By: The Boss
The NFL Draft starts tonight with the first round and the Carolina Panthers will lead things off with the No.1 pick. All signs seem to be pointing to the Panthers taking Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with that selection. Last night, ESPN reported that the team was looking at Newton, LSU CB Patrick Peterson, Alabama DT Marcell Dareus and Georgia WR A.J. Green with the top pick.
Living in Charlotte, the arguments for Newton have been pretty consistent. Newton is a dynamic playmaker, everyone else in the NFC South but the Panthers are pretty solid at quarterback (Saints have Brees, Falcons have Ryan and Bucs have the underrated Josh Freeman) and the southern region has been tantalized by Newton's one-year showing at Auburn that led to a national title (in truth the South is tantalized by anything SEC football related)
But is Cam Newton really the answer? Newton will need to carry a clipboard for at least a year, but it will really should be two years. The offense he ran at Auburn was far from a pro-style offense and he will need time to get the nuances down. He is far from a polished product at the quarterback position.
Then there are the character concerns that date back to his time at Florida, where he was accused of cheating and stealing, in addition to allegations at Auburn that his father engineered a pay-to-play setup (that frankly I think Cam Newton knew about). There are also reports that he was ducking reporters all day yesterday while in New York and there have been concerns about his leadership ability or lack thereof. Personally, I look at Cam Newton and I see a cross between JaMarcus Russell and Vince Young. In the college game, that is a compliment as all three won national titles and were great playmakers on the NCAA level. In the pro game, not so much.
The selection of Cam Newton is all about two related things: ticket sales and fan interest. The Panthers front office feels that Newton's presence can help drum up fan interest (although the truth is the fan base is split on him) and spike sagging tickets sale. In truth, the Panthers have a lot more working against them as well. They have one of the most incompetent general managers in sports (Marty Hurney) and an owner in Jerry Richardson, who frankly is out of touch with today's NFL and is leading the charge on the owners' side with the labor deal. He is the guy who pretty much insulted Peyton Manning and Drew Brees financial knowledge at one bargaining session. For years, Richardson has stayed out of the public eye, but these labor talks have brought him out and listening to him talk, that is not a good thing. Problem is Richardson is so revered in Charlotte, not one dares to take him, on except for the Charlotte Observer's Tommy Tomlinson. As a whole the organization has dropped the ball, sending out ticket renewal forms within a day of the NFL lockout being official in March.
Let's get a one thing clear, the Panthers do have a need a quarterback, badly. Last year, they spent a second-round pick on Jimmy Clausen, who slid down the draft board. The 2010 season was not kind to Clausen, he had a lame-duck coach that didn't give a shit and point blank said that he was not on board with drafting him, no veteran to learn from, no coaching instruction, no offensive line protection and rookies at receiver to throw (with the exception of the handful of games Steve Smith was active for). A lot of things conspired against Clausen, some of which were no fault of his own. I am not ready to close the book on him completely, he needs to carry a clipboard for a year and learn from a veteran. Do I think he can be a Brees or even a Matt Ryan type-QB? No way, but Clausen can be a game-manager type quarterback a la Kerry Collins, if given a real chance, and you can win games in this league with a guy like that at QB.
With the No. 1 pick, you should be looking for as close to a sure thing as you can find because the wrong choice at No. 1 can cripple a team for years. Cam Newton is far from a sure thing. Dareus and Peterson seem to be safe bets to be good players, are regarded higher by talent evaluators and would address needs as well. And given all the talk that wide receiver Steve Smith has asked for a trade, A.J. Green would not be a bad idea either (yes I realize receivers are boom or bust, point is he is a better pick than Newton).
A few months back, after Stanford's Andrew Luck unfortunately decided to return to school, a friend asked me about taking Cam Newton at No. 1. I laughed at the notion and made the comment, the Panthers have made some bad choices, but they aren't that stupid. Apparently, I have the mistake of underestimating them.