04/27/11 — Stevens: Panthers need to find viable solution at quarterback

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Stevens: Panthers need to find viable solution at quarterback

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on April 27, 2011 1:47 PM

Since their inception in 1995, the Carolina Panthers have developed a reputation as a franchise known for playing it safe.

Founded in a state with only one other professional sports organization at the time, and in a market starving for the NFL, Carolina was guaranteed a supportive fan base.

From thrifty salaries and passing on big-name free agents, to conservative run-first play-calling, the Panthers are the epitome of playing it close to the vest.

Armed with the No. 1 pick in Thursday's NFL draft, all signs point to Carolina selecting Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. Newton is not ranked by most so-called experts as the top player, let alone the top quarterback available in the draft. Somehow he is predicted by most of these same experts to become the new face of the Carolina Panthers.

The Panthers were a disaster in many ways last season, and perhaps the majority of their problems centered around the quarterback position. Six different quarterbacks took snaps for Carolina in 2010, and 28 different quarterbacks around the league threw for more yards than the Panthers' six signal-callers combined.

Matt Moore began the season as Carolina's starter and battled injuries throughout the year. Moore completed just 79 of 143 passes for 857 yards with five touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Rookie Jimmie Clausen showed no signs of becoming a quarterback worth building a franchise around. The Notre Dame alum completed just 52 percent of his passes and had only three touchdowns with 10 interceptions.

There's no questioning the Panthers' need for an upgrade at quarterback and there's no doubting Newton's play-making ability. What remains uncertain is how a running quarterback from a spread offense like Newton will translate to the NFL.

The 6-foot-6, 250 pound Newton threw for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns last season while guiding Auburn to a national championship. He also ran for another 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns. There have been questions about Newton's character and his father's involvement in a play-for-pay scandal.

It may be unfair to compare Newton to other scrambling quarterbacks, but without having seen Newton play a down in the NFL, history can be a rather telling measuring stick. No running quarterback has ever won a Super Bowl. Just ask Vince Young or Michael Vick.

Trading down to pick a quarterback with perhaps less immediate hype, but more long-term potential may suit the Panthers well. Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, winners of four of the last eight Super Bowls, all paid their dues in the league before ultimately experiencing success.

TCU's Andy Dalton threw for 2,857 yards, 28 touchdowns and six interceptions last season while leading the Horned Frogs to a victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Dalton has demonstrated tremendous upside and he threw for at least one touchdown in the final 21 games of his collegiate career.

For a franchise that hasn't won a playoff game since 2005, now is the time to be safe rather than sorry.