|Richard Mackson / US Presswire|
|Cam Newton's polarizing personality could help bring much-needed buzz to Carolina.|
With the prospect of playing under 2010 league rules a distinct possibility, the more I think the Carolina Panthers will have no choice but to invest in Cam Newton with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft.
The only way to get close to the requisite bang for your buck with a $55-million guaranteed investment, for a team with Carolina's needs and given its small-market realities, is to take the quarterback and cross your fingers. Nothing is exact in the draft and paying that kind of money to a defensive tackle or a cornerback wouldn't make sense for them.
Only a quarterback will move the needle in the local economy, help sell tickets and suites. If it fails, so be it. But it will give the franchise new life, and Newton has done nothing but win his entire career.
Could be big year for QBs
If the Bengals and Titans pass on first-round quarterbacks, I see Andy Dalton going to Cincinnati at 35 and Colin Kaepernick going no lower than 39 to Tennessee. When you explore those two quarterbacks, those are the teams you hear most strongly connected to them.
Jake Locker is the quarterback who general managers I spoke to believe has the best chance of going in that first 12-15 range, though no one would be stunned if another quarterback, be he Christian Ponder, Ryan Mallett, Kaepernick or Dalton, ends up there.
In all, look for six quarterbacks to go in the top 50 picks, which would tie the record for most in that span since 1970.
Colts, Pats might look for developmental QB
The Colts and Pats have been spending an awful lot of time investigating the aforementioned quarterbacks, as well, and obviously they will have to develop a successor to their Hall-of-Fame starters within the next three years or so.
I don't foresee either of them doing so in the first round, despite all the workouts and visits with these passers, but could make a move in the second round. The Patriots remain particularly equipped to move up and down the board given the abundance of picks (two in each of the first three rounds).
Ingram-to-'Fins looking grim?
I get the sense that a quarterback is going in the 12-20 range, and if that happens I fully expect at least one more off the board before the first day of the draft concludes.
As for Ingram, if he doesn't get selected there, you have to wonder if any running back gets selected in the first round. That hasn't happened since 1963, when the NFL, and the draft, were obviously quite different than today.
What, if anything, Nick Saban tells NFL teams between now and the draft could have a big impact on where Ingram gets selected. His word resonates at the pro level, and if he goes to bat for a kid the stock can rebound.
Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @jasonlacanfora.