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ESPN’s Kiper: Cam Newton is young QB Mike Shanahan can mold

You know some dreadful team out there is on the clock once ESPN’s Mel Kiper starts hosting teleconferences breaking down the upcoming NFL Draft. This morning we reached that annual milestone, with Kiper chatting for almost 90 minutes about the landscape of the draft as the pre-draft evaluation process enters its preliminary stages.

The draft is still three months away, and even Kiper admits: “You have to try to look at where it is now, think ahead not knowing how all the facts are going to figure in.” But the debate is half of the fun of it, and ESPN’s draft guru starts this year’s conversation by projecting the Redskins will draft Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton with the 10th-overall pick.

Kiper’s projection is two-fold: position and player. First, he identified a need that would present good value if the Redskins addressed it with the 10th pick.

“I think [head coach Mike] Shanahan needs to as address this position with a young quarterback,” Kiper said. “He went the veteran route with [Donovan] McNabb. I think he needs to bring in…a young quarterback that he can mold.”

It’s tough to argue with that. Yes, the Redskins need help at offensive line and need playmakers on defense, but they absolutely need some stability and success at quarterback in order to return to respectability.

Kiper believes Newton is the answer.

“I gave them Cam Newton because I think that’s the kind of quarterback that can be molded, and he has all the potential, all the upside you would ever want,” Kiper said.

Kiper currently has four quarterbacks ranked among his top 25 prospects: Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert (8), Newton (15), Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett (20) and Washington’s Jake Locker (25). However, each has shortcomings he must address or overcome ahead of the draft.

Newton has all the physical tools, Kiper believes. It’s the off-field character issues that concern him.

“I think intangibles are going to be critical,” Kiper said. “It’s still three months until draft day; between now and then Cam Newton is either going to be in the top 10 or he’s going to slide into the late first round. That’s going to be a very fluid grade, depending upon how that goes. Remember he’s only got 14 starts. People are going to look at that Florida situation, what went on there; what went on in the recruiting controversy at Mississippi State and Auburn and look into all that.

“If they feel if he is worthy of being the face of your organization, worthy of getting a lot of guaranteed money and a guy that you want to move forward with as your quarterback, then Cam Newton—based on what I saw this year of his performance and his upside—I think he’s certainly worthy of being a top-10 pick.”

Redskins scouts at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., this week reportedly have met with Locker, which is simply part of the team’s due diligence. Kiper, meanwhile, is not high on him.

“I know [Shanahan] had a high opinion of Jake Locker last year,” Kiper said. “There was all that speculation that they would have taken him at No. 4 [overall] had he come out.

“Now his stock has dropped. I don’t see him going that early. He hasn’t done much at the Senior Bowl practices to wow me over. Some still think he’ll go in the top 10 to 15. I don’t.

“If Shanahan wants to take a shot at him and still has a high opinion despite this subpar year—I’m being kind when I say subpar; against college defenses he wasn’t able to get it done—then maybe Jake Locker could go there.”

Kiper compared Locker to first-round bust Kyle Boller, who flopped with Baltimore last decade.

“When you look at Locker, if you can’t get it done against college defenses, are you going to get it done against the NFL?” Kiper said. “He even had a second chance against Nebraska and struggled in that game. “Locker, to me, Kyle Boller was the same way. I said if Kyle Boller can’t get it done and complete a high percentage of his passes at Cal, how can he come into the NFL as a first-round pick?”

As for Gabbert, Kiper believes he will fight concerns related to the offense in which he played at Missouri. If you recall, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford fought similar negative perceptions last winter before being drafted first by St. Louis and having a good first season.

“The Missouri offense is not NFL-like,” Kiper said. “He also had a meltdown at the end of the bowl game against Iowa with that pick when he rolled left. And he’s coming out as a junior, which bothers you initially there. You wish these guys had played through their careers.”

Kiper said Mallett, like Newton, has to prove his intangibles are positive. He also has concerns about Mallett’s long stride when stepping into a throw.

“The meltdowns in the Alabama and Ohio State games late,” Kiper said. “Sloppy mechanics at times. The long-striding in the pocket, which bothers me. It effected [Byron] Leftwich negatively, that long stride in the pocket. I think for Mallett it could be an issue.”

Kiper also gave his scouting report on several lower-regarded quarterback prospects:

Andy Dalton, Texas Christian: “He’s got adequate size. Tremendously intelligent. A real student of the game. He’s a consummate winner, too. He’s added 35 pounds to his frame the last four years, so where he was when he came to TCU and where he is now is night and day. Great out-of-the-huddle presence. Accurate on the move. Shows just enough mobility. People say he dinks and dunks all the time. I saw him extend the field. I thought Dalton showed the necessary arm strength. He’s not going to wow you with his arm, but I thought he was more than adequate.” Projection: Second or third round.

Christian Ponder, Florida State: “Average arm. Super-smart. He was the only player from an FBS school that had already earned his MBA going into his senior year this past season. Accuracy is good. I thought he was somewhat of a poor man’s Chad Pennington going into the year; I think his stock has slipped though. He had the [right elbow] injuries he had to work through.” Projection: Fourth-sixth round.

Greg McElroy, Alabama: “The consummate winner. All the intangibles you would want. Arm strength, mobility, that’s the issue. He doesn’t have the big-league arm. He’s not a real mobile guy. Tremendously intelligent. He’s always been winner everywhere he’s been. He’s never going to be overwhelmed by anything that’s thrown at him. He’s got good size: 6-2½, 220-plus pounds. Great kid. Hard worker.” Projection: Late-round/undrafted.

Kiper didn’t get into what direction the Redskins might go if not quarterback. That discussion surely will take place during another teleconference soon.

After hearing all that, then, do you believe the Redskins should draft a quarterback at No. 10? Is there anything that Cam Newton could do to convince you that his off-the-field issues are not problematic? Or are you turned off by what you’ve seen from Newton’s play on the field? I ask because I’ve heard a lot of negative reaction to Kiper’s projection. I’m wondering if your concerns are exclusively character-based or based on something you’ve seen from his play. Let me know!