In preparation for the 2011 NFL Draft I am re-posting some content I have submitted to various sites for draft coverage. My apologies if you have already read this article elsewhere. This is for archival purposes. This has been updated to better enhance the experience on CFBExaminer.com.
“I think Cam Newton’s the best player in the country,” Jon Gruden told the Tampa Tribune after taking Newton through passing drills at the University of South Florida. “I agree with the Heisman Trophy people that gave him the award. He’s got everything I’m looking for.”
Gruden may be sold on Newton but the question now is whether or not the Carolina Panthers are ready to draft Newton with the first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
If the Panthers draft Auburn‘s Newton with the first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft they will become just the seventh franchise to select a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback with the top pick. Since 1938 seven Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks were drafted with the first overall selection, with Sam Bradford (St. Louis Rams) of Oklahoma being the latest of the group in the 2010 NFL Draft. The jury is still out on Bradford’s NFL success of course but what have the other first-overall Heisman winning quarterback draft picks done in the NFL?
Only one Heisman winning quarterback has been selected with the first overall pick and reached Pro Football Hall of Fame status. That honor belongs to Paul Hornung of Notre Dame, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986, but Hornung was inducted for his performance as a running back. The Heisman is notorious for not being a predictor of professional success. Only eight Heisman winners since the award has been presented in 1935 have reached the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Before Bradford was selected by the St. Louis Rams in last year’s draft, University of Southern California‘s Carson Palmer was the last Heisman winning quarterback to be drafted first overall, by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003. The two-time Pro Bowl player has dealt with a handful of injuries that many believe may have held him back form being one of the truly elite quarterbacks in the NFL. Has Palmer played long enough to labeled a bust in the NFL based on the hype surrounding him, or is it unfair to make a declaration on him at this time? Palmer has been in the league since 2003 and playing since 2004. If Palmer were in a different situation would he be seen in a different light? For now, we’ll fall on the side of “undecided” when labeling Palmer’s professional legacy.
Notre Dame’s Angelo Bertelli was the first Heisman winning quarterback to be selected with the first overall pick in the draft, being selected by the Boston Yanks in 1944 despite serving military duty. When he returned Bertelli played a brief professional career in the All-America Football Conference. His career was cut short due to multiple knee surgeries forced an early retirement in 1949.
Oregon State‘s Terry Baker (1962 Heisman winner) also had a short lifespan in the National Football League, going 0-4 in four career starts with the Los Angeles Rams. Many consider Baker to be the first of the “Heisman busts” in the NFL, although his style of play may have never blended well with the Rams, who lined the passer up as a running back. In today’s game Baker may have been more of an offensive weapon, as he was one of the first “dual-threat” quarterbacks, which in the 1960’s was not utilized the way it could be today.
Former UCLA head coach Tommy Prothro had called him the “best pro quarterback prospect I’ve ever seen.” He was referring to Stanford‘s Jim Plunkett (1970 Heisman), who won Super Bowl XV MVP honors with the Oakland Raiders in an upset of the Philadelphia Eagles and he may have been one of the first quarterbacks to win a Heisman Trophy and have a successful professional career in the NFL, playing from 1971 through 1986 with the New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers and Oakland (and Los Angeles) Raiders. The 1971 AFC Rookie of the Year had some up-and-down moments while with New England and San Francisco, but when he arrived in Oakland things started to take off a bit more. In 1980, in addition to winning the Super Bowl, Plunkett was named the Comeback Player of the Year. Plunkett became the second of four players to win the Heisman Trophy and a Super Bowl MVP, joining Roger Staubach and later joined by Marcus Allen and Desmond Howard.
There are few players who have traveled through the NFL with as many teams and for as long as Vinny Testaverde (1986 Heisman) did. The former University of Miami quarterback was one of the best players in the college game in the mid-1980’s and was drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1987 NFL Draft. In his 20-year career Testaverde made stops with the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets (twice), Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers. His career may have ended without an appearance in the Super Bowl but Testaverde retired with the most touchdown passes in this unique group of Heisman winners, with 275.
What will the future have in store for Cam Newton? Will the Carolina Panthers add the Auburn standout to the group? We will find out Thursday night.
This article was originally published by Bleacher Report.