Photos of the Panthers' projected starters from team's website.
The similarities may be obvious, but they are no less valid because of it.
Cam Newton won a national title and a Heisman Trophy at Auburn and was subsequently drafted first overall by an NFC South team coming off a 2-14 season. Sub in "Florida State" for Auburn and that same sentence works for Jameis Winston, four years later. The two even prepared for their respective drafts in similar fashion, working with George Whitfield at Whitfield Athletix in San Diego.
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That is not to say that Newton or Winston are carbon copies as people, simply that the details of their journey from college to the pros match up so well that the former becomes an obvious source of advice for the latter. And the two quarterbacks know it, as they have become close.
"Especially with him working out with George Whitfield, there are some things that we talked about that are more personal than anything," said Newton. "I wish him the best and will always wish him the best, I'm a fan of his work. With him being who he is there [was] going to be a big target on him no matter where he went."
Newton started from Day One with the Panthers and has experienced quite a bit of success, including NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, two Pro Bowl invites and a pair of NFC South titles for his Carolina Panthers. Winston also stepped right in as a starter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but, obviously, is just three games into his own career. Newton, who quarterbacked teams that finished 6-10 and 7-9 in his first two years, knows that adjusting to the NFL can be a gradual process, particularly when you've rarely experienced losing. Newton's Auburn Tigers were 14-0 in his one year as a college starter, while Winston's Florida State Seminoles lost just once in his 27 starts over two seasons.
"For him, it was kind of like you had some of the same similarities of the whole process," said Newton. "The thing that me, myself, as well as he had to learn is that it's a long process. The thing that he had that I also had was that determination of success and winning, but knowing you're coming into a league where you are going to the worst team, so it's a learning curve and it's a learning process. He'll be alright with his forte of him being him – the whole gamut of being a Heisman trophy winner and the first overall pick. It's something that he's learned to grasp and accept with open arms."
Newton had an eye-opening debut season for the Panthers in 2011, throwing for over 4,000 yards and also scoring 14 rushing touchdowns. But his team finished third in the standings, well out of the playoff race. Newton was hungry for team success and he got it in his third year. Winston may or may not have to wait that long, but Newton says he won't be able to carry his team to the postseason on his own.
"It's something that you just have to learn," said Newton. "Jameis, I believe is 21, 22-years-old. I don't view life the same way at the age of 26. You feel like you are invincible and [can do] things that you can and want to do. You, just alone, think that that team will make leaps and strides – and they will – but there's more to an NFL team than just one player. You see great players all the time that haven't reached the success of playoff-winning caliber teams and that's why you come in the league, to win championships. It's just a learning process. It's still taking me time to learn and he'll learn as well."
Ron Rivera took over as the Panthers' head coach earlier in 2011, months before the team decided the best bet for its future was taking Newton with the first pick. Rivera is certainly pleased to have Newton on his side now, and he can see the same potential for success in Winston.
"You watch his body language, his posture, he's a very confident young man," said Rivera. "He looks like he has good control of what they are trying to do. You see him learning and growing as each game, each rep he takes goes by. I think the young man has a chance to continue to grow and be in the same situation, circumstance, as our guy here."
As much as Newton is rooting for Winston and helping him understand the transition to the NFL, he knows there's not much he can do to influence how far the younger quarterback's strengths take him.
"That's just him," said the Panther QB. "You can lead the horse to the water, but you can't make him drink. You could talk about how the league is, but his mental approach, his physical approach is going to be dictated on him – how much he works out, how much does he do these particular things that are going to get him over the hump? Some of it is just God-given. Some people just have that knack or have that talent more than others."