No matter which outlet you turn to, the expectations are that the Carolina Panthers will take Cam Newton with the first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
As a transplant to the Charlotte area who doesn't root for the Panthers,I have observed with interest the way the town has reacted to the franchise's travails the past few seasons. Quarterback has been a drama-filled position in all of the three years I've been here. Most of it surrounded the declining skills of Jake Delhomme, the popular signal caller who led the Panthers to Super Bowl XXXVIII yet was losing his effectiveness with age.
Matt Moore had been Delhomme's backup, and he looked good enough in spot duty. The Panthers cut ties with Delhomme after 2009, so Moore was the starter for 2010. The team also drafted Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen with its second round pick in the 2010 draft, as much because they couldn't believe a first round-projected quarterback fell that far as anything. Thanks to injuries and poor play, Moore appeared in just four games as the team decided to see what Clausen could do.
As it became apparent that the team was not going to the playoffs, I noticed a trend brewing in the fan base. They began basically rooting against the team, hoping to land the top pick in the draft. The reason is because every Panthers fan, and probably the front office too, had their heart set on drafting Stanford's Andrew Luck. When Luck decided to stay in school, people around here went apoplectic.
The anxiety around the No. 1 pick that the team earned has been high ever since. As of today, Panthers fans don't sound all that happy about possibly getting Newton, as many would prefer a defensive player who can contribute right away. No one seems optimistic about Newton's early chances, but there's not that much optimism around the team anyway. Some fans are upset that GM Marty Hurney didn't follow former coach John Fox out of town. Nearly all have turned on owner Jerry Richardson too, who not only went cheap all of a sudden before the 2010 season but is also leading the NFL owners' efforts to lock the players out in this round of labor trouble.
If Newton really is going to be the top pick in the draft, this is a picture of what he's going to walk into. Panthers fans are not particularly happy with their team, and it runs much deeper than just last year's 2-14 record. Newton is likely always going to be compared to Luck, once Luck hits the NFL, because that's who the fans actually wanted. On top of that, he won't have nearly the defensive support he had at Auburn, and even that was middle-of-the-pack or worse in the SEC in many categories.
I don't know if Newton has what it takes to succeed in the NFL. I thought Matt Ryan was going to have a rough transition and figured Josh Freeman would be a bust, so I'm not the one to ask. However even if he does, it may not show right away. The situation he's likely walking into is dysfunctional on many levels, and NFL team dysfunction has killed many a promising career.