Throughout the 2011 season like I always did as a front-office executive, I will track the performance of the top 15 drafted players, analyzing their production prior to them slamming into the rookie wall, which is inevitable. This project is not to second-guess coaches, general managers or even the players, but it has always been an interesting study. Someone has to go No. 1, but is it really the best player in the draft? Were they taken for need, or was it just a flat-out bad pick?

Cam Newton is a tall, handsome young man with striking features, a broad, chiseled chin and a big, bright smile that lights up a room like several hundred halogen lamps. As one woman told me, he could be a male model during the offseason.

In short, Newton has charisma, confidence and is very poised for a young man. While his youthfulness still shines through, along with moments of immaturity, he has grown up quickly in the last several months.

Let’s take a quick walk down memory lane. He grew up in College Park, Ga., a very rough area outside of Atlanta. He attended Westlake High School, where he was a star athlete. Newton was offered football scholarships from several universities, including Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Oklahoma and Virginia Tech, but committed to the Gators his senior year.

He was a good student, graduated early and enrolled at Florida in the winter of 2007. The early arrival gave him a leg-up in the battle for Tim Tebow’s backup spot. Even though he showed flashes of brilliance in limited action, his stay at Florida was short-lived.

Newton had issues with academics. Rumors of cheating and having others take tests circulated around campus. He was arrested and charged with stealing a student’s laptop. Then, he was granted a redshirt year. A short time later, he was suspended by coach Urban Meyer and, after the season, chose to transfer.

He landed on his feet and enrolled at Blinn College in Brenham, Tex., a step back from the lavish settings of Gainesville, Fla. In his only season at the junior-college level of competition, the sophomore led his team to an 11-1 record and the NJCAA national championship.

Working hard to get back to the Division I level, he turned to several colleges and universities that recruited him out of high school. He reached back and rekindled those relationships with Auburn, Arizona, Kansas State, Mississippi State, North Carolina and Oklahoma. Newton was the only quarterback from the high school and junior-college ranks to receive a five-star rating from

While at Auburn, Newton’s exploits at the beginning of the 2010 season made for great football. Then came more drama. His father, Cecil, became the target of an NCAA investigation, which encompassed the FBI as well.

Cam Newton stood tall and faced the media like a man, but still retained that childlike grin in the midst of a situation that would have shattered most adults. (In my opinion, kids should not be held accountable or considered guilty for the sins of their parents.) He went on to become one of the most decorated college football players in history, receiving the following awards in 2010: the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Davie O’Brien Award, Walter Camp Player of the Year, SEC Player of the Year and All-American selection of the Walter Camp Foundation, AFCA and Associated Press.

A lot of people see Cam Newton as a snake-oil salesman, especially after those now-infamous “entertainer and icon” comments. From a football standpoint, some are saying, “I don’t trust him and that smile. Can he lead 53 men to battle on the football field?” Some evaluators are comparing his athletic ability and size to Daunte Culpepper, but also think his silver cloud has a JaMarcus Russell or Tony Banks lining.

Here is a gifted athlete, a man who has dominated the JUCO ranks of football and won a national championship by navigating the toughest conference in D-I football.

When I asked several of his teammates during media interviews about Newton’s ability to lead men, they all emphatically stated, “He is a leader.” Nick Fairley, one of the top defensive tackles in the draft and one of Newton’s more vocal supporters during their time at Auburn, said, “He came in the locker room and told us all, ‘I’m going through issues, let’s stay focused and win a National Championship.’ ” and they did.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers, Newton walked into Bank of America Stadium (better known as the “Vault”) and started some controversy, demanding that 2010 second-round pick Jimmy Clausen give up his No. 2 jersey, which was the number Newton wore as a War Eagle. When the dust settled, Newton chose No. 1.

In his first professional game against the New York Giants on Saturday night, New ton flashed the ability to stick the ball on the receivers, when throwing to an area his accuracy went down (19 attempts, eight completions, 134 yards, 2/16 sacks, 66.6 passer rating). He was mobile and seemed to have good command of the offense. While this talented young signal-caller will need grooming for the next level, several things were obvious. He is athletic, composed and possesses loads of leadership qualities, and all indications are that he is well liked, is a leader and will become the starter prior to the start of the 2011 season.