This is now the 11th hr. Teams should have their boards locked in place, they know their targets and barring any unforeseen trades the Panthers will be ready to make their selection at 8 pm.
Over the next five days I will examine each player who the Panthers are most likely to take with the number one pick: Cam Newton, Marcell Dareus, Blaine Gabbert, Patrick Peterson and A.J. Green. This is an attempt to look ahead at what the Panthers have planned for 2011 and beyond using 5 facts about each prospect as they apply to the Panthers. This goes beyond X's and O's and casts predictions on the ideology of the franchise based on how they go with the #1 pick; and rest assured, whoever will be the selection becomes the figurehead for how the ship that is the Carolina Panthers will navigate the waters moving ahead.
We'll start with Cam Newton... after the jump
1. The Panthers are no longer willing to 'play it safe'
Listening to Jerry Richardson talk it's abundantly clear that the status quo is no longer good enough. The great one year, mediocre the next offering from John Fox is no longer acceptable and JR has instructed Marty Hurney to loosen the reigns a little. Should the Panthers select Cam Newton this will be an overt sign this is the Panthers' plan.
Earlier this week Peter King said that Cam Newton would be the riskiest #1 overall pick since Jeff George in 1990, and regardless of how much you may support Newton I see no way you can disagree with this assessment.
"Cam Newton - that's plutonium-grade raw material, you know? I haven't seen upside like with this guy in probably the last 10 years"
- John Harbaugh
That statement right there is why the Panthers would take Newton with the #1 overall pick. Like plutonium, it takes a significant amount of engineering, work and effort to not only harness it's power- but to keep it from melting down. This analogy suits Cam Newton to a tee.
The Panthers will be gambling that they can pull him into the fold, that Mike Shula can begin work quickly and turn him from the one read, no huddle, play calling from a white board to an in huddle general who can be Rob Chudzinski's representative on the field to deal with both a complex multi-read system and a playbook rumored to be hundreds of pages in length. It will be a daunting task, but they'll be confident he's willing to put in Peyton Manning like effort.
2. This draft will be about the next 10 years, not the next 3 years
Again we reach another of these 'universal truths'. Simply put, should the Carolina Panthers select Cam Newton they're doing so for the long term gains he offers, willing to sacrifice an immediate impact. Sure, the Panthers could ease him into the league the way the Philadelphia Eagles did with Michael Vick in 2009, but the difference is that Vick was a six year veteran at that point, so he at least had a basic understanding of NFL defenses and terminology.
If Cam Newton is a Panther then the best thing for him is to sit on the bench for at least the next 16 Sundays and study and learn from an established veteran.
3. The NFC South will be put on notice
Though this ties into #1 in a lot of ways, the selection of Cam Newton would send a clear message to the rest of the NFC South that the Panthers are willing to gamble too. In 2008 the Atlanta Falcons selected Matt Ryan and were immediately chided for not taking LSU DT Glenn Dorsey at a time DT was considered their primary need.
However, the Falcons gambled on a QB and it paid off.
In 2009 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were mocked for selecting Josh Freeman #18 overall when most scouts gave him a second round grade. They chose to pass on other needs like OL (with Michael Oher on the board) and WR (Maclin and Harvin were both available). Instead they chose the signal caller also and in his second year they saw immediate dividends. Now, Freeman is poised to crack the list of top 10 quarterbacks should he put up similar numbers in his third year.
In short- the Panthers will be letting the NFL's most competitive division know that they wont be playing it safe anymore and like he Falcons, Saints and Bucs before them they will take a few risks in the draft to try and land a franchise player.
4. The running game will (in time) be more dangerous than ever
Jamie Dukes of the NFL Network was on WFNZ a month back and made a very salient point. He said something to the effect of:
"If you add Cam Newton to the Carolina Panthers it forces an OLB to stay home on every down and spy him. Can you image what that will do for Jonathan Stewart? It could turn a 5 yard gain into a 15 yard gain and an 1,100 yard back into an 1,800 yard one."
I don't disagree with Dukes on this one. We saw what Michael Vick's presence did for Atlanta's offense first hand, there's little doubt he would be able to diversify the offense in the same way.
5. We're never going to see a draw to Dante Rosario again
By selecting Newton the Panthers are opening themselves up for some required offensive creativity. The plays of old simply wont cut it with Newton under center. It will require a diverse playbook with a kind of creativity we haven't seen in a long time. Instead of the Power-O and draw being our current offensive vernacular this will become the bootleg, waggle and option. There is a good chance the Panthers could infuse their offense with elements of the options, which is a high risk-high reward play... but doesn't that just mirror Newton himself?
Tomorrow we'll look at the 5 things Marcell Dareus will mean to the Carolina Panthers as we hurtle towards the 2011 NFL draft.