Combine: Day 4 observations
Newton a little off the mark, but the talented QB still has the potential to go No. 1
INDIANAPOLIS -- In anticipation of Cam Newton's workout Sunday, reporters were calling the 2011 scouting combine "Cam-bine 2011."
Newton completed only 11 of his 21 throws Sunday, but with Newton you have to go behind the numbers to determine where he fits in the draft.
Like last year, this is considered a defensive-line dominated draft, but Newton showed enough potential to be considered at No. 1. If Newton does well in his interviews with the top teams in the draft, he could be the story on draft day in New York.
Here is what we learned Sunday:
1. Newton is the real deal: Newton doesn't use much of his legs when he throws the football, but his arm is so naturally strong he can throw 50 to 60 yards with ease. There are no throws he can't make. He reminds me a lot of a young Steve McNair. Newton is 6-foot-5, 248 pounds and ran an official time of 4.59 seconds in his 40-yard dash Sunday. The team that drafts him can probably expect a completion percentage of 54 in his first year and plenty of big plays. He doesn't do well throwing to his left, but a lot of young quarterbacks have that problem in their first couple of pro years. Ben Roethlisberger, who compares to Newton a lot, had that problem in his first couple of years. Newton was 1-for-3 on short out passes and missed all three of his passes on deep throws down the left sideline. He also missed three short out passes to his right. But Newton can rifle accurate turn-in passes and his post-corner routes are exceptional. If you are Carolina and Buffalo, he's the type of quarterback you can build around as long as you have good coaching and patience. His arm is stronger and more natural than Steve Young's.
2. Mallett wins first major passing competition: Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett put on an impressive show with the first group of quarterbacks, edging out University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker, who bounced back nicely from a subpar Senior Bowl. Mallett's strong arm was on display Sunday. On deep seam routes, he was flawless. His fastball delivery on out passes was impressive. Though he struggled with turn-in passes to his left, he was perfect on four throws to his right on post corners and showed great touch on his deep passes. Locker had two unofficial 40 times of 4.52, which would have made him the fourth-fastest quarterback in the combine since 1999. Officially, he was given a 4.59, but everyone knew he could run. The best part of Sunday for Locker was how consistently he was throwing the ball. He didn't make back-to-back bad throws in any of the drills, which was a plus. He was natural on slant routes and 12-yard curls were impressive. His ease in throwing post-corner routes showed first-round potential. Missouri's Blaine Gabbert elected not to throw, but he ran a 4.62 40. Nevada's Colin Kaepernick looked good on short and intermediate throws, but he had one of the worst days of all the quarterbacks on long passes because of bad footwork. Florida State's Christian Ponder was a little more impressive than TCU's Andy Dalton.
3. Green vs. Jones: Coming into the combine, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion A.J. Green of Georgia was the No. 1 receiver. However, the best receiver on the field during Sunday's drills was Julio Jones of Alabama. Jones had unofficial 40 times of 4.43 and 4.39 and he seemed to explode into his routes faster than Green, who had unofficial 40 times of 4.48 and 4.51. Unfortunately, Pitt wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin didn't have the great combine everyone expected. He ran a 4.52 40 and fell down during one of the receiving drills. What became clear Sunday was it's a two-receiver race at the top between Green and Jones. If Jones doesn't go ahead of Green, he won't slip too many spots. He's 6-2¾, weighs 220 pounds and can run in the high 4.3s. That's a raw talent.
4. RB class lacks speed: The 2011 class of running backs doesn't run very fast. Alabama's Mark Ingram trimmed down to 215 pounds but had unofficial 40 times of 4.58 and 4.61. Illinois' Mikel Leshoure, one of the top three backs in the draft, did a little better at 4.56. But most of the top backs didn't run very fast. Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams had times of 4.55 and 4.59. Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter maintained his second-round rating with a 4.47. Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray helped his stock with a 4.45. But there isn't much explosiveness among this group of runners. Ingram still has a good chance of going to Miami in the middle of the first round, but overall, the running back crop is far from scintillating.
5. Peterson's lofty pursuits: Since 1999, 14 cornerbacks who ran 4.39 or better in the combine have been selected in the first round. However, none went higher than No. 5. Patrick Peterson of LSU plans to change that. Peterson confirmed he was clocked at 4.2 at LSU last spring. The last 40 he ran was a 4.29. He hopes to run before the conclusion of the combine. Here's the difference: None of those 14 cornerbacks has Peterson's body. Peterson is 6-foot, 219 pounds and hopes to emulate the game of Charles Woodson. "I don't want to be the next Charles Woodson, but I pattern myself after Charles Woodson," he said. DeAngelo Hall is the only one of the 14 first-round cornerbacks who ran at the combine with 4.39 speed or better and weighed more than 200 pounds. He was 202 pounds at the 2004 scouting combine and ran a 4.34 40. Terence Newman of the Cowboys ran a 4.37 in 2003 combine and was the fifth pick in that draft. Champ Bailey posted a 4.28 and was the seventh pick in 1999. What Peterson does this week and in April might be historic.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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