There was only one player leading up to Thursday's first round of the NFL Draft who didn't have to wear a tight smile and cross his fingers: Cam Newton. Everyone else was unsettled by just how uncertain their futures were but even Newton admitted there were several sleepless nights.
Newton, Auburn's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, had spent the past few months addressing character issues and whether he had the tools to play behind center in the NFL. His fortunes had dominated the run-up to the draft, dividing pundits much like Tim Tebow a year ago.
Still, the Carolina Panthers overlooked all of Newton's perceived shortcomings, and made the Auburn All-American the No. 1 overall pick.
It has been an improbable journey.
"I've learned a lot," Newton said on Thursday. "I've learned that you guys have a job to do in critiquing each athlete to the core but at the same time I have embraced this process and understand that everything is under the watchful eye right now from this point on and it has been, for me. But nothing is going to change, but to progress to be great."
At No. 2, the Denver Broncos selected Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller, the draft's premier pass rusher. Several pundits had him pegged for the Buffalo Bills at No. 3. The Bills, however, filled their need for a run stuffer with Alabama DE Marcell Dareus. The Cincinnati Bengals made Chad Johnson expendable by selecting Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green at No. 4 and the Arizona Cardinals took LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson at No. 5.
The Atlanta Falcons, looking to position themselves for a run at the Super Bowl, moved up 21 spots and gave up five draft picks to Cleveland to take Alabama wideout Julio Jones at No. 6. Atlanta coughed up its own first-round pick (27), a second-rounder (59) and a fourth-rounder (124) this year, plus a first-rounder and a fourth-rounder next year.
San Francisco tossed another curve by selecting Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith at No. 7. He went three picks ahead of teammate Blaine Gabbert, who went to Jacksonville at No. 10. QB Jake Locker was a surprise pick for Tennessee at No. 8, while No. 9 Dallas went with USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith.
Newton's journey isn't without controversy.
Newton was a one-year college phenom, willing to run as often as throw, a dazzling field leader, yet with significant questions about whether he can succeed as a pro. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Newton entered the 2010 season as an unknown quantity in college and among NFL scouts.
Three years ago, he was the third-string quarterback at Florida behind Tim Tebow and John Brantley. Then came an arrest on burglary, larceny and obstruction of justice charges related to a stolen laptop. Florida coach Urban Meyer suspended Newton indefinitely and he transferred to Blinn Community College, where he completed a pre-trial intervention program and eventually became the No. 1 junior college prospect in the country.
The most damaging allegations against Newton were those that came to light early last November and involved his father, Cecil Newton Sr., who allegedly demanded money from Mississippi State for his son to sign there after leaving Blinn. At the time, Newton already had Auburn on course for the national title and he managed to block out all the controversy and led the Tigers to a perfect season.
He was honored as Auburn's first Heisman Trophy winner since Bo Jackson in 1985. Jackson was the No. 1 overall pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1986.
Newton will be saddled with the task of reviving a franchise that went 2-14 last season.
1, Cleveland traded its first-round pick (No. 6) to Atlanta for the Falcons' first- (No. 27), second- (No. 59), fourth-round (No. 124) picks and the Falcons' 2012 first- and fourh-round draft picks. Atlanta selected Julio Jones, wr, Alabama. Cleveland traded (No. 27) to Kansas City and selected (No. 59) and (No. 124).
2, Washington traded its first-round pick (No. 10) to Jacksonville for the Jaguars' first- (No. 16) and second-round (No. 49) picks. Jacksonville selected Blaine Gabbert, qb, Missouri. Washington selected Ryan Kerrigan, lb, Purdue and (No. 49).
3, Kansas City traded its first-round pick (No. 21) to Cleveland for the Browns' first- (No. 27) and third-round (No. 70) picks. Cleveland selected Phil Taylor, dt, Baylor. Kansas City selected John Baldwin, wr, Pittsburgh and (No. 70).
4, New England traded its first-round pick (No. 28) to New Orleans for the Saints' second-round (No. 56) pick and their 2012 first-round pick. New Orleans selected Mark Ingram, rb, Alabama. New England selected (No. 56).