Nothing to smile about: Latest Newton debate missing point

  • By Vic Carucci NFL.com
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For the second year in a row, the draft has a polarizing quarterback prospect.

In 2010, his name was Tim Tebow. This year, he answers to Cam Newton.

Both have a remarkable knack for generating strong opinions and triggering fierce debates. Some of it stems from the fact they share exceptional running skills and operated spread offenses on the college level, which raises questions about just how effectively they can throw the ball in the NFL.

But most of it deals with who they are off the field.

Moon defends Newton against critic
Warren Moon expressed frustration and outrage over the "racially based" treatment he claims Auburn's Cam Newton has received from critics leading up to the draft. More ...

» Watch: Moon on Newton criticism
» Watch: Newton critic defends comments

Plenty of people were uncomfortable with the mega-star persona Tebow carried with him from the University of Florida, as well as the fact he wore his strong Christian beliefs on his sleeve. Unlike Tebow, Newton is dogged by questions about his character. And because the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn's national title squad is in the conversation for top overall pick -- which wasn't true with Tebow -- he finds himself facing even greater scrutiny.

It isn't enough that draft analysts dissect every inch of Newton's game. They're also getting into intricate areas of his personality, right down to making judgments, as was the case with a recent scouting report in Pro Football Weekly concerning his smile and sincerity. The scathing report concluded that Newton is a phony who is interested only in being in the spotlight and feels a sense of entitlement.

Huh?

Exploring the background of a draft prospect is fair game; it's prudent for teams to do so before making a choice that can commit them to millions of dollars in compensation. The Pro Football Weekly report included feedback from unnamed player-personnel evaluators in the league whose job is to put together such profiles.

But Newton should also be viewed with some perspective. How many players from major-college programs -- especially highly decorated quarterbacks -- don't exude some leanings toward being entitled to all that has been heaped upon them and to what's in store at the next level?

I've encountered more than my fair share through four decades of NFL coverage. I've covered insufferable superstars in their 20s, a number of whom became more likeable as the years passed. Did they have phony smiles? Yes. Did they relish attention? Absolutely. As quarterbacks, coaches and general managers not only expected them to carry themselves with more of a swagger than everyone else, they often encouraged it.

Years later, they went swaggering into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I'm not saying that you need to be a jerk or otherwise have qualities that people find difficult, if not impossible, to embrace in order to enjoy success in the NFL. I'm just saying that too much can be made about such traits that don't necessarily have a whole lot to do with the kind of player an NFL team will get.

Similar overreaction can be found in Warren Moon's comments that the media criticism of Newton is racially motivated. Moon, who encountered more than his share of racial discrimination on the way to building a Pro-Football-Hall-of-Fame career, is an adviser to Newton and therefore looks after him with a higher degree of sensitivity. But as someone who is part of the media as an analyst for the Seahawks' radio broadcasts, Moon should understand the abundance of opinions that flood the Internet and the airwaves and that quarterbacks get ripped regardless of race.

If he has any questions, Moon should just ask Ryan Mallett. Because no prospect has taken a bigger beating about his character than the former Arkansas quarterback.

The repercussions for drafting a controversial quarterback with a premium pick can be even harsher. Josh McDaniels -- whose list of questionable decisions as Denver's head coach included maneuvering to select Tebow late in the first round (but much higher than most projections) -- lost his job before the end of last season. His replacement, John Fox and the rest of the Broncos' new regime is still trying to sort out what to do with Tebow while walking a tightrope over his many supporters and critics. Part of that research for the team that owns the second pick in the draft is also taking a close look at Newton.

But whatever the Broncos, or any other club, decide is likely to have a whole lot less to do with how Newton smiles than what he does with a football in his hands.

Follow Vic Carucci on Twitter @viccarucci.

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