When your name is mentioned in the same sentence as Akili Smith’s, that’s bad.
It’s bad in any context. If I was told that Smith made a better Lego castle than I did when I was eight years old, I’d immediately run to the nearest toy store to redeem myself. The shame of being beaten by Smith is far greater than the shame of doing Lego at 26 years old. And if I heard that Smith’s mom makes a better lasagna than my mother, I would instantly question everything about my childhood.
Even a passing mention or comparison between Smith and any high-end draft prospect in the silly season of March should cause an urgent and frantic run to the gym or practice field. That’s where we might find Cam Newton right about now.
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper emerged from his winter hibernation in early February and has been mocking the draft daily. While I’m not sure if the draft appreciates being the butt of Kiper’s jokes all the time, anyone connected to the draft hangs on to his every word. Kiper posted the latest reincarnation of his mock draft on Wednesday, a piece of prognostication that doesn’t have Newton in the top three picks.
Kiper’s first two picks are pretty predictable. He has the Panthers selecting Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert with their first overall pick, followed by the Broncos taking Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley. When the Bills get on the clock with their pick, Kiper has them breaking from a speculated move and passing on Newton to take Alabama’s Marcell Dareus, who is widely viewed to be neck-and-neck with Fairley as the draft’s best defensive tackle.
During a conference call to discuss his latest evaluation following the NFL Combine and some of the early pro days, Kiper echoed concerns about Newton that have been repeated throughout the draft season. He said the boom or bust element of Newton’s game is both incredibly appealing, and incredibly dangerous. Then he played the Smith card.
Kiper said that similar to Newton, Smith spent just one year as a starter in college for the Oregon Ducks, which was more than enough time to make scouts and coaches droll.
Drafted by the Bengals with the third overall pick in 1999, Smith is routinely mentioned in the same sentence as Ryan Leaf as one of the worst draft busts of all-time. He appeared in only 22 games over four seasons in Cincinnati, chucking 13 interceptions, only five touchdowns, and finishing with a completion percentage of 46.6.
Here’s how Smith’s numbers at Oregon compare with Newton’s national championship season at Auburn:
|Completion percentage||Passing yards||Rushing yards||Total touchdowns||Interceptions|
The obvious and major jump there is in the rushing yards, which also led to Newton’s advantage in touchdowns (he had 20 rushing touchdowns).
Newton’s greater mobility is encouraging in his attempt to escape the plague of the Smith label. But we’ve still seen quarterbacks whose legs paid the bills in college either heavily struggle before finally finding their way (Michael Vick), or excel immediately before crashing once the league discovers their holes (Vince Young).
Kiper knows the allure of Newton will be too hard to resist , but said the damage of a failed pick so early and at such a key position would be devastating.
“If you hit (on Newton), you could have a sensational quarterback for ten years. (But) if you miss, it sets you back three, four, five years.”
The cruel irony of it all? He has Newton heading to the Bengals at No. 4.