Cam Newton is the only quarterback Ron Rivera has drafted in the first round.
As the Commanders ponder using the 11th overall pick in this year's draft on a signal-caller, Rivera has noticed a few similarities between Newton and one of the top quarterback prospects: Liberty's Malik Willis.
“You know what’s interesting about [Willis] in particular, is there are a lot of similar traits to these guys that’ve had success in our league,” Rivera told CBS Sports. “And I was fortunate enough to have drafted one of them in Cam Newton, who’s a very special player.”
In Rivera's first year as a head coach in 2011, the Panthers took Newton with the No. 1 pick in the draft. Newton went on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, MVP and helped lead Carolina to a Super Bowl. That isn't the easiest reputation to live up to if you're Willis, but Rivera appears to like the young quarterback's combination of physical tools and football IQ.
“This young man has a tremendous skill set,” Rivera said. “Will some of those things he does translate? Absolutely. Will there be some things he’ll have to learn and develop and grow on? Absolutely. But I can tell you I’ve had the opportunity to interview him. He’s a heck of a young man and he shows he’s got the football acumen you need to be successful in this league.”
Willis' connections to Newton don't stop there. Willis played in Newton's 7-on-7 program and spent the first three years of his high school career at Newton's alma mater (Westlake). Before transferring to Liberty, Willis played two seasons at Auburn -- also Newton's alma mater.
The key difference at this stage is that Newton was a near-lock to go No. 1 overall in 2011 while scouts and draft experts remain split on Willis' future in the NFL. Plenty of mock drafts have had Willis going to the Commanders at No. 11, though it's not a given Washington desires to spend that pick on a rookie QB who needs a fair amount of fine-tuning.
"I think this team needs a veteran [QB], I really do," Rivera said. "But that's not going to preclude us from looking at a rookie. What we decide is not going to preclude us from doing something else."