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Newton's Law: Bills need to be right with top pick There is no position tougher to project at the professional level than quarterback

Andrew Luck rocked everyone's world with his announcement that he was returning to Stanford for his senior year. It was a shock because he was a lock to be the first player taken in the NFL draft.

Some people say Luck is making a mistake, as if a kid wanting to earn his degree is a bad thing. If my memory serves me correct, Peyton Manning and Sam Bradford went back to school and ended up as the top pick in the draft. Heck, Bradford was hurt most of his junior year and still went No. 1. I know Matt Leinart's stock dropped when he didn't leave Southern California after his junior year, but Luck is in a different class talent-wise.

Now that Luck has made the decision to keep his talents in Palo Alto, the focus shifts to the quarterbacks entering the draft.

Luck was considered a sure thing, the centerpiece of whatever NFL franchise he joined. Is there any other signal-caller in this draft that we can say the same thing about?

That brings us to the curious case of Auburn's Cam Newton.

After a Heisman Trophy-winning season that culminated with leading the Tigers to the national championship, Newton surprised no one by foregoing his senior season to enter the draft.

It was the right thing to do. His stock can't get much higher, and Auburn isn't likely to duplicate its storybook season in 2011.

But will Newton's game translate to the pro level? There is no bigger question confronting NFL teams.

Newton isn't the only QB prospect. It seems everyone has fallen in love with Missouri junior Blaine Gabbert, who has replaced Luck as the top player at the position.

Gabbert has exceptional skills. I saw several Missouri games this season, and I think he's a first-round talent. I just don't think he's a top-10 pick. Arkansas' Ryan Mallett and Washington's Jake Locker also are likely to go somewhere in the first round.

But no one will be put under the microscope more than Newton.

The Buffalo Bills have the third overall pick. They need a quarterback.

Head coach Chan Gailey is on record as saying he's committed to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Gailey also said he wouldn't rule out taking a quarterback in the first round.

"If you've got a chance to get a guy that you think for 10 years, 12 years, is going to be the guy, Fitz is moving on up in years, too," Gailey told WEDG radio recently. "How many years do you expect us to draft No. 3 and be able to get a guy like that, even if you put him under wraps for a year or two while you're grooming him? You have to consider that."

So the Bills are going to strongly consider taking Newton. So will other quarterback-needy teams, including the Carolina Panthers, owners of the No. 1 pick.

But is Newton right for the Bills?

Jim Kelly retired in 1997. The Bills have been futile in their efforts to find his replacement. Doug Flutie, Drew Bledsoe, J.P. Losman and Trent Edwards offered only a glimmer of hope during their short shelf lives here. For all the good things Fitzpatrick did this season, Gailey's statements indicate that the Bills aren't sold that Fitz is the long-term answer.

The Bills are going to have to address the position at some point, team observers say, so why not get one now? If Gailey and General Manager Buddy Nix believe in Newton or Gabbert, shouldn't they pull the trigger when the Bills are on the clock?

Fans in this town are so desperate for a franchise quarterback they would be willing to take a chance on just about anybody. But the Bills aren't in a position to take risks.

They have to be right about the third pick.

I'll spare you the pain of reciting all of the Bills' draft misses this decade. When you're picking as high as the Bills are, logic suggests they are certain to get an impact player. Of course, we said the same thing when they took offensive tackle Mike Williams with the No. 4 selection in 2002.

There is no position tougher to project at the pro level than quarterback. It's even harder now with the rise of spread offenses in college because quarterbacks rarely play under center anymore.

Nearly every snap Newton took at Auburn came out of the shotgun formation. But that's not as big a concern as his mechanics and accuracy, both of which need work.

This is not meant as a slap at Newton. He's a fabulous talent with remarkable physical tools. His exceptional running ability often overshadowed the fact that he can make every throw. And in Gailey, Newton would have a knowledgeable offensive mind to groom him until he's ready in another year or two.

Taking a risk on Newton might reap a huge reward down the road. But no one knows for sure. That's the dilemma.

With Luck out of the equation, there is no quarterback in this year's draft that can be viewed as a can't-miss prospect.

If the Bills take a swing at Newton, or Gabbert for that matter, they better not miss.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com