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Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Updated: April 28, 5:20 PM ET
Sources: Panthers narrow choice to 4

ESPN.com news services

The Carolina Panthers have narrowed their choices for the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday's draft to quarterback Cam Newton, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, cornerback Patrick Peterson and wide receiver A.J. Green, team sources told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio on Wednesday.

Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said at Tuesday's pre-draft news conference that the team is keeping all of its options open.

"We talk about different scenarios all the time," Hurney said. "Ron and I have talked so much, we've talked more to each other than our wives about stuff."

Carolina hired Ron Rivera as head coach this offseason, replacing longtime coach John Fox. Fox was fired following a 2-14 season.

The Panthers have 28 potential free agents and Pro Football Weekly reported Tuesday that star wideout Steve Smith cleaned out his locker and team suite before NFL owners locked out players in March.

The report also said Smith asked to be traded before the lockout began. Smith's Charlotte home has been on the market for more than a year, but he said last season that was because he was considering moving to another home in the area that would better accommodate his family.

There has been speculation for months that the veteran wide receiver might want out as the Panthers continue with a youth movement under Rivera.

After catching passes from Jake Delhomme for seven seasons, Smith spent last season playing with three different quarterbacks, including 2010 second-round pick Jimmy Clausen.

While the selection of Georgia's Green may help the Panthers replace Smith, sources told ESPN's Paolantonio that Newton has emerged as the odds-on favorite for the top pick. Newton, a multi-talented dual-threat quarterback, won the Heisman Trophy last year, leading Auburn to the national championship in his first year as the school's starting quarterback.

At 6-foot-5 and 248 pounds, Newton has great size but also good speed. He's got a rocket arm, great running skills and showed poise in the pocket in leading Auburn to an unbeaten season.

But the Heisman winner played only one college season, has been arrested, and has faced other issues that put his character into question.

However, Hurney, Rivera and Panthers owner Jerry Richardson told Paolantonio they are convinced Newton has what it takes to develop into a potential franchise quarterback.

Richardson told Paolantonio that he recently had a long meeting with Newton at the owner's Carolina home and came away very impressed.

Clausen threw just three touchdown passes to go a long with nine interceptions and had a league-worst 58.4 passer rating a year ago when Carolina had the NFL's worst offense.

Rivera stressed from watching film that it was "almost unfair" the situations Clausen was put in, but also mentioned quarterback as one of his team's needs.

"I think the importance of that position has increased even more in recent years," Hurney said, citing recent rule changes that favor passing offenses.

Both Alabama's Dareus and LSU's Peterson are considered safer picks than Newton, but neither defensive tackle nor cornerback have the impact on a down-and-out team that a franchise quarterback can.

The Panthers, who don't have a second-round pick, will also attempt to trade back into the second round, team sources told Paolantonio. Carolina has two third-round selections.

Information from ESPN's Sal Paolantonio, ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.