Scott Fowler

Jimmy Clausen and Cam Newton were ranked where on National Signing Day 2007?

Cam Newton (1) and Jimmy Clausen (2) were both rated among the Top 100 recruits of 2007, but Clausen was considered the “can’t-miss” prospect. They later found themselves on the same NFL team in 2011, where Newton quickly beat out Clausen for the starting job.
Cam Newton (1) and Jimmy Clausen (2) were both rated among the Top 100 recruits of 2007, but Clausen was considered the “can’t-miss” prospect. They later found themselves on the same NFL team in 2011, where Newton quickly beat out Clausen for the starting job. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Kudos to The Washington Post and writer Rick Maese, who did a fantastic job in a recent story in which Maese tracked down what had happened to the Top 100 high school football recruits of 2007.

Ten years later, Maese found a wide variety of outcomes. As we all know, everyone is a star on “National Signing Day,” which is on Wednesday this year. But then the paths diverge dramatically.

Nowhere is that more apparent than on the Top 100 list of 2007 (as ranked by well-known recruiting site Rivals.com), in which two future Carolina Panthers quarterbacks were ranked in the national top 30.

No. 1 overall?

That would be Jimmy Clausen, the “can’t-miss” prospect from Westlake Village, Calif., who missed so badly. Clausen went to Notre Dame for college, then was drafted in the second round by the Panthers in 2010. Clausen then led what was the worst Panthers offense ever for most of his rookie season. Carolina went 2-14 as Clausen started 10 games and threw only three touchdown passes to go with nine interceptions.

Clausen later found some irregular work as a backup quarterback but could not make an NFL team in 2016 and quite likely never will play in the league again. He was a major NFL flop, and also did not fulfill his stated goal at Notre Dame of winning “multiple” national championships. In fact, Clausen never came close to winning one at Notre Dame.

Meanwhile, No. 28 on that 2007 “Top 100” list was Atlanta’s Cam Newton. He bounced around early in college, attending two schools before finding his stride at Auburn. There he won a national championship in his only season and earned the Heisman Trophy before the Carolina Panthers drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick in 2011. Clausen helped the Panthers obtain that pick because he was so bad, so Carolina lost enough in 2010 to pick first overall.

Newton led Carolina to a Super Bowl in 2015, although they lost . Newton has started for the Panthers for the past six seasons -- quickly beating out Clausen in the 2011 training camp for the starting job. Newton also won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award in 2015.

Total NFL touchdowns accounted for in their respective careers: Newton 184, Clausen 7.

Incidentally, Newton wanted to wear No. 2 when he first came into the NFL because that’s what he wore at Auburn.

But Clausen had the number and wouldn’t give it up to Newton. So Carolina assigned Newton No. 1 as a rookie in 2011.

In 2012, when the No. 2 came available because Clausen decided to switch to No. 7, Newton was so used to No. 1 (and it also fits his personality so much better) that he didn’t want No. 2 anymore. The Panthers released Clausen in 2013.

I am telling that story now not to be a buzzkill but so you take what happens on Signing Day Wednesday – when all the coaches chirp about how great every single player is – with a salt shaker full of salt.

It’s a fun day, but there’s also no real way to project how good these guys will be. There is no such thing as a “can’t-miss” player. The number of stars by somebody’s name means nothing once the game begins. You just sign a bunch of guys you believe in, coach them up and hope for the best.

Incidentally, that Top 100 list of 2007 also included Dez Bryant (No. 54 and an NFL star), Aaron Hernandez (No. 66 and now in prison for murder) and Marvin Austin (No. 7, and the player who once helped get UNC in major trouble with the NCAA but who never started an NFL game).

Also on that list: Eric Berry (No. 3 and a five-time Pro Bowler); Tyrod Taylor (at No. 27, one spot ahead of Newton and also an NFL starting quarterback); former North Carolina quarterback Mike Paulus (No. 82); former South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia (No. 90), and many other players you’ve never heard of.

It is fascinating reading – and a cautionary tale.

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