There’s no denying that here in late January the race for the First Overall Pick is wide open. Carolina has only just begun to form relationships with these prospects at the most basic level. Projecting this pick is an enormous guessing game and will be that way for months. Head Coach Ron Rivera is evaluating what he has in place and the results of his assessment won’t be known until the NFL Draft. The team will surely use smoke-screens and be purposely ambiguous throughout the process. Up into the week of the draft itself, I expect the Panthers will be negotiating with each one of the players I listed in this article. My gut guides me toward three favorites, chosen perhaps for positional reasons over sheer value. Those three would be: Cam Newton, Nick Fairley, and Da’Quan Bowers.
If the draft were held today, it would almost certainly be Bowers or Fairley. It’s important to note the draft will occur in late April, after the Panthers have gotten a chance to talk to each player at length and watch each player workout. Though he appears to be the best fit and perhaps the most talented player in the class, Nick Fairley lacks some professional traits and may not prove himself to be a suitable face of this struggling franchise. Da’Quan Bowers is one of this class’ safest bets, but with some promising young players at the Defensive End position, the Panthers may not be racing to add another so high on draft day. That leaves me with Cameron Newton.
Out of the players I listed, Newton seems like the least likely at this point to go First Overall and rather the most likely to fall out of the Top 10 all together. He won’t throw at the NFL Combine, so teams will be watching him throw in a controlled, choreographed setting at his Pro Day. His workout will create a buzz around the league and should cement him as the top Quarterback on most boards in this weak class. His charismatic personality will help him say all the right things during the pre-draft process while coming across as mature and driven. Carolina’s Achilles heel a year ago was their Quarterback play. The common theory is: if you don’t have a franchise Quarterback on the roster then you better make it the off-season’s top priority. I think that’s exactly what they will do. Jimmy Clausen will be a nice stop-gap starter while Newton learns to NFL game and may wind up building some trade value & get a chance to start elsewhere in 2012. So, although it is dependent on a whole lot of early speculation, I’d like to endorse Cameron Newton as my prediction as 2011’s First Overall Pick to the Carolina Panthers.