little in the NFL
Longtime NFL draft expert Gil Brandt shook up everyone's pre-combine rankings this week by saying it would "shock" him if Auburn quarterback Cam Newton wasn't the No. 1 overall pick. While his reasoning makes sense -- a quarterback has gone in the top spot eight out of the past 10 years -- he may have the wrong player. While Newton is obviously talented, he's made some moves that could hurt his draft status this offseason. Meanwhile, another quarterback, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, has been moving around the top 10 of the high-profile mock drafts, and could rise closer to the top.
Here are five reasons I believe Gabbert will end up going higher than Newton:
1. Gabbert is the only quarterback not throwing at the combine.
Gabbert is following the CAA formula. Tom Condon's powerful agency typically doesn't let its quarterbacks throw and they usually end up going very high. CAA has represented six of the past seven No. 1 overall picks, including four QBs (Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford, Alex Smith and Eli Manning). They're very smart about how they prepare players and limiting access to teams who are hungry to pick them apart.
The combine is designed to make players uncomfortable. Players have a lot to do in a short time, and they may not get the footballs or receivers they like for throwing drills. Teams would probably love to see Gabbert throw in Indy, but quarterbacks with enough clout have avoided throwing in Indy for over a decade. The combine is all about punching holes in players. The less evidence teams gather, the less damage.
So why is Newton exposing himself at the combine? Possibly because he put on that media-only workout in San Diego on Feb. 11. If he showed his skills there, how can he not let the teams see him up close and personal?
Newton may very well blow everyone away in Indy. But there's a risk he'll make some mistakes. Even if he does well, teams have a lot more material to study and that's usually not good for prospects.
2. Newton has not come off as a dedicated football player.
Newton told reporters he wants to be an "entertainer and an icon." Teams are looking to see if players love football. If they ask a player his hobbies, the right answer would be football, football and more football. How can his advisors let him talk about non-football interests?
Newton also signed what is reportedly the biggest shoe deal ever for a rookie with Under Armour and other lucrative marketing deals. Newton is cashing in on his Heisman Trophy and a great personality. But it's hard enough to make sure a No. 1 overall pick is a team-first guy. Fair or not, Newton is creating a perception he's bigger than the team.
3. The Newton interview conondrum.
Teams will ask Newton if he knew what his father Cecil was doing during his recruitment. He can say no, but some teams will doubt his sincerity. He can say yes, but a large group of NFL executives will have to hold on to a really big secret.
An agent told me he advises players to always tell the truth. Because if a team asks a question, they already know the answer. They just want to test the players' reaction.
No one has uncovered evidence Cam knew anything about his father's actions. But NFL teams don't have the same burden of proof as the NCAA and probably have already made up their minds on what happened. These are tricky waters for Newton because either direction is fraught with complications. If he maintains his innocence, he could actually look worse to some teams.
Regardless of what actually happened, these are tricky waters for Newton. He's stuck between a rock and a hard place.
4. Teams don't care about a quarterback's running ability.
Newton's arm strength is well established, but with just one season as the starter at Auburn, he has no body of work to prove he's a polished passer. If you're evaluating him against Gabbert and you take running ability completely out of the mix, the comparison looks a lot different. Newton threw 20 passes a game last season. Gabbert threw over 36 passes per game.
Despite the success of Michael Vick in Philadelphia last season, teams really don't want their quarterbacks taking off. As brilliant as Vick was, his scrambling ability became increasingly less effective as the season wore on and defenses adjusted. Passing is the only formula for sustained long-term offensive success. Most of the elite quarterbacks can't run downfield -- Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, etc. Aaron Rodgers does scramble, but it doesn't make him a more valuable quarterback. He ran two times for -2 yards against Pittsburgh en route to a Super Bowl MVP.
5. College success is overrated.
"He's a proven winner in college" doesn't mean much in the NFL. National titles and Heisman trophies don't translate to success. Football is the ultimate team sport and too many factors go into winning in college. If teams were really focused on records, TCU's Andy Dalton and Boise State Kellen Moore (had he declared eligible for the draft), would be in the mix as the top guy.