A year ago, the Panthers used the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft to select 2010 Heisman Trophy quarterback Cam Newton.
The comparisons are inevitable with 2011 Heisman winner Robert Griffin III from Baylor, who will be among the top picks at this year’s draft.
At the NFL Combine, Griffin offered his own comparison.
“Cam’s a bigger guy at 6-5, 240. I’m 6-2 and 3/8th – I’m not letting that go,” Griffin said, joking about suggestions entering the combine that he might be shorter than 6-2. “As a runner, he’s a little more shifty than I am, but I’m faster (4.41 for Griffin compared to 4.59 for Newton in the 40-yard dash).
“I have more experience in the passing game in college – not that I’m more polished than him, but just that we threw it a little bit more at Baylor than he did at Auburn. His confidence is off the charts. I try to keep my confidence on the charts, but I’m a confident guy as well. You’ve got to be that way.”
Griffin is aiming to be Newton in at least one way, namely by bucking a trend when it comes to Heisman quarterbacks in the NFL. The number of Heisman winners enjoying much success in the NFL over the last quarter-century (Newton, Carson Palmer, Sam Bradford) is significantly shorter than the list of those who have come up short.
Many believe that one way or the other, Griffin will be the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft, with several teams expected to make a run at trading for the St. Louis Rams’ spot.
GOOD LUCK: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck finished as runner-up to Griffin in the Heisman race but is expected to be second to none of draft day.
The Panthers surely would have given Luck serious consideration for the No. 1 pick had he entered last year’s draft, but he surprised many by returning to school.
“It never hurts to get more experience under your belt,” Luck said. “One, there was still a challenge left in college football for me. I felt like there was more to go out and prove.
“Two, I wanted to get that step closer to my degree. It was a big deal for me. I didn’t want that looming over me after a professional season. And three, I enjoyed my buddies. I enjoyed the team. I enjoyed Stanford. I wanted to go back and do it again with them for another year.”
Luck posted measurables comparable to Newton at the combine, but he could be hard-pressed to put up the kind of numbers that Newton did as an NFL rookie, when he became the first quarterback in NFL history – rookie or otherwise – to pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 500 yards in the same season.
NEWTON 2.0: While Luck and Griffin prepare for their first NFL seasons, Newton is focused on being even better in his second season.
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera is excited about a development off the field that could positively impact him on the field.
“The last four years, Cam has had a different voice as his offensive coordinator. For the first time, he’s going to have the same voice back-to-back years,” Rivera said. “Continuity is important. He’s already developed a great relationship with (offensive coordinator) Rob Chudzinski and (quarterbacks coach) Mike Shula. I’m excited for the potential for growth.”
Newton had played for an entirely different coaching staff for four consecutive seasons after spending his final three college seasons at Florida, Blinn College and Auburn.
That makes Newton’s rookie campaign all the more remarkable.
“He really exceeded the expectations of a lot of people,” Rivera said. “The success he had came a lot sooner than we expected, but we felt the young man had certain abilities, and he most certainly did shine.”