Selecting a quarterback in the NFL Draft is always a big risk. Taking a quarterback with the first overall pick is an even bigger risk. Taking a player as controversial as Cam Newton is the biggest risk of all.
The Carolina Panthers took that risk without hesitation, putting the future in the hands of a 22-year-old Heisman Trophy winner and National Championship winner. His physical tools were without question, but his work ethic and attitude were concerns for draft analysts.
At first, Newton seemed to prove his critics right by stating that he wanted to become an "entertainer and icon." Not exactly the team-oriented talk that coaches look for.
Yet, when Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross (who will protect Newton's blindside) organized team workouts, Newton showed his teammates a completely different side. Newton was humble, didn't talk much and worked hard. He earned praise from teammates such as Gross, tight end Jeremy Shockey and even disgruntled receiver Steve Smith.
At Auburn, Newton was known for his swagger off the field, team attitude and a brazen determination on the field. Yet more unnerving to defenders than his imposing size (6'5", 250 lbs) was his constant smile. Even after taking (or delivering) vicious hits, Newton had a wide grin on his face.
This confidence will serve him well in the ego-filled NFL, where linebackers will have a price on his head.
Newton knows how to rally a team, as evidenced by Auburn's impossible comeback against Alabama in the 2010 Iron Bowl. With a strong running game, healthy offensive line and young receiving corps, Newton will have the talent around him to succeed.
His running ability combined with his natural play-making instincts will give defensive coordinators nightmares, and his swagger will earn the respect of teammates and opponents alike. In 2011, the Panthers will have a new team identity: Yes we Cam.