Capping a season filled with controversy and an offseason pockmarked with doubt about his ability to adapt to the NFL, quarterback Cam Newton completed a hat trick Thursday night, going to Carolina with the No. 1 pick after leading Auburn to the national title and winning the Heisman Trophy.
"I didn't know,'' Newton said afterward. "For a long time, I would go to sleep with questions like, 'Where will I go?' As soon as coach Rivera called me, it put a warmth in my heart knowing this deal is done and my work has paid off.''
More than most high-profile college players, Newton knows what it's like to be under the microscope. He spent much of an undefeated season at Auburn fending off allegations that his father sought payment for his son's services when he transferred from junior college a year ago. An NCAA investigation later cleared the school.
But the probing didn't stop there. Newton was a run-pass threat operating out of a spread offense, and many questioned whether he can adjust to a pro-style offense. But the upside of his wondrous improvisational ability was too much for Carolina to pass up.
"I have embraced this process and understand everything is under the watchful eye,'' Newton said. "Nothing is going to change but to progress to be great.''
Newton grimaced at the mention of how his intelligence has been questioned, in part because he ran a simplified system at Auburn with none of the complex verbiage common to NFL teams.
Asked if all the turmoil has been worth it, he said, "To some degree. When I wake up, it's another task I need to tackle. It's transforming an organization that was worst and try to progress to be first.''
With a huge smile, Newton said no one could imagine how good he felt to go No. 1. "I can't do what I really want to do,'' he said. "I just want to scream.''
This draft was considered to be knee deep in defensive talent, and that was reflected in the selection of a record 12 defensive linemen in the first round, including Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson by the Jets at No. 30. At No. 19, the Giants went for Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara.
But desperation for quarterback talent led to the drafting of three more QBs from Nos. 8-12. In a mild surprise, Washington's Jake Locker was the second taken, by Tennessee at No. 8. Missouri's Blaine Gabbert went No. 10 to Jacksonville and Minnesota grabbed Florida State's Christian Ponder at No. 12.
The top defensive players taken were Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller (No. 2, Denver); Alabama defensive tackle Marcel Dareus (No. 3, Buffalo) and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson (No. 5, Arizona). Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green went No. 4 to Cincinnati, and Atlanta traded up to No. 6 with Cleveland to get Alabama wideout Julio Jones. The Browns got Atlanta's first-round pick (later traded) plus a second and fourth this year and a first and fourth next year.
If need weren't such a big factor for most teams, many believe Peterson might have gone No. 1. But when asked why teams gambled on quarterbacks at the top of the draft, Peterson said, "I have no idea, but Cam Newton definitely deserves No. 1. I played against him, and he's an animal. He got Auburn to the national title his first year.''