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Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Surveying landing spots for Cam Newton

By Pat Yasinskas

One of the best things about ESPN.com’s Blog Network is our strength in numbers. We’ve got someone covering every division, and that makes it easy to put together a league-wide project on short notice.

We did that today over on our national blog. Since Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is shaping up to be this year’s version of Tim Tebow (at least in terms of reader interest), we decided to explore possible landing spots for Newton by looking at every team in the league.

Obviously, I did the NFC South portion of this project, and it wasn’t really difficult. We were asked to rank the chance of Newton landing with each of our teams, and that was easy. I pretty much scratched New Orleans, Atlanta and Tampa Bay off the board. One reason for that is the Saints have a franchise quarterback in Drew Brees, the Falcons have one in Matt Ryan and the Bucs have one in Josh Freeman.

Another reason is because those three teams also have pretty late draft position, and chances are Newton will be gone long before the Bucs (No. 20), Saints (No. 24), and Falcons (No. 27) get to pick.

Now, the Carolina Panthers need a quarterback and hold the first pick in the draft.

Those two factors alone are why I ranked the possibility of Newton landing in Carolina as "high." I think it’s at least possible the Panthers take Newton, and it would be the first time they’ve used a first-round pick on a quarterback since Kerry Collins in their 1995 expansion season.

That said, I’m not convinced Newton ends up with the Panthers. There are questions about his background and his accuracy. Carolina’s history has been conservative. I think the chances of them taking Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley or Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers are better than them taking Newton. That’s largely because owner Jerry Richardson and general manager Marty Hurney are conservative guys.

But I can’t help but think back to something New Orleans coach Sean Payton repeatedly told his team during the 2009 Super Bowl season. Payton used to say something like, “If you want to go somewhere you’ve never been before, you have to do things you’ve never done before’’. That worked for Payton and the Saints as they won their first Super Bowl.

Richardson and Hurney might be conservative, but they’re also intelligent enough to realize that maybe it’s time to be a little more flexible. I don’t think the Panthers have made any firm decision on what they’ll do with that pick yet. But I think they’d be wise to spend much of the next two months at least pondering the option of taking Newton.