Print and Go Back AFC North [Print without images]

Thursday, February 24, 2011
Cam Newton-Akili Smith comparisons fair?

By James Walker

Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is by far the biggest lightning rod at this year's NFL combine. Whether it's off-the-field controversy, winning a national championship or going through the pre-draft process, Newton remains the one college prospect people cannot stop talking about.

But lately Newton is starting to draw some unfavorable comparisons to one of the biggest draft busts of the past dozen years: Former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Akili Smith.

Akili Smith
Akili Smith, drafted No. 3 overall in 1999, lasted just four seasons in Cincinnati.
Are these comparisons fair? Let's examine.

One of the primary reasons Newton is being compared to Smith is their rapid rise in the college ranks. Smith started two years at a junior college before transferring to Oregon, where he shot up the draft boards after throwing for 3,763 yards and 32 touchdowns his senior season. Smith entered the 1999 NFL draft with only 11 career starts in Division I.

Sound familiar?

Newton started his career at Florida as Tim Tebow's backup but had to go to Blinn (Texas) Junior College to get playing time. He was later recruited by Auburn amid more controversy and threw for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns in 14 starts.

Like Smith, Newton enters the draft with just one full season as a starter at the highest level. Smith wowed scouts in offseason workouts with his strong arm and immense athletic ability, and Newton has a chance to do the same. Smith went No. 3 overall to Cincinnati and Newton's early projections place him in the top 10.

But Smith's NFL career quickly flamed out. He lasted just four years with Cincinnati, made only 17 starts and had a career 52.8 passer rating. Newton's story is yet to be told, but some are noting the aforementioned similarities.

The comparisons will only heighten if the Bengals gain interest in Newton. It's well-documented that Cincinnati's quarterback position is in turmoil after starter Carson Palmer recently demanded a trade and threatened to retire. If the Bengals are taking Palmer's threats seriously, they have to do something at quarterback.

Would Newton be a target for Cincinnati at No. 4? The Bengals drafted Smith No. 3 overall 12 years ago. So stranger things have happened.