NFL: Panthers interested in Auburn's Newton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Holding the No. 1 overall draft pick and needing help at quarterback to fix the NFL's worst offense, the Carolina Panthers were crushed when Stanford's Andrew Luck decided to stay in school.

There's still another QB who could perhaps be the top pick in April - only this time it would be a pretty big gamble: Auburn's Cam Newton.

New coach Ron Rivera has acknowledged the Panthers are considering taking the Heisman Trophy winner, who dazzled college football last season in leading the Tigers to the national championship.

"Whatever organization that I'm picked up, I'm going to be lucky, I'm going to be happy," Newton said Saturday at the NFL scouting combine.

His potential, athleticism and playing style draw comparisons to Michael Vick. But Newton carries plenty of risks, from whether his running style will translate to the NFL to questions about his character.

"That will all be along the process to see if he fits what we want to do and how we want to do it," Rivera said earlier in the week at the combine. "As far as the skill set goes, the kid's got tremendous physical talent. He's got natural size and ability to run. He's got a tremendous arm, and he's got a pretty good pocket presence already."

That would seem to fit what Carolina is looking for after a nightmare 2-14 season that included only 16 touchdowns and a franchise-low 196 points. Rookie Jimmy Clausen, who replaced the ineffective and injured Matt Moore, went 1-9 as a starter, had an NFL-worst 58.4 passer rating and didn't throw a touchdown pass to a wide receiver all season.

"We do believe you have to have a franchise quarterback, a guy that's basically going to lead your team for the next six, seven, eight years," Rivera said. "Most certainly, we believe that. Do you have to take that, or is that guy on our roster right now. That's part of our evaluation process."

Rivera, who was defensive coordinator with the San Diego Chargers until he replaced John Fox in January, indicated Newton will be brought to Charlotte before the April 28 draft.

"We'll bring him in, and visit with him and try to get a feel for what he does know, how well he'll learn," Rivera said.

But Newton is no automatic No. 1 choice like the NFL-ready Luck. Taking him might be one of the more riskier moves in franchise history.

The 21-year-old Newton has great size (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) and a rocket arm. He put up gaudy numbers in his only college season as a starter at Auburn, but played mostly out of the shotgun while running the ball almost as many times as he threw it.

"Everybody knows that Cam has been in a spread offense," Newton said. "I have been trying to work as much as possible trying to be fluent in coming from under center."

Adjusting to a pro style offense is a big concern. So are parts of his background, too.

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