Cam Newton's Release Emphasizes Uncertainty At First-Overall Pick

Photo: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

With the first-overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers selected quarterback Cam Newton out of Auburn.

There's no doubt Newton was a hit. He was an NFL MVP in 2015 and singlehandedly powering an offense to the Super Bowl that season to cap off a dominant stretch of play in the early 2010s. 

But since then, Newton never quite looked the same; a shoulder surgery and Lisfranc injury depreciated his stock so much that he lingers on the open market with no teams willing to take the plunge on his remaining talent.

Injury ruined Newton more than any overdraft did and the same is true of Andrew Luck, who followed Newton at first overall in 2012. Luck was considered an even better prospect and stepped into the shoes Peyton Manning left in Indianapolis, breaking the record for single-season rookie passing yards that Newton himself had just surpassed. Luck played in three consecutive Pro Bowls and led the Colts all the way to the AFC Championship Game in 2014, but multiple injuries forced Luck into an early retirement at 29 — just one year younger than Newton is now.

Perhaps the case can be made that, without injuries, 2010 first-overall selection Sam Bradford would have been a hit as well. Bradford's injuries began in his final season at Oklahoma and trickled into his time in the league. Except for his rookie season, Bradford never looked like a functional starter and even then the early returns weren't amazing.

Following those three quarterbacks came was Kansas City Chiefs’ Eric Fisher, who only recently grew into his own as a starting-caliber tackle despite beginning his career on a bust-like trajectory. In 2014 was Houston's Jadeveon Clowney, who as we know is still hunting a top-of-the-market EDGE deal in the current free agent climate, and finding his health and skillset not as attractive to teams as he believed.

The quarterbacks returned in 2015 with Jameis Winston, who failed to meet expectations in Tampa Bay and was not given a second contract; and again in 2016 with Jared Goff, who made it to a Super Bowl and got a market-setting extension, but that deal is already beginning to look suspect as Goff has struggled to take critical steps forward in Years 3 and 4.

Once we get as recent as 2017, it's trickier to emphatically characterize a pick as a hit or miss. Myles Garrett was the first off the board in 2017. He has 30 sacks in 37 games across the first three years of his career and seems like a quality pick. In 2018, Baker Mayfield was first down then up and now back down a bit again. Kyler Murray, selected No. 1 in 2019, looks like he's on the right track in Kliff Kingsbury's offense.

In this past decade, seven quarterbacks were drafted at first overall. They never won a Super Bowl and only grabbed one MVP, but that's not really the measurement of success. Even of those that were considered hits, none drafted before 2016 remain on their team — it's worth noting that Matthew Stafford, drafted first overall in 2009, is still with the Detroit Lions — and only one remains in the league.

It brings us to the first-overall pick in 2020.

LSU’s Joe Burrow has no injury history (just like Luck did), a Heisman-winning senior season (just like Newton did) and played in the national championship game (and unlike Bradford, actually won his). Burrow plays like he was born to captain Zac Taylor’s offense in Cincinnati and has the mental and emotional makeup of a leader and a star.

Yet, he is a total uncertainty because history doesn't lie.

The No. 1 pick is a desirable selection; a powerful place to sit for the long winter and early spring before draft season. You have all of the leverage in a potential trade situation, and the freedom to get the single best prospect in the draft. But the best prospect rarely becomes the best player and, on top of that, even the good players don't necessarily have the long careers on one team as we've come to expect.

The reality is that Burrow (or Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert or Shea Patterson) simply is unlikely to be a "franchise quarterback." Those players are rare, and the ability to become one isn't even fully within their control.

Written By:

Benjamin Solak

Director of Special Projects

Director of Special Projects and Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Locked On NFL Draft Podcast. The 3-Wide Raven.