C3's own Mel Mayock just posted a piece about how drafting 21st overall isn't necessarily a bad thing compared with drafting 8th overall, especially when in drafting 21st, the Carolina Panthers would be a playoff team this year. His article can be found here.
If they beat the Falcons, they win the division and draft 21st overall (at best). If they win the playoff game, they'll draft even later. If the Falcons win this Sunday, the Panthers look to draft around #8.
Mel made a nice argument in favor of making the playoffs, but I think comparing rookies is a little bit questionable because different players get their NFL "sea legs" under them faster than others and conventional wisdom in evaluating draft classes is to wait at least three years, so I'll take a look at the #8 draftee vs. the #21 draftee of each draft, going back a little ways just to see where those picks wound up career-wise:
#8 Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins
#21 Chandler Jones, DE, New England Patriots
Notes: Jones plays a much easier position to learn than does Tannehill, and the QB position really depends on so much more than simply the individual's talent and ability to be coached. Tannehill has had infamous struggles due to the horrible offensive line he's had for much of his tenure, at least up until this season and even now they've had their share of injuries, but Tannehill has come on and played a lot better the second half of this season. It'll take another year or two to really tell if the light bulb has gone on for him, but it looks like it's flickering at least. Chandler Jones has been a very solid player for the Patriots defense and has been their starter since not long after he was drafted.
#8 Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans
#21 Philip Taylor, DT, Cleveland Browns
Not much to say here except I can't find any career stats on Taylor, so I'm assuming he never stuck at the NFL level. Typical pick of the Browns. Locker won't be invited back to the Titans' roster due to lack of career growth and a propensity for injury. Picking the better of two bad players here, but that's the draft for ya:
#8 Rolando McClain, LB, Oakland Raiders
#21 Jermaine Gresham, TE, Cincinnati Bengals
Interesting duo here. McClain came into the NFL very highly-touted (as all Alabama players seem to be) but personal issues and lack of maturity found the Raiders getting rid of him I THINK in his would-be second season. The Dallas Cowboys were forced to take a chance on him (after a year out of the NFL) when their MLB, Mike Lee, went down again with a season-ending injury. McClain has played lights out and should get great consideration for the NFL's "Comeback Player of the Year" award. Jermaine Gresham has always been an underperformer for the Bengals, although at least he's contributing something each year and to the team that drafted him. However, due to McClain's resurgence this season, he gets the nod.
#8 Eugene Monroe, OT, Jacksonville Jaguars
#21 Alex Mack, C, Cleveland Browns
Another interesting duo but for other reasons - both guys turned out to be solid NFL players. Monroe was taken higher largely due to "positional value" even before the CBA was changed when it was renewed. Remember, we're in the times where first-rounders made multi-million dollar paydays before ever playing a single down. Monroe claimed "I'll make them [that passed on him in the draft] ALL regret not drafting me!" As if an offensive tackle is such the focal point of ball games. At least he turned out to be a good, solid player for the Jags. Mack, on the other hand, quickly became the Browns' second-best offensive lineman (behind Joe Thomas) and recently signed his second contract, getting a hefty raise. Some consider Mack to be the best center in the NFL today.
#8 Derrick Harvey, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars
#21 Sam Baker, OT, Atlanta Falcons
Harvey came in to be the answer as a pass-rusher. He played four years, had eight career sacks, and has been out of the NFL since the 2011 season. Baker is still with the Falcons and is the best lineman of a group of pretty mediocre ones, but he's starting and contributes.
#8 Jamaal Anderson, DE, Atlanta Falcons
#21 Reggie Nelson, FS, Jacksonville Jaguars
Anderson retired after the 2012 season with 7.5 career sacks. Nelson is still around after three years in Jacksonville, he went to the Bengals and has been starting ever since....and has 21 career interceptions. No contest here at all.
#8 Donte Whitner, SS, Buffalo Bills
#21 Laurence Maroney, RB, New England Patriots
Whitner is on his third team now (Bengals) and has over 750 career tackles at safety. Maroney has been out of the league since the 2010 season and never had more than 757 yards rushing in a season and wasn't a receiver out of the backfield for Brady. Easy choice here.
#8 Antrel Rolle, SS, Arizona Cardinals
#21 Matt Jones, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Rolle spent five seasons in the desert and is currently in his fifth season in NY with Eli and the gang. He has also started every game since his second season except for one he missed in 2009...very, very rare durability. Jones was sky high on athletic talent and 6'6" but was a very high-risk pick at the time with drug problems and work ethic issues in his past...not to mention he was a QB during his days with the Arkansas Razorbacks not a WR. Still, at 6'6" and a blazing sub 4.40 40-yard dash time, he couldn't stick in the NFL with his substance abuse problems.
#8 DeAngelo Hall, CB, Atlanta Falcons
#21 Vince Wilfork, DT, New England Patriots
Both names should be very familiar to fans. Hall was always a very good corner and has 41 career picks. Wilfork has always been a very good DT and is the only DT I've ever heard of who actually led the NFL in INTs after I think either the first or second game of the 2011 season when he got the picks dropping into coverage in a zone-blitz. That's some surprisingly soft hands for such a big guy, but his main job was clogging the run and he has been one of the NFL's best at it. Can't go wrong with either of these guys.
#8 Jordan Gross, OT, Carolina Panthers
#21 Jeff Faine, C, Cleveland Browns
First, WHY does Cleveland always seem to trade back to this pick half the time? If any Browns execs are reading this (HA! Right.), check it out - other than Mack, it ain't workin'! The only reason they wound UP with him are they needed a center, you don't draft a center high, so this was a good spot to grab the best at the position. Faine, they got wrong and he's with his 4th team now, snapping the ball to Andy Dalton. But if he's so good, why did three teams let him go? Even if it was always financial issues, the same Browns that drafted Faine in the first took Mack in the first and rewarded him with a fat second contract this year. As for Jordan Gross, we Panthers fans know that Gross retired after the 2013 season. He had made multiple Pro Bowls and may have had his best season in his final one. I think the big difference here is Gross stayed with the same franchise his entire career where Faine has bounced around.
What does this tell us?
Well, let's tally the scores. We do have the one "tie," which I thought was fitting for our look at things here while considering the Panthers' 2014 record:
#8s win 5 times,
#21s win 4 times,
and one tie.
This somewhat broader and longer look at things reveals that some good talent was found at both positions in the draft. Relative to one another, the obvious thing is to note that the #8 pick should have a built-in advantage simply due to the pool of picks having shrunk by 13 rookies.
Another more analogous relationship might be this: The 8th-best NFL team playing 10 football games against the 21st-best NFL team and having a record of 5-4-1. That's not too good under the circumstances. It's as if the best team just to miss the playoffs playing 10 games against the New York Jets and being 5-4-1 in those games at a neutral field. I would have expected something closer to 8-2 or 7-3 at worst. Actually, it's even worse on second thought. The 8th-best NFL team should be one of the division winners, since there are 8 divisions. Most seasons don't see a team with a losing record (like the NFC South this year) winning a division. Think "4th seed vs. the NY Jets" perhaps. Either way you look at it, those numbers should be wider apart, but they're not.
It looks like the inexact nature of the NFL Draft is creeping into things here and helps to prove Mel Mayock's point - he said there are no guarantees that the #8 overall pick is going to be a better professional than the 21st overall pick will be, and exactly half the time, he was NOT.
Now, the Panthers just need to go out and win the damn game today.
Follor me on Twitter @Ken_Dye