Months of scouting, player workouts and big draft boards come to fruition Thursday night when the 2011 NFL Draft gets started with Round One, beginning at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN and NFL Network). It also marks the release of everyone's final NFL mock drafts, including the man who made being a draft expert a thing: Mel Kiper.
Is he the top player on my Big Board? No. But it's hard to blame a franchise in Carolina's position for falling in love with the extremely high ceiling of Newton. As I said when I projected him here before, there are immediate needs, and there is a decision that you believe will change the direction of your franchise for years to come. While I'm not certain Carolina isn't still listening for the right offer for this pick -- if you're heard me at all lately, you'll know I see this is one of the more unpredictable top 10's I can ever remember -- if the Panthers really see Newton as a transformative player who can be both a Pro Bowl quarterback and face of the franchise who draws a lot of buzz, they make this pick.
Kiper has the Denver Broncos taking Texas A&M LB Von Miller with the second overall pick, the Buffalo Bills drafting DT Marcell Dareus from Alabama with the No. 3 pick, the Cincinnati Bengals using their No. 4 pick on A.J. Green (WR, Georgia) and the LSU's Patrick Peterson (CB) going to the Arizona Cardinals at No. 5.