Should Panthers take Newton No. 1? Opinions vary

The growing consensus among NFL draft analysts is the Carolina

Panthers will take Cam Newton with the No. 1 overall pick.

Those pundits differ on whether that’s a smart decision.

As the Panthers remain mum on what they’ll do next week, there’s

no shortage of advice. The most polarizing opinions involve the

quarterback who dazzled in leading Auburn to the national title

last season but carries plenty of off-field baggage and

concerns.

”Cam Newton could be great. He could be a disappointment,”

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said Wednesday. ”High risk, high reward. So

it looks like they’re going to go Newton.”

Kiper recently moved Newton to the top of his mock draft, even

as he questions Newton’s work ethic and continues to tout Carolina

QB Jimmy Clausen. Peter King of Sports Illustrated has Newton going

to Carolina, too. ESPN analyst Jon Gruden thinks the same and is

bullish on Newton.

Others, such as Pro Football Weekly draft analyst Nolan

Nawrocki, remain convinced the Panthers won’t make the gamble.

”In my opinion, there isn’t a true franchise quarterback and I

think the Carolina Panthers see it the same way,” said Nawrocki,

who has written a scathing review of Newton.

There are safer alternatives. Alabama’s Marcell Dareus would

help fill Carolina’s giant hole at defensive tackle. LSU’s Patrick

Peterson dazzled in workouts and would be the first cornerback to

go No. 1. Receiver A.J. Green of Georgia could finally provide

Carolina with a complement and potential replacement for Steve

Smith.

Newton is the wild card.

Combine the 6-foot-5 frame with his strong arm, speed and

running ability, he has the potential to give the Panthers their

first franchise quarterback in their 17-year history. It’s a

compelling thought for a club that won two games and scored 16

touchdowns in 2010.

”He’s got everything you want,” said Mike Mayock of NFL

Network. ”He’s smart enough, he’s a great athlete. It all comes

down to me, how hard is this kid willing to work?”

Mayock’s not alone. Questions about Newton’s commitment are

everywhere, as well as how he’ll adjust from Auburn’s simple,

no-huddle, spread offense to a complex pro style.

Then there’s the November 2008 arrest after he bought a stolen

computer and the NCAA investigation into allegations his father

solicited money during his recruitment.

”You can get away with ability in college. You can’t get away

with just ability in the NFL,” Kiper said. ”It’s a completely

different ballgame. Things came very easy to Cam Newton. I hope he

doesn’t think it’ll come that easy in the NFL.”

But while Gruden recently put Newton on the spot about his

simple play calls in college during a recent TV segment, he

believes he’ll be able to adjust to a thick NFL playbook.

”The thing that impressed me was not only his physical

attributes and his size, but his charisma,” Gruden said. ”I think

his eagerness to learn and prove that he can adapt to a pro style

on offense. He showed very good retention to me in the meetings and

the material that we covered.”

New Panthers coach Ron Rivera has acknowledged strong interest

in Newton as well as Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert. That

comes after Carolina spent its second round pick a year ago on

Clausen, who went 1-9 as a starter without a touchdown pass to a

wide receiver.

”I don’t think Jimmy was a mistake, but if you’re going to take

Cam Newton, obviously the new coach isn’t a believer,” Kiper said.

”And the GM drafted him. When you’re in a situation like that it’s

bad for the team, it’s bad for the quarterback.”

Kiper took aim at GM Marty Hurney for his decision to trade away

a 2010 first-round pick to take defensive end Everette Brown in the

second round in 2009 and last year’s deal that sent a 2011

second-round pick to New England so Carolina could take former

Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards in the third

round.

”Mistakes have been made that hurt this organization,” Kiper

said.

That could make the decision with the top pick even more

important as they play in a division where every other team has a

solid QB in place.

”In this NFC South, I believe you have Josh Freeman, you have

Matt Ryan, you have Drew Brees. They have a young guy there now in

Jimmy Clausen,” Gruden said. ”But I think with DeAngelo Williams,

assuming he’s re-signed, Jonathan Stewart, Jordan Gross at left

tackle, assuming (Jeff) Otah comes back at right tackle, you’re

going to have the ability to put together a striking running game

with Cam Newton being a part of that.

”Your good friend Steve Smith out there can still hurt people

and off the play action pass and things of that nature while Cam

develops. I think there are things this guy can do.”

Yet with so many holes, Kiper, Mayock and Nawrocki think

Carolina’s best bet would be the less sexy decision to trade down

and address their holes on the defensive line.

”I think they would like to get out of there,” Mayock said of

the No. 1 pick.

But trading is more complicated because current players can’t be

involved in deals because of the lockout. There’s also uncertainty

if a rookie wage scale would go into effect this year.

”I think Marty Hurney would like people to believe he’s going

to take a quarterback and in a perfect scenario I think he would

like to trade down a couple spots and pick up that second-rounder

that he’s missing,” Nawrocki said. ”But I just don’t see anybody

coming up.”