I haven’t hidden the fact that I think the Carolina Panthers would be making a massive mistake by rolling the dice on Cam Newton with the top pick of the 2011 draft, and everything I hear continues to reinforce my belief that he’ll be a bust.

But just to be clear: he’s not a sure bust. There’s a chance he succeeds and becomes the second coming of Ben Roethlisberger (a quarterback he’s been compared to quite often). But when you’ve got the No. 1 overall pick, you have to be safe. You have to pick the player who has the best shot at being an effective long-term contributor.

To me, Patrick Peterson, Von Miller and Marcell Dareus (hell, even Robert Quinn) seem like surer things than Newton, who is simply too much of a gamble.

Take this informal poll from Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Almost half of the 24 executives in personnel, mostly general managers or scouting directors, interviewed by the Journal Sentinel in the last three weeks said they wouldn’t feel comfortable taking Newton anywhere in the first round.

Twice as many personnel men projected that Newton would end up as a bust instead of a superstar.

“He’s got all the talent in the world,” said Tom Heckert, general manager of the Cleveland Browns. “But I don’t know if anybody knows what you’re getting.”

That’s the problem with quarterbacks in this year’s draft: nobody knows what you’re getting from any of them. Blaine Gabbert, who was actually the top-rated signal caller based on the scouts and executives interviewed by the Journal Sentinel, also played in a simple spread offense in college and there are questions about how he’ll transition to a pro-style playbook.

Beyond that there’s Ryan Mallett, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick and Ricky Stanzi, all of whom are talented but not without obvious flaws. The problem is that the difference between Newton and, say, Kaepernick or Stanzi isn’t big enough to merit drafting Cam so high.

“I don’t like any of them, really,” a national scout told McGinn. “There’s no Sam Bradfords. There’s no Josh Freeman. I think they’re all second- or third-rounders.”

So why reach?

The Panthers could use their 65th overall pick or trade into Round 2 for one of the quarterbacks that slides through the cracks and then have that guy compete with Jimmy Clausen and Matt Moore.

That would be the safer, smarter plan. But the pressure’s always on teams to take “franchise quarterbacks” and the Panthers are undoubtedly enthralled with Newton’s natural ability. But before falling in love, they should consider their peers who were spurned by guys like JaMarcus Russell, Vince Young, Alex Smith, David Carr, Tim Couch and Ryan Leaf.

More stats based on the McGinn poll:

The scouts also were asked a multiple-choice question on how Newton’s career would play out.

Two said Newton would be a perennial Pro Bowler, nine said he’d be a solid starter, nine said he’d play but never be effective and four said he’d be a bust.

When the personnel men were asked in which round they’d be comfortable drafting Newton, the replies were 13 in the first, seven in the second, three in the third and one not at all.

Again, does that sound like a No. 1 overall pick?

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