If Panthers pass, Newton could find himself in first-round freefall
Cam Newton is the likely top pick, but nothing’s guaranteed in the NFL Draft
If Carolina doesn’t take Newton, he could fall like Brady Quinn and Aaron Rodgers
Despite questions about QB’s experience, he shouldn’t slip past Seattle at No. 25
Cam Newton sits atop nearly every NFL mock draft, but there's no guarantee he will be the first player selected Thursday night. Jimmy Clausen was on the top of some mock drafts last season. Same with Brady Quinn in 2007 and Aaron Rodgers in 2005. They all fell well below the top spot, and the same could happen with Newton.
While it still seems Newton is the most likely pick for the Panthers at No. 1, there are question marks about the former Auburn quarterback everywhere you turn. Consider:
Newton has only one year of playing experience in major college football. How do NFL decision-makers know college defenses wouldn't have caught up with him like they did with Jake Locker?
NFL teams are concerned about Newton's accuracy. Yes, he completed 66 percent of his passes last season, but he was throwing to open receivers since defenses were so worried about his running ability. Newton did not display accuracy at the combine, and even though he was better at his pro day, he still wasn't as precise as the other top QB prospects. Newton is not a perfect match with teams that run a West Coast offense.
His inexperience running a pro style offense. Former Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert has the same issue, but Auburn's offense seemed even further from the NFL style than most spread systems.
Even though some experts think character questions about Newton are overblown, at the very least we know about the stolen laptop and the controversy with his father asking for money from one college in return for his son's services.
Newton's comments about wanting to be an "entertainer" and an "icon" had to turn off teams. Coaches want players studying only playbooks, not marketing plans. Couple that with the character question marks and you can see why teams would be hesitant.
In addition to those question marks, most teams in the first round have other valid reasons they could pass on Newton. Let's run down the list to see how Newton could be the guy spending most of Thursday night in the Green Room.
1. Carolina Panthers: With no guarantee of a rookie salary cap, the Panthers would have to take on a lot of risk with Newton. Peter King laid out the impact of missing on a quarterback at No. 1 and why GM Marty Hurney has to be nervous. Carolina worked out players likely to go No. 8 to No. 12 and could be very serious about trading down.
2. Denver Broncos: The Broncos wouldn't disrespect Tim Tebow by drafting his former backup. And why would they give up on Tebow for another developmental quarterback?
3. Buffalo Bills: Head coach Chan Gailey has a very small window of opportunity to win, and Ryan Fitzpatrick would be a better quarterback for the Bills in 2011.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: New offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is similar to his brother Jon and will install a traditional West Coast offense. Look at Jon's quarterbacks through the years -- Brett Favre, Rodney Peete, Jeff Garcia, Rich Gannon, Brad Johnson. None were first-round picks. Expect Jay Gruden to look for a quarterback in the second round ... possibly Andy Dalton.
5. Arizona Cardinals: One of the Cardinals' main priorities is keeping wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who becomes a free agent after this season, so taking a quarterback whose main strength is scrambling wouldn't help. Look for Arizona to make a strong play for Kevin Kolb when the NFL starts trading.
6. Cleveland Browns: New coach Pat Shurmur is also a product of the Andy Reid/West Coast tree and figures to give Colt McCoy a shot.
7. San Francisco 49ers: New coach Jim Harbaugh is also a West Coast guy who emphasizes accuracy. Harbaugh probably thinks he knows these quarterbacks better than other NFL people and can find his guy later on.
8. Tennessee Titans: Will Tennessee go to another run-first quarterback after just giving up on Vince Young? Although it could be a draft smoke screen, the Titans reportedly think Andy Dalton is the only sure-thing at QB in this draft.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Although owner Jerry Jones would be extremely tempted, the Cowboys don't want to give up on Tony Romo and wouldn't make him deal with a first-rounder lurking over his shoulder.
10. Washington Redskins: Newton was slotted here in multiple mock drafts in February. The 'Skins need to start over and Newton makes sense on paper. But they're reportedly more interested in Blaine Gabbert. Perhaps the 58-year-old Mike Shanahan doesn't have the patience to develop Newton.
11. Houston Texans: The Texans are all set with quarterback Matt Schaub and desperately need defensive help.
12. Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings probably don't think Newton will be here, and if they had to make a split-second decision, they might hesitate. This is a very unsettled team loaded with free agents. They'd be better off finding a veteran and taking a quarterback later on in the draft.
13. Detroit Lions: Even with Matthew Stafford's health issues, they can't draft a quarterback.
14. St. Louis Rams: All set with Sam Bradford.
15. Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins have been a West Coast team -- Chad Pennington thrived here. New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll comes out of the Bill Belichick school and would probably think outside the box and take a quarterback later.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags could have a public relations problem if they pass on Tim Tebow last season and take Newton this year. And David Garrard gives them a better chance of winning in the short term, which has to be the priority for this franchise.
17. New England Patriots: The Patriots love when players are available at a value in the draft or otherwise because of character issues, like Randy Moss, and they've been interviewing quarterbacks. But Newton doesn't seem like the kind of player who would be happy as a backup for the first three or four years of his career.
18. San Diego Chargers: All set with Philip Rivers.
19. New York Giants: All set with Eli Manning.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: All set with Josh Freeman.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Heavily invested in Matt Cassel.
22. Indianapolis Colts: See New England Patriots.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: They'll lose leverage in the trade market if teams know they have to get rid of Kevin Kolb, so they don't want to add another QB in the draft.
24. New Orleans Saints: All set with Drew Brees.
25. Seattle Seahawks: It's hard to imagine Newton falling this low without someone trading up to get him. If not, Seattle has to be the absolute basement.