Esiason, Long sold on Newton; not Collinsworth

You might not have seen the memo, but it is indeed mandatory for any draft conversation with members of the media to begin with a question about Cam Newton’s worthiness as the top overall pick in next Thursday’s draft. Such was the case Tuesday afternoon on a conference call with NFL analysts Boomer Esiason, Howie Long and Cris Collinsworth.

“Whoever is lucky enough to draft him is getting a guy that is certainly going to excite their fan base,” Esiason said of the former Auburn quarterback and 2010 Heisman Trophy winner. “I know that it a risky move … but the kid really lights up a room, and as long as he’s at a place where defense is going to come first, I think that he is going to be a very successful quarterback in this league. I think it would be a great pick for the Panthers.”

From the defensive perspective, Long likes the threat that Newton presents.

“You can’t teach the things that he has,” Long said, citing Newton’s size, athleticism, toughness and his ability to play through the “firestorm” he had to deal with last season.

“When you have a quarterback like that,” Long continued, “he dictates coverage, he impacts your running game, your offensive line protection is better, he impacts the way you rush the quarterback, and a lot of times you have to take a great athlete out of coverage and designate him as a spy defender.

“Can he survive the early bumps? I think he can. The kid has been through a lot and hopefully learned a few things along the way. But I think when you go in that division with a franchise that is struggling to put people in the seats and create an immediate buzz, you’re talking about an immediate buzz. If you can coach him up and play some defense and get that running game back on track, I think he can be a special guy to pick.”

Not surprisingly, Collinsworth was the voice of dissent.

“I just have a ton of questions,” he said. “We’re talking about the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and I think at his best he’ll be a Ben Roethlisberger kind of player that will scramble to buy time to throw. I’m sure that’s a possiblility and what Carolina is hoping for when they get him.

“I don’t think there will be any question that only Michael Vick will be better as a running quarterback. But he does have off-the-field issues at both Florida and Auburn. …  Accuracy issues showed up a little bit when you watched the tape and saw him at the combine. He never called plays or made adjustments at the line of scrimmage that I know of at Auburn. So there are a lot of things that you’ve got to take into consideration.”

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