If Panthers not sold on Newton, Dareus could lead to Luck

Let's assume the Carolina Panthersare telling the truth about having yet to determine their selection with the No. 1 overall pick of next week's draft and receiving no trade offers for it.

Let's take it another step and assume that the many mockers who have Cam Newton joining the Panthers in that spot are wrong.

It is a reasonable conclusion because, at this stage, the Panthers should have an excellent idea of where they're going with the top pick. By now, every team in the NFL is pretty well set on how it thinks the draft will unfold for itself and the rest of the league.

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Sure, Panthers general manager Marty Hurney could be fibbing. That's standard operating procedure this time of year for people who do what he does for a living. Saying his team hasn't locked in on the Auburn quarterback might be his way of trying to attract a trade offer from a team that is targeting a player at another position that it fears won't be available if Carolina is serious about going in a non-Newton direction.

But it also could mean the Panthers simply have weighed all of the risks that so many pundits have attached to Newton as a No. 1 choice and decided it is wiser to go with someone safer -- such as Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. How could Ron Rivera, a former defensive coordinator who is the Panthers' new head coach, disagree with that choice?

Rivera is out to put his stamp on the Panthers, and it will come on the side of the ball he knows best. Hurney believed in quarterback Jimmy Clausen enough to make him a second-round pick last year, and it's hardly crazy to think he would like to give him another season on a team that, with the addition of Dareus -- or another defensive stud -- and Rivera's influence, might be better able to weather his growing pains.

Hurney and the rest of the Panthers' brass also might be sizing up the increasing possibility of the entire offseason and most, if not all, of the preseason being lost to the labor dispute, and conclude that it could be a terrible time to invest such a critical pick in the rawest of rookie quarterbacks.

Another factor to consider is that passing on Newton doesn't necessarily mean the Panthers will have squandered a rare chance to land a potentially great quarterback. It's entirely possible that Rivera (and possibly Hurney as well) again will be in position to take the best quarterback available in next year's draft.

How would Stanford's Andrew Luck look in a Panthers uniform?

Follow Vic Carucci on Twitter @viccarucci.

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