More debate on Cam Newton at No. 1

Here’s a column that basically says the Carolina Panthers have to take Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with the first overall pick in the NFL draft. There’s even a quote from long-time Dallas personnel guru Gil Brandt saying the Panthers should not pass on Newton.

But the whole premise of the story is that talent rules over character in the draft. I think that’s generally true, but I think the Panthers are an exception to this theory.

If you know anything about the history of the Panthers, you know that this is a franchise that was scarred deeply by some off-field problems in its early days. Quarterback Kerry Collins, the only quarterback the team ever has drafted in the first round, has admitted problems with alcohol led to his quick demise in Charlotte.

That episode was an experience that pained owner Jerry Richardson greatly. Soon after that, came the sad saga of Rae Carruth, which went way beyond football. After the Carruth disaster, Richardson made it very clear to the people that make the football decisions that he doesn’t want to take chances on anyone with serious character issues in their background.

Does Newton fall into that category? Well, his problems haven’t been in any category near what Collins and Carruth went through. But he had some minor issues (allegedly stealing a computer and questionable academic situations) while at the University of Florida. The NCAA is still looking into allegations that Newton’s father was seeking money when his son was looking to transfer.

Newton said he plans to be transparent when he meets with officials from teams around the league at the combine later this week. The quarterback said he has nothing to hide and believes he can convince general managers that he comes with no baggage.

Newton will be taken in the first round, but he might determine the location during his interviews. His most important one could be with Carolina general manager Marty Hurney. If Newton can convince Hurney there are no problems, he could be at the top of Carolina’s board. If Hurney believes a potential remains for problems, Newton will be off Carolina’s board.