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NFL Rookie Watch: Cam Newton

Some have called it the greatest single-season performance in college football history. What Auburn's Cam Newton achieved last season is remarkable -- a Heisman, a national title, and one of the most ridiculous statlines ever recorded by a quarterback.

But not long after Newton's star arrived he chose to leave campus for greener pastures; in April, Carolina made the 6-foot-5, 248-pound passer the first player selected in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Can Auburn's miracle worker turn around a franchise that won just two games last fall? Probably not, but the real question -- the question fantasy owners care about -- is whether Newton can shake and bake his way to big numbers. First he must win the starting job, but that seems a mere formality (most believe it will happen a few weeks into the season, if not right away).

Dissecting the depth chart: Carolina passers combined to throw nine touchdowns and 21 interceptions last season, and neither Jimmy Clausen nor Matt Moore completed 60 percent of their passes. Still question why Carolina felt a need to address the quarterback position with the No. 1 pick in the draft? True, Clausen was only a rookie, and typically first-year players are not sharp or efficient. But Clausen didn't show the promise that had made him a household name while at Notre Dame. He played well in just one of his 13 appearances (a win over Arizona in December). Moore, a free agent, will turn 27 in August but has the makeup of a career backup. The 22-year-old Newton, meanwhile, seems comfortable entering camp as the favorite to win the job. "I think I've got a grip on who we are as an offense, what coach [Rob] Chudzinski is trying to do," he told reporters following a team workout in June.

Just the stats: After transferring from Texas' Blinn Junior College Newton exploded at Auburn last season. He completed 66.1 percent of his passes and tossed 30 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. In the Tigers' blowout win over South Carolina in the SEC title game, Newton had one of his best passing performances, with 335 yards and four touchdowns. As a rusher, Newton was just as dangerous. He logged six 100-yard efforts last season, including a 217-yard day against LSU. Four of his 20 rushing scores came in a 37-34 win at Kentucky. During his two seasons at the University of Florida (2007 and '08), Newton attempted just 12 passes, but didn't register a touchdown or an interception; on 21 carries he found the end zone four times.

Projection for 2011: 300 attempts, 2,150 passing yards, 15 TDs, 15 INTs, 80 carries, 425 rushing yards, 5 TDs.

2010 rookie comparison: None

The obvious comparison would be Tim Tebow (big, athletically-gifted), but Tebow played sparingly as a rookie (just four appearances); Newton should see plenty of action.

Interesting fact that won't help you: Newton's older brother, Cecil, was the 11th pick of the '11 United Football League draft. Cecil spent some time in the Jacksonville Jaguars organization but now plays for the UFL's Hartford Colonials.

What he's worth: Rookie quarterbacks rarely put up respectable fantasy totals. For every Dan Marino there are a couple dozen Jimmy Clausens. Newton has the opportunity and talent to rate just inside the top 20 fantasy quarterbacks, but growing pains and a suspect receiving corps will also come into play.

Somebody in your draft is going to be attracted to Newton's supreme athleticism and overpay for his services. Do yourself a favor and let that person be somebody other than you.

Mike Beacom is a contributing writer for FootballDiehards.com.

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