Young Cam Rides Old Mo to No. 1

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Count this one for Old Mo, as in Momentum. Once it started for Cam Newton, it was unstoppable. The negative became trivial, the assets became overwhelming.

We love to jump on bandwagons, especially those driven by a kid who couldn't do much right - other than win football games - and now can do no wrong.

The last few days, Newton being chosen No. 1 in the draft was inevitable. That's all we heard. That's all we read. Three months ago, he was the mystery man. Now, to the Carolina Panthers, at least, he's the savior.

Was it a matter of reassessment? Did scouts decide someone 6-foot-5, 240 pounds might be worth a second look? Did they become aware of the quote attributed to new San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, to wit: "I haven't seen an upside like with this guy in probably the last 10 years."

Cam Newton went from a kid who threw a computer that wasn't his out a window, and to the thinking of some may have thrown away his college career, to a Heisman Trophy and the first pick. If that isn't progress, what is?

But not very long ago, in February, a few weeks after he'd led Auburn to No. 1 in the BCS rankings, Newton was projected as the No. 8 selection, to Tennessee, which as it turned out chose Jake Locker. Who may be a better quarterback than Newton as pro. Or may not.

What happened during the interim? A combine and some pro days and most of all a re-evaluation, also known as a change of heart?

Cam Newton? Those problems back in Florida? Working out of a spread at Auburn? Too many liabilities, isn't that correct? It isn't? Maybe we'd better watch that video against Alabama again.

Cam Newton, big and quick, but ... not a very high score on the Wonderlic test the NFL teams give draftees. Only a year as a starter. Didn't play in a pro-style system. A gamble.

So how did the gamble become a sure thing in the minds of the pro execs? Why were the experts, meaning NFL GMs and scouts, as well as those two ESPN types Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, so hesitant in supporting Newton?

Quarterbacks are the necessary evil in football, especially pro football. The adage is they get too much credit for winning and too much blame for losing, but without a quarterback who's competent, and preferably outstanding, a team always will lose.

That's why with Newton's selection, in 11 of the last 14 drafts, a quarterback has been the first player taken. That's why teams, knowing the history of failure, of David Carr and JaMarcus Russell and to a point Alex Smith and Tim Couch, keep hoping they'll grab the brass ring.

We're told it's dangerous to draft for need, because then a team takes a player who can't play. The Panthers needed a quarterback. The Panthers also needed to give their fans a reason the team with the worst record in 2010 was going to offer a name who had a game.

"There are not many guys like him,'' a scout said of Newton in early March. "I see him going in the top 10.'' Can't say the scout was wrong. The issue now becomes whether the Panthers were wrong.

Does Newton become another Steve Young or another Vince Young? Do we ignore his claim he wanted to be an icon as merely a sign of immaturity?

Drafting a quarterback unquestionably resonates more than drafting an offensive tackle. A quarterback is the essential, the star, the guy who gets the big money, the guy who gets the milk mustache but also in bad times the guy who gets the boos.

In San Francisco, Alex Smith, the very first pick in the 2005 draft, was assailed simply because he's Alex Smith. The first incompletion, the boos begin. The first interception, they shake the stadium. Love turns to enmity almost without warning.

The question is how Newton develops. Russell, the No. 1 choice in 2007 by the Oakland Raiders, held out for weeks as a rookie. And that may have been the highlight of his career. His work ethic was unethical.

Paying attention to hearsay is hardly a proper method of judging anyone, but one scouting report of a few weeks back said, "Someone who knows him told me the only difference between Cam and JaMarcus is that Cam has (his father) to keep him on track. But that's potentially a big difference."

That isn't the only difference. Cam has that Heisman and a more sanguine view of the sports world. He has to separate himself from the past and prepare for the future. Being a savior isn't easy.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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