The No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft represents the hopes of a brighter future, with the understanding that there is no such thing as a sure thing.
Such was the case with Cameron Jerrell Newton, the Heisman Trophy winner out of Auburn and the man the Carolina Panthers tapped as their signal-caller-in-waiting last spring.
The franchise needed a quarterback, to be sure.
But why Newton? When would he be ready to start?
Would he ever be ready to start in the National Football League?
In 2010, he led the Tigers to a national championship and earned college football's highest individual honor due to astonishing athleticism and an ability to turn broken plays into big plays.
But the "improvise first, ask permission later" approach rarely succeeds at the next level, and Newton was hardly a textbook, pro-style passer.
So when owner Jerry Richardson and general manager Marty Hurney opted to give the keys to the kingdom to this 21-year-old, it was a risk and skeptics were plentiful.
Although Jimmy Clausen finished last season as the Panthers' starting quarterback and veteran Derek Anderson was also signed to add depth at QB, Newton had a chance to win the job from Day One.
And it wasn't long after he signed a four-year, $22 million contract that Newton promptly did just that.
Before the preseason had completely run its course, first-year head coach Ron Rivera named him the starter for the regular season opener against Arizona.
Against the Cardinals, Newton threw for 422 yards, two touchdowns and one pick in a 28-21 loss.
It was the beginning of many "oh, wow" Sundays for the man wearing the No. 1 jersey.
"I don't think any of us knew quite what we had until really the Arizona game," Carolina quarterbacks coach Mike Shula said. "He's really progressed. Probably the biggest surprise is how well he sees the field. That, combined with his knowledge of the game, has been a lot more than a lot of us thought."
After 15 games, the faith the Panthers have shown in Newton has paid off for everyone.
As he prepares to close out his rookie season on the road Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, Newton has added a whole new chapter to the NFL record book.
In last week's 48-16 thrashing of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Newton passed for 171 yards and has 3,893 for the season -- passing the rookie mark set by Peyton Manning in 1998 (3,739 yards).
Newton's 14 rushing touchdowns are the most by a quarterback in a single season -- rookie or otherwise.
"Obviously, it's big," Newton said of the high-water marks. "But it contributes to the people behind the scenes, guys like (wideouts) Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell and the offensive line and two awesome tight ends (Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen). They make my job easy."
Smith says Newton has made everyone else's job easier, as well.
"When you're a quarterback, right or not, you're artificially made a leader," Smith said. "If a guy becomes that, then he becomes it. If not, then it becomes pretty evident. Cam has leadership potential and also leadership qualities because of the person he is."
Newton's 2011 passing line: 295-492-16 with 20 touchdowns and 3,893 yards.
On the ground, he has rushed for 674 yards on 120 totes for a 5.6-yard average.
Although Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brews will almost certainly be two of the NFC's three Pro Bowl quarterbacks, Rivera says his triggerman deserves the third spot.
"I think he's deserving, I really do," Rivera said. "In light of everything he's gone through, I think the young man has proven himself. I believe his work this year speaks for itself and speaks to what we've done offensively and as a team."
Offensive lineman Jordan Gross says that one of Newton's strengths has been his ability to realize he doesn't have to make every play himself for the team to succeed.
"Maybe in college it was easier for one guy to win a game," Gross said. "Now I think he understands that he's a huge part of what we do, but it takes a whole team to win a football game. He doesn't carry as much weight on his shoulders as far as taking total responsibility for a win or loss."
At 6-9 the Panthers are hardly satisfied with their record. And considering they have led in all but one game, there are myriad "what ifs?"
However, Newton is confident he and Carolina are moving forward in becoming a playoff contender in 2012.
And he wants to enjoy himself along the way.
"We're a couple of plays away from being a top contender in the playoffs except for turnovers and miscues, and that's the main thing we'll work on in the offseason," Newton said. "We caught a lot of momentum in the latter part of the season and this whole work environment is special and fun to be around. One thing we preach every day is, 'Have fun.' If you don't have fun doing what you're doing, why do it?"