Should Panthers take Cam Newton?

The news that Auburn quarterback Cam Newton will enter the draft gives the Carolina Panthers something more to think about. At a time when new coach Ron Rivera is just starting to fill out his coaching staff, Newton’s entry at least gives Carolina another option with the first pick in the 2011 draft.

Yes, most experts are saying right now that Newton isn’t worthy of the No. 1 overall pick and some are saying he’s not even a first-round pick. The knock on him is that he’s not polished and remains a project, despite his remarkable size and physical skills.

I only saw a handful of Auburn games this season due to my travel schedule, but what I saw from Newton reminded me a lot of Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman. I don’t know what Carolina’s front office and coaches will see when they break down Newton. But, if they see some of those similarities to Freeman, the Panthers might have to put Newton’s stock a lot higher than the experts have it at the moment.

Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik has said the Bucs would have taken Freeman No. 1 overall in 2009, if they had that pick. One other general manager told me he would have taken Freeman in the top spot, if his team had that pick. Freeman slipped to No. 17 before the Bucs drafted him, but you now can make a case he’s the best quarterback from that draft.

It seems like everybody’s saying Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley and Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers are the top two prospects in this draft. That may be true.

But franchise quarterbacks are hard to find and Carolina needs one. They’re in a division where Tampa Bay has Freeman, New Orleans has Drew Brees and Atlanta has Matt Ryan. Take a look at Carolina’s overall roster. Then, compare it to the rosters of the Bucs, Saints and Falcons.

In areas like running back, offensive line and linebacker, the Panthers aren’t any worse off than the other three NFC South teams. The one huge difference is quarterback. The other three teams have franchise quarterbacks. The Panthers don’t.

If they think Newton can be a franchise quarterback, they need to ignore the current rankings and go get him.