All signs point to Cam Newton being Carolina's No. 1 overall pick on April 28. (AP Photo)
CHARLOTTE – With NFL free agency on hold, the one question on every Carolina Panthers fan's mind is this: Will general manager Marty Hurney select Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft?
Over the past several weeks Hurney and new head coach Ron Rivera have gone out of their way to sing Newton’s praises, leading folks to believe he’ll be the first overall pick April 28.
Certainly selecting Newton makes a ton of sense as the Panthers desperately need a franchise quarterback who’ll breathe new life into the organization and give fans something to be excited about following a 2-14 season. Admittedly a raw talent, the one thing most NFL scouts agree upon is Newton has tremendous upside potential.
But if you’ve been around the NFL long enough and understand how things work this time of the year you can’t help but be a little skeptical. After all, smokescreens and subterfuge are as much a part of the NFL draft process as 40 times and Pro Day workouts.
What I'm saying is why wouldn’t the Panthers pump Newton up and lead everyone to believe they’ll draft him?
Newton is likely the one player who might entice a team to trade up to the No. 1 spot, something that potentially would allow the Panthers to move down a few spots, still get a great player at a position of need AND compile an additional high draft pick or two.
That scenario makes sense too.
Buffalo, Arizona and Tennessee are in need of quarterbacks and all three franchises own top 10 draft picks.
But trades are easier said than done, especially when teams aren’t allowed to trade players on their roster.
Most NFL draft prognosticators agree that when all is said and done Newton is Carolina’s guy. And I agree that if the Panthers aren’t presented with a viable trade offer, they’ll probably take Newton with the first pick and not look back and, I predict, announce shortly after the draft that he was the guy they wanted all along.
But it wouldn’t shock me if they were to take Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green or even LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson with the first pick.
You can make an argument for all four players.
But let’s face it, Newton is the one guy who would really put fans in the seats. He's the one guy in the draft who brings the “wow” factor. Hurney has downplayed Newton’s game day turnstile impact, prudently saying that the team will choose the best available player based on their draft board, not off public opinion.
Hurney isn't giving any clues as to who the team will take No. 1 overall.
He says the goal is finding an impact player.
And, he added that it isn’t often you get to pick first overall, and when that opportunity arises you must look hard at quarterbacks as this has become a quarterback’s league.
Newton has the potential to be the impact player and the franchise quarterback the Panthers so desperately need, even if it means sitting him on the bench for year and teaching him how to read complicated NFL defenses, something that may be a necessity given his only experience at a high college level consisted of playing one season in a spread, first-read offense at Auburn where, to be fair, he won a national championship.
Rivera has openly gushed about Newton, playing up his strengths rather than dwelling on his weaknesses.
"As far as skill set goes, the young man has tremendous physical talents," Rivera told reporters before the Heisman Trophy winner’s Pro Day workout. "He's got natural size, the ability to run, a tremendous arm, and a pretty good pocket presence already.”
He even went as far as to compare Newton to Ben Roethlisberger.
You don’t do those things unless you’re going to draft a guy – or unless you want people to think you are.