- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Let's start by saying I'm torn on Cam Newton.
The former Auburn quarterback has a ton of athletic ability that could make him a future Pro Bowler. Yet, after watching Newton this season and talking to people around the league, I'm also convinced he is one of the biggest boom-or-bust candidates of the past few years.
If a hit-or-miss prospect like Newton is drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, his career probably will go bust. That is why the potential pairing of Newton and the Bengals would be disastrous for both sides.
Last week NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas explained why the Carolina Panthers should take Newton with the No. 1 overall pick. This week I will explain why Newton and the Bengals, who hold the No. 4 pick, must avoid each other at all costs.
Remember Carson Palmer?
Eight years ago, Palmer was the safest possible pick in the 2003 draft. He had the prototypical size and arm strength and played in a pro-style offense at USC. He was considered a can't-miss prospect, and the Bengals took him No. 1 overall.
Eight years later, Palmer is a disgruntled, battered quarterback who has never won a playoff game or reached his full potential. The 31-year-old has been "Bengalized" and wants out of Cincinnati, which is why the team is interested in Newton in the first place. Palmer told the Bengals to trade him or he's retiring. He has no intentions of playing another down in Cincinnati.
This year, Palmer joined teammate Chad Ochocinco and former Bengals Corey Dillon and Takeo Spikes as players who all grew tired of the losing. It would be sad to see Newton suffer the same fate in Cincinnati, which hasn't had back-to-back winning seasons in 29 years or won a playoff game in two decades.
The Bengals do not have a strong support system in place to cater to Newton, who is a raw talent and needs time and patience to develop. Cincinnati hired first-year offensive coordinator Jay Gruden from the UFL; he will be learning on the job this season while trying to implement a West Coast offense. It's questionable if Newton can even thrive in that system after playing in a shotgun/spread formation at Auburn. Is Cincinnati's coaching staff creative enough to alter the offense to fit Newton's unique abilities?
Newton also would enter the toxic situation of replacing Palmer. All through training camp, Newton would have to answer Palmer questions, which are distracting and unrelated to his development. In addition, the possibility still lingers of Palmer having a change of heart and wanting his job back, which the Bengals are hoping for. How would Newton handle that?
Fair or unfair, Newton would draw instant comparisons to draft bust Akili Smith in Cincinnati, who was taken No. 3 overall by the Bengals in 1999. Both players transferred from junior colleges to have one productive year in Division I before skyrocketing up the draft boards. Because of this, Bengals fans would be on edge before Newton threw his first NFL pass. Newton is already a lightning rod for controversy and doesn't need the added pressure.
In terms of personnel, the Bengals' offensive line is in shambles, starting tailback Cedric Benson is a free agent and the team is looking to go younger at receiver. Cincinnati's best receiver, Ochocinco, could be trade bait once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. Pairing two strong personalities like Newton and Ochocinco is probably a bad idea anyway, especially with Newton trying to get his NFL career off the ground.
Another hurdle to Newton’s getting his career started on the right path would be facing the vicious defenses of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens a combined four times per year. I've seen Baltimore and Pittsburgh ruin the confidence of many young quarterbacks, and some were never able to recover.
Can you imagine Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison blasting Newton from the blind side next season? Or Ray Lewis coming up the middle, unblocked, to stick his helmet in Newton's chest? Pro Bowl safeties Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu could have field days picking off Newton's passes.
Ask Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, who went 0-3 against Pittsburgh and Baltimore and threw two touchdowns and eight interceptions last season as a rookie. It's a nightmare for an inexperienced quarterback to play the Steelers and Ravens twice a year. Newton's chances for a long and successful career are much better facing those elite defenses only once every several seasons.
Time will tell whether Newton will be a great NFL quarterback or a draft bust. But for all the reasons above, Cincinnati is the worst possible destination for Newton to ply his trade. He'd be better off in Carolina, Buffalo, Arizona, San Francisco, Washington, Minnesota or just about any team not in southern Ohio.
For the betterment of both sides, Cincinnati, do the right thing.
Pass on Cam Newton.
Let's start by saying I'm torn on Cam Newton.The former Auburn quarterback has a ton of athletic ability that could make him a future Pro Bowler. Yet, after watching Newton this season and talking to people around the league, I'm also convinced he is one of the biggest boom-or-bust candidates of the past few years.