- Associated Press - Thursday, April 28, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - The last two National Football Leauge drafts were topped by quarterbacks. Here comes another one. Cam Newton.

Not that there’s a consensus he will be a franchise quarterback, the way Sam Bradford appears to be in St. Louis and Matthew Stafford will be with Detroit.

Opinions are split about Newton, the Heisman Trophy winner who led Auburn to the national title. He certainly doesn’t appear as NFL-ready as other quarterbacks who played in pro-style systems in college.

“You’re dealing with Cam Newton from a spread offense, who has … a lot of physical talent,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said. “He’s got arm strength. He’s got athleticism. He’s got Ben Roethlisberger-type stature in the pocket. He’s a piece of clay that needs to be molded.

“The mental part of the game with the system that he’s in, No. 1, he hasn’t played at that level for a long time. That’s going to be a work in progress, but he should get it.”

Doesn’t exactly sound like a can’t-miss candidate. Nor do the other highly rated quarterbacks: Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Washington’s Jake Locker, Florida’s State’s Christian Ponder, TCU’s Andy Dalton, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick.

But with such a heavy need for quarterbacks throughout the league, many of them will go quickly, either Thursday night in the first round or Friday, when the second and third rounds are held.

Carolina, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Arizona, San Francisco, Tennessee and Washington all have needs at the critical position. And those are just teams selecting in the top 10.

Throw in Minnesota (12th overall), Miami (15th), Jacksonville (16th), and Seattle (25th) and all could look at quarterbacks early in the proceedings. Even Indianapolis might decide this is a good year to begin grooming an eventual successor for Peyton Manning. That strategy worked pretty well for Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers replacing Brett Favre after a long apprenticeship.

“You’re dealing with a bunch of different elements there,” Baalke said. “They’re not going to fit everybody’s offense. It’s up to the evaluators to decide who fits the system they want to run the best.”

While a half-dozen quarterbacks might hear their names in the first round, it’s entirely possible only three will go Thursday night. Many teams believe they can find their starter in the second round or even later. Consider that Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Chad Henne, Colt McCoy, David Garrard, Matt Hasselbeck, Matt Schaub and Matt Cassel are starters who didn’t go in the first round.

Locker is an interesting case because he was projected as a top-five pick if he had left Washington after his junior year. He stayed, was injured and had a mediocre season. His stock dropped. But a strong series of workouts impressed personnel directors and scouts, and now he’s expected to be the third quarterback off the board, after Newton and Gabbert.

“You’re taking a look at every quarterback. You’re spending a lot of time evaluating everybody,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “Sometimes there may be a quarterback who throws out of the shotgun formation and you’ve got to project him. What can he do underneath the center?

“You may have a quarterback that runs a short passing game, not a very sophisticated type of offense. You have to go through all the scenarios that you normally do and project them in your system. A lot of times, you have to adjust your system to the talent of the quarterback, and that’s normally what you have to do in the National Football League because you are not going to get that perfect guy.”

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