By taking Newton, Panthers stacked deck against themselves

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- A smart man once said you're not supposed to gamble with the first pick of the NFL Draft. Unfortunately, the Carolina Panthers just did. They chose quarterback Cam Newton. Good luck, fellas.

Newton is a high-risk, high-reward choice who has, as one NFC head coach put it, "Hall-of-Fame talent." But it's not Newton's talent that's in question here. It's all the other things that go into making a franchise quarterback, starting with knowledge of the game -- and, sorry, but Newton misses big-time there.

"Newton never really developed past the J.C. [junior college] in terms of football knowledge," said this same coach. "At Auburn, they let him do what he wanted to do."

Granted, he did it well. Very well. But let the record show the guy threw a total ... a total ... of 280 passes at the FBS level. Now compare that to, oh, say, Tim Tebow's 995 or Blaine Gabbert's 993 and, we're looking at someone who built his reputation on one season.

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That doesn't mean he can't work out. Mark Sanchez did. But Sanchez had Rex Ryan and the league's best defense and best running game to bail him out. Carolina does not have that to bail out Newton. In fact, the Panthers have a raft of holes, with quarterback only one of them.

Didn't Carolina exercise its first pick on a quarterback last year? Yep, and Jimmy Clausen, please step forward. By choosing Newton, the Panthers basically notified Clausen that he has no future with the club, and sooner or later he's on the bench.

Trust me, it will be sooner.

"You don't know how I'm feeling right now," Newton said. "I just want to scream."

Yeah, me too.

Look, I know Newton won a national championship. He won the Heisman Trophy, and he won a lot of games in one season. But didn't Tebow do the same with Florida? And look how that worked out. Tebow went to a club that was coming off an 8-8 season. Newton is going to a team that won two games, and there will be no time for him to sit as Tebow did.

Plus, there's this: Newton averaged 20 passes and 19 runs per game last season. Just try to tell me that translates to the NFL ... because it doesn't. Defenders are bigger, faster and stronger and will force him to be more of a passer -- and I'm not confident he can cut it.

I'm not alone. I remember speaking to a coach who watched a Newton workout and, afterward, all he could talk about was how Newton couldn't make a throw when it wasn't in front of him.

Not good.

Of course, the Panthers want to put people in the stands, and Newton will. But this is about improving your club, and I'm not sure the Panthers are better for this pick. All I know is that it won't be long before we find out. You don't make a quarterback the first pick of the draft unless you plan to play him.

OK, so Cincinnati did it with Carson Palmer. But the Bengals had Jon Kitna. Carolina doesn't. It has Clausen.

That puts the heat on Newton, and, I'm sorry, I don't trust this guy to respond because I just don't know who he is. He says he wants to be "an icon" and "an entertainer." Hey, whatever happened to just becoming a quarterback?

A coach who scouted him, interviewed him and worked him out told me Newton's not a bad guy, "just immature," someone who had others -- i.e., his father -- making all the decisions for him.

Now you want to entrust your franchise to him? I don't. I know he could be a star. I also know he could be a flop, and if I'm spending a gazillion bucks on the first draft pick, I want to be sure what I'm getting.

Carolina general manager Marty Hurney should be. He was mentored by former GM Bobby Beathard in San Diego, and for all of Beathard's draft steals, the choice for which he's most remembered is Ryan Leaf.

The No. 2 pick in 1998, Leaf was talented. But he was immature. He made bad decisions, and he got bad advice. Hmmm, sound like anyone you recognize? I'm not saying Cam Newton is Ryan Leaf. I'm just saying he could be, and I don't want to take that chance. I want someone I know won't flop ... someone like, say, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus or cornerback Patrick Peterson.

There are just too many red flags with Newton for me to be happy with the pick.

But I don't have to like it.

Marty Hurney does, and here's hoping he's right. Because if he's not, Cam Newton can drive him into an early retirement, just as Ryan Leaf did Beathard.


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