After locking up Cam Newton last summer with the richest deal in franchise history, the Carolina Panthers shouldn’t have to think about drafting a starting quarterback until 2021 at the earliest.
But Newton and the Panthers are still making an impact at the quarterback position in this year’s draft.
Several of the top quarterbacks are dual-threat athletes with the ability to beat defenses with their arms and legs, a list led by Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and TCU’s Trevone Boykin.
While Newton and Seattle’s Russell Wilson aren’t the first quarterbacks to flourish as runners and passers in the NFL, their success has helped continue to shift scouting attitudes away from the notion that pro-style, pocket passers are preferred when drafting quarterbacks.
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“You look at Steve Young, came out of BYU (in 1984) running a 4.5 40 and was tremendously mobile. We’ve always had mobile quarterbacks,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. “When Michael Vick came out, you knew what kind of running threat he could be coming out of Virginia Tech. Look at how many extended plays Russell Wilson creates with his legs. Same thing with Cam.”
Kiper said the difference with Newton and a player such as Young, who played at 6-2 and 215 pounds, is size.
“When you have designed running plays for someone 6-5, 255 pounds, that’s a rarity though,” Kiper said Monday during a conference call with reporters. “You’re not going to find guys like that that often.”
There are a number of good-sized quarterbacks in this draft, including a couple of more traditional pocket passers in Michigan State’s Connor Cook (6-4, 220) and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg (6-4, 236).
“They’re the guys who really need to get protected, that put a lot of pressure on the offensive line. Those other guys don’t. They can move around,” Kiper said. “If you want the old throwbacks, the pocket guys only, that would be more Cook and Hackenberg.”
Top of the class not Camlike
But the three quarterbacks widely regarded as the top of the class heading into this week’s scouting combine – Cal’s Jared Goff, North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz and Memphis’ Paxton Lynch – are somewhere in the middle in terms of mobility.
Kiper said Wentz’s running ability often gets overlooked.
Wentz, 6-5 and 233 pounds, had nine rushes for 79 yards and two touchdowns in North Dakota State’s 37-10 victory over Jacksonville State in the FCS title game.
“He can run. He’s athletic. He can do a lot with the ball in his hands. He showed it in the championship game,” Kiper said. “Paxton Lynch can move around, 6-2, 245. Goff’s mobile in the pocket. Those quarterbacks aren’t just sitting ducks in the pocket.”
Kiper said the failed Robert Griffin III experiment in Washington proved it’s not enough for an athletic quarterback to run the zone-read attack with little passing prowess.
Newton won the MVP award and guided the Panthers to the Super Bowl in his fifth season after setting career highs with 35 touchdown passes and a 99.2 passer rating, and tossing a career-low 10 interceptions.
Wilson, the former N.C. State standout, won a Super Bowl and played in another within his first three NFL seasons.
Other intriguing prospects
Oregon’s Vernon Adams had drawn comparisons to Wilson for his ability to turn negative plays into positive gains or big plays. Although at 5-11 and 195 pounds, Adams is not a sure bet to be drafted.
Kiper said Cardale Jones of Ohio State is an intriguing quarterback prospect. Jones, 6-5 and 250 pounds, led the Buckeyes to the 2014 championship before losing the starting job to J.T. Barrett midway through last season.
Jones, who might have been a second-round pick if he had left school last winter, now projects as a mid-round pick. Jones is the quarterback who most closely resembles Newton’s body type, although he is nowhere near as proficient as Newton was running or passing as he leaves school.
“Cardale Jones is going to be the interesting one because he’s so big, so strong, so talented,” Kiper said. “But he had a year that didn’t go the way he wanted it to after those three great games two years ago where he could have been a second-round pick last season. He’s the intriguing guy.”
2016 NFL Scouting Combine
Who: 330 college prospects
When: Interviews with teams and media begin Wednesday, testing starts Friday
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Watch: NFL Network will cover the workouts live each day beginning at 9 a.m.
Friday: RBs, OL, specialists
Saturday: QBs, WRs, TEs
Sunday: LBs, DL