Here are seven firsthand notes from New York after I watched the NFL draft’s first round live from Radio City Music Hall (and here's the column I wrote from the Big Apple, too):
1. Cam Newton turned on the charm Thursday night in every interview and said all the right things after being drafted No.1 by Carolina. After not talking to me Wednesday, he answered my question and everyone else’s Thursday. Newton used the line about wanting to take the Panthers from “worst to first” in several different interviews, and he said repeatedly that his first priority was to get to Charlotte and get to work.
The Panthers sure need him – Newton accounted for 50 total TDs last season (30 pass, 20 run). That’s almost three times more than the Panthers, who scored an NFL-low total of 17 TDs last year.
2. It was a great day for Newton and his family – I met some of them in New York and they seem very close. What Newton will have to prove to everyone is how he’s going to do long-term. He knows that, saying of his critics Thursday: “I understand that everybody is not just going to stop and just say, ‘That’s Cam. He’s the No.1 pick. And we can leave him alone.’ If anything, the floodgates have opened officially.”
I still wonder how Cam will react the first time he throws three interceptions and loses a game – we haven’t seen that reaction from him yet in college, because he never lost at Auburn. But it’s coming, and how he reacts to adversity is going to be very important.
3. One of those Newton critics will be Kurt Warner, who said on the NFL Network Thursday night that he wasn’t sure Newton would be “effective” as a pro. Warner said that while the Auburn quarterback was “dynamic” that Newton had “a lot of work to do” and that he wasn’t at all sure Newton could win a championship.
“Franchise quarterbacks have to be able to play in the pocket,” said Warner, who ran the ball about once a season himself. “He’s a long way from that right now.”
Another critic? ESPN's Gene Wojo (well, that's what we in the media call him), who said the Panthers "overreached" by choosing Newton but that they just don't know it yet.
4. I used this quote from former NFL great Eddie George in my column from the draft that was published in Friday's newspaper, but it’s worth repeating. George told me this in New York about Newton Thursday, several hours before Newton became the No.1 pick: “Cam is a beast. He’s got that Magic Johnson smile, and his athleticism speaks for itself. But now the biggest test comes, because everybody is going to want to ride his coattails, to be in his entourage. How will he handle that? Is he studying film, or is he out in the clubs? Because if he focuses on his craft and hones his skills, he could one day be the best quarterback in the NFL.”
5. I was surprised by the utter venom directed toward NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell by fans at the draft. Before announcing any picks, Goodell came out to hold a moment of silence for the tornado tragedy in the South.
Goodell couldn’t get to that moment for several minutes, though, as fans booed him over and over and then struck up a “We Want Football! We Want Football!” chant.
“I hear you,” Goodell said repeatedly. Then he tried, “Me, too.” Then he finally asked them to quiet down, and it didn’t work at first. Finally, it did. But it had to send a pretty good message to the commissioner about how angry fervent fans are that a new collective bargaining agreement has yet to be reached.
6. Denver coach John Fox is really going to like Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller, whom the Broncos took at No.2 overall. Miller is not only a superb player, but seems like a really standup guy – Fox’s sort of person.
7. I guess it was a smart move by former Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers not to attend the draft, or else it would have been pretty awkward for him. Bowers, who was once considered a potential No.1 pick but has an injury concern (a knee), wasn’t picked at all in the 32-pick first round. Neither was Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett. UNC defensive end Robert Quinn (picked No.14 by St. Louis) wasn’t in New York, either.