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Panthers make Newton top pick


CHARLOTTE - From the airwaves to Internet message boards and throughout the offices of the Carolina Panthers, a staggering number of words were devoted to Cam Newton leading up to the NFL Draft.

Thursday night, when Newton finally got word that the Panthers were making him the No. 1 overall pick, it nearly left him speechless.

"I'm trying to find a word to express how I feel but I keep coming up short," said Newton, who won the Heisman Trophy and the national championship as Auburn's quarterback in 2010. "I'm really looking forward to making Charlotte my home. I'm ready to change this whole organization around, to go from worst to first."

The Panthers held the first pick by virtue of their 2-14 record last season, but general manager Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera believe they took a major step toward distancing themselves from the top pick in future drafts with the selection of a quarterback that can be a game-changer.

Newton certainly was that at Auburn last season, when he came seemingly out of nowhere to account for a Southeastern Conference-record 30 touchdown passes and a school-record 20 rushing touchdowns while leading the Tigers to an unbeaten season.

"When you put the tape on, it's undeniable," Rivera said. "When you look at what he does and what he's capable of doing, as a defensive coordinator he's going to impact the way you approach him as an offensive player. He's going to impact the way people call defenses.

"He can pose problems for your opponent. He'll open some things up."

The success of Newton's 2010 season and his physical tools are beyond reproach, but that's not all that goes into pulling the trigger on a player in the No. 1 spot. That certainly was the case for Newton, who dazzled on the field at Auburn but had issues off the field during a college career that started at Florida and continued at Blinn Junior College before ending in triumph.

"As far as my character, that's something that hit home to some degree, but I didn't dwell on it much," Newton said. "People have the wrong impression of the person that I really am, but that's something that I can change with each decision that I make on a daily basis."

Newton certainly won over the Panthers, who had constant contact with him throughout an arduous process that led Rivera to call Newton "the most researched player I've ever been around."

Though Newton said he didn't know the Panthers were going to pick him until mere minutes before Thursday's announcement, Rivera knew after he met with Newton one last time in Atlanta over the weekend.

"There was a point where I wanted to be 100-percent sure last weekend, so we watched every one of his throws and watched every one of his runs, and I had an opportunity to visit with him again. That's when I really felt very, very, very good about it," Rivera said.

"I started the process with eight guys in my mind. Then it became seven, then it became four. I tried to ride those four as long as I could, but everything just kept pointing back to Cam."

Newton plans to be in Charlotte on Friday – when the NFL Draft continues - to begin the process of getting up to speed on being an NFL quarterback after playing in spread systems in college. Despite the steep learning curve, Rivera didn't rule out the possibility that Newton could play a significant role as a rookie.

"He'll have an opportunity to play, most definitely. Everybody has an opportunity to play," Rivera said. "Cam will play when Cam gets himself ready to play.

"I'm putting a little bit of a challenge out there for him. That's what he thrives on."

That is Newton's recent history, and he hopes it's his future fate as well.

"Competition brings out the best in everybody," said Newton, who was a virtual unknown when Auburn named him its starting quarterback on April 28, 2010. "I'm looking forward to it, to the whole process as far as learning the offense and meeting all the players and embracing the whole city of Charlotte."

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