Newton goes to Carolina with No. 1 pick

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. | The Carolina Panthers selected Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft Thursday night, gambling the Heisman Trophy winner will overcome questions about his character and work ethic to become the team’s first franchise quarterback.

A year after going 2-14 with the NFL’s worst offense, the Panthers bypassed safer choices such as Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson and Georgia receiver A.J. Green for Newton, who dazzled in his only season playing major college football.

At the draft headquarters in New York, Newton said he got a call from new coach Ron Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney just before the selection was announced.

“It was like a shock went through my body,” said Newton, wearing a blue Panthers’ cap. “I’m just blessed. … I can’t wait to get to my new hometown of Charlotte.”

At 6-foot-5 and 248 pounds, Newton combined brute strength to barrel over defenders on the run with a strong, accurate arm. He accounted for 50 touchdowns, a 14-0 record, won the Heisman Trophy and led the Tigers to the national championship.

But Newton carries baggage and questions, making him likely the riskiest pick in Carolina’s 17 seasons.

The College Park, Ga., native started college at Florida but left amid reports he was about to be disciplined for academic cheating. That came after an 2008 arrest involving a stolen laptop, a charge that later was dropped when he completed a pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders.

A Mississippi State booster later claimed Newton’s father tried to get the Bulldogs to pay $180,000 for his son to play for them. Newton ended up at Auburn and was dominant despite an NCAA investigation which eventually determined Newton didn’t know of his father’s pay-for-play scheme.

But character questions aren’t the only issues with Newton. He played in a simplified spread offense at Auburn in which he was always in the shotgun and had few reads to go through. Several draft pundits have questioned Newton’s work ethic.

Yet the Panthers, who last took a quarterback in the first round when they selected Kerry Collins fifth overall in their inaugural season in 1995, have been vocal in their need for a major upgrade under center. They did extensive background checks on Newton and are confident he can develop into a mobile, dual threat QB such as Ben Roethlisberger or Michael Vick.

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