Auburn quarterback Cam Newton passed for 30 touchdowns and ran for 20 more… (Dave Martin / Associated…)
Not much is predictable about the NFL these days, but this move was telegraphed:
The Carolina Panthers opened the 2011 draft by selecting Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, addressing their No. 1 need by taking the Heisman Trophy winner.
That marks the second consecutive year the Panthers have chosen a quarterback with their top pick, having selected Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen in the second round a year ago.
The Clausen experiment hasn't panned out so far ? Carolina finished 2-14, leading to the firing of coach John Fox ? and now the Panthers will move on to the 6-foot-5, 248-pound Newton, who threw for 30 touchdowns last season and ran for 20 more. He comes to a Carolina team that ranked at the bottom in total offense and scoring in 2010.
The draft, which is taking place at Radio City Music Hall, begins with only the opening round tonight, followed by Rounds 2 and 3 on Friday and Rounds 4-7 on Saturday.
This is a particularly stressful and confusing time for the NFL, which is locked in a labor battle with its players and -- on the orders of U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson -- must lift the lockout it imposed seven weeks ago. The NFL said Thursday that it will open its doors to players Friday, enabling them to use team facilities again, and the league intends to release information as soon as Friday on the start of the free-agency period.
First round selections:
1. (Carolina Panthers) QB Cam Newton, Auburn
Newton won the Heisman Trophy in his only season at the school, leading the Tigers to a 14-0 record. He passed for 2,854 yards with a school-record 30 touchdowns and rushed for an SEC-best 1,473 yards with 20 touchdowns. Farmer's comment: For the 11th time in the last 14 years dating to Peyton Manning, a quarterback went first in the NFL draft. And the Panthers needed one.
2. (Denver Broncos) OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M
Miller won the Butkus Award last season as the nation's top linebacker. He finished with 33 career sacks and 10 forced fumbles. He is the only college player named as a plaintiff in the players' antitrust suit against the NFL. Farmer's comment: Miller will instantly improve a defense ranked last in the league in 2010, one that had a league-low 23 sacks (without Elvis Dumervil).
3. (Buffalo Bills) DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama
The marquee defensive tackle in a draft loaded with talented ones, Dareus was named defensive MVP of the BCS championship game. He scored his only career touchdown in that game, running back an interception 28 yards in the first half. Farmer's comment: The Bills were last against the run in 2010 and have been in the bottom 11 the last six seasons. They needed a big man in the middle.
4. (Cincinnati Bengals) WR A.J. Green, Georgia
Green is third in Georgia history with 166 career receptions for 2,542 yards. He's second in the school record books with 23 touchdown receptions. Farmer's comment: The Bengals passed on a chance to fill their need at quarterback, assuming Carson Palmer won't be back, to grab top target.
5. (Arizona Cardinals) CB Patrick Peterson, Louisiana State
Widely regarded as the top cornerback in this draft and maybe the safest pick for anyone, Peterson is versatile enough to play any position in the secondary. In his three years at LSU, he finished with seven interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) with one fumble forced and another recovered. His numbers weren't overwhelming, but he's considered an all-around shutdown corner. Farmer's comment: Patrick Peterson was the top player on some boards. Cardinals were in the market for a quarterbac,k too, but corner was irresistable.
6. (Atlanta Falcons via trade with Cleveland Browns) WR Julio Jones, Alabama
A big receiver at 6-4, Jones ranks second in Alabama history with 179 receptions for 2,653 yards. In 2008, he became only the 11th true freshman in Crimson Tide history to start the season opener. Farmer's comment: The Falcons wanted a deep threat who could really stretch the field and Jones is that kind of player. They got aggressive to get him.
7. (San Francisco 49ers) DE Aldon Smith, Missouri
Although he played defensive end in college, the 6-4, 258-pound Smith is built more like an NFL outside linebacker. He had 17 sacks in his three years with the Tigers. Farmer's comment: Aldon Smith is going to be an outside linebacker for the 49ers and will bump up their pass rush considerably. Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert falls another notch.
8. (Tennessee Titans) QB Jake Locker, Washington
The ultra-tough Locker entered his final season at Washington as a Heisman candidate but struggled with his accuracy. He did lead the Huskies to three consecutive victories at the end of the season, however, and directed them to his first bowl game, where Washington posted a win over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. Farmer's comment: With Vince Young gone, the Titans needed a quarterback. Locker is tough and fiery, even though he's struggled with accuracy in the pocket.
9. (Dallas Cowboys) T Tyron Smith, USC