Coming out of 2014, the Carolina Panthers had a few easily-identifiable "problem areas" on their team that needed immediate attention: a new left tackle, a safety to replace Roman Harper, a speedy outside wideout, and depth at running back. With off-season free agency addressing many of these areas, the other 31 NFL teams would be hard-pressed to figure out whom, if anyone, Dave "Downpour Man" Gettleman has in his virtual crosshairs.
Sorry, but I HAVE to take a moment to toot my own horn here - I have been on-record, and the staff here at C3 will back me up 100% on this - from Day One saying that Byron Bell would be a complete liability at left tackle. I didn't say he "might be okay" or "serviceable," I said he would SUCK and that the idea was horrible from the moment Gettleman hinted that "sometimes the answer is right there on your roster."
The unspoken part is Gettleman's "out." It's "....and sometimes it isn't!"
With Byron Bell occupying that starting left tackle spot, it didn't take much time at all even for the most optimistic fan to realize that no, Byron Bell most certainly was NOT "the answer" they were hoping for. Instead of being The Answer, as the season progressed, he became The Punchline.
Byron Bell the Bust, and NOT the kind in Canton
This is actually unfortunate, because Byron Bell is a fine, upstanding young man and a great team player. The problem is that he just doesn't have the talent to play at tackle, but I think he MIGHT become an "average" NFL guard at best.
Enough about the "other BB." At least he doesn't go around deflating Tom Brady's balls.
To try to upgrade the talent at the tackle position, DG made a couple of signings. The most notable one at tackle would be Michael "The Blind Side" Oher. The idea is to re-unite him with his original position coach from Baltimore (now with Carolina) when Oher played his best football. A change of venue, this reuniting with his former coach, as well as "a fresh start" should be everything the young man needs to shine as much as he can in the NFL.
So, long story short, the Panthers don't necessarily have to take the top tackle left on the board at #25 nor trade up to grab an elite one.
King of the Hill
What about receivers?
Similar story, actually. Tony "The Professor" Dunn did a GREAT piece about former New York Jet Stephen Hill, and how WR coach Ricky Proehl is high on the kid. I realize he has been a complete dud in the NFL so far, as the Prof. pointed out, but think for a moment: Which NFL WR has actually flourished the most under a Rex Ryan-coached team?
That's just it - I don't know, either.
Hill came from a good triple-option offense at Georgia Tech, so he came into the NFL as a raw physical freak. He's something like 6'4" tall and runs a sub 4.4-40. Questions linger about his hands, but once again, he just hasn't had much of an opportunity to improve under Rex "Ground and Pound" Ryan.
Hill now has a top-flight position coach and has been tutored by Mr. Ricky for about 7 months now, having been signed to the practice squad early last season. I'm not suggesting he'll break onto the scene in Act II of his thus far young career a la Kelvin Benjamin, but he might be enough of a threat to cause defenses to pay a little less attention down-in and down-out to the Kelvinator. That alone would help KB increase his production from his 1,009-yard rookie campaign.
So, our two most glaring "needs" aren't quite so "glaring" now as they were only a few short months ago. It also means the Panthers aren't locked into drafting ANY particular position in round one.
Certainly, it would be nice to see the Panthers pick up a great-looking wideout that slides some, but that can't be counted upon. Same thing for a tackle, although I still wouldn't mind seeing them take one in the first round for the sake of making the tackle roster position more stable. Oher could play the left, a first-rounder this year, even a late one, might also have that ability as the OT crop is deeper than that of last year's draft. Mike Remmers could be a very solid back-up and the first guy off the bench in this scenario, and that's not a bad thing.
What about Roman Harper?
We all know the complaints - old and slow. He is both, for sure, and that was on display early in the season as the Panthers were giving up big play after big play in the running game. The reason was nearly always because Harper or Thomas DeCoud was out of position. Once DeCoud got benched, rookie Tre' Boston took over and nearly eliminated that, although he did struggle at times diagnosing certain plays.
With a solid final four games or so last season, Boston has given me hope. As I "tooted my own horn" earlier, I have to confess I didn't like his selection at the time it was made. Our own Mel Mayock, who is way more of a talent/draft guru than I'll ever be, really liked the pick.
Well, kudos to Mel on this one. Looks like he was right and I was wrong, but this is a time I'm happy to be wrong. What I was seeing on game film from his UNC days was that he was making tackles when he had position, but looked like he was lunging at other times and took bad angles on still others.
While he still did a little of that last year, all is forgiven since he was a rookie, and he certainly out-played anything DeCoud could produce on the field. Along with fellow later-round selection Bene' "The Fed Chief" Benwikere, the Panthers have a great dynamic half of a defensive backfield. If Josh Norman can play more under control (read: fewer 15-yard penalties), he has great size and athleticism to pair up with Bene' to be one of the best pairs of young CBs in the NFL....but Norman (and Benwikere for that matter) still have a ways to go before that can be said with a straight face, but they're really not all that far away.
There's Always a Chance of "Safety First"
The consensus is that this is a "one-safety draft," and that's rather unfortunate because of Carolina's need. The one kid from Alabama will likely be long gone by #25 and it would probably be a reach to grab the second-best kid here at safety, but there's always a possiblity of him falling in our laps.
It happened two years ago when Star Lotulelei dropped from a pre-draft top-three ranking all the way to, what was it, #14 I think? The reason he fell was a stroke of luck for Panther fans as he had a virus that had a secondary effect of showing up as "heart trouble" on the NFL teams' medicals.
However, the Panthers' staff figured out that the "virus" was transitory and that the "heart issue" would vanish along with the virus, and happily snatched him up when they had the chance. While it looks like Kawann Short just might turn out to be the better NFL player, Star's still not exactly a bum. He's an upper-tier 1-technique (left) defensive tackle who is hard to move and covers the run quite well, while occasionally pushing the pocket and pressuring the QB, but that's not his strength.
Landon Collins, the 'bama kid, is a strong safety-type and CBS Sports has him ranked #20 overall. Since he is considered "the" safety to get or roll the dice for one later, he likely will be gone by #25, as I said. Let me throw out a name for you to keep in mind for the second round and beyond:
Damarious Randall from Arizona State. This kid is a free-safety type for sure at 5-11 and 196 pounds, but the Panthers do not have a ball-hawk at either safety position. If Tre' Boston can really play the strong safety position, Randall being drafted in the third round would make me ecstatic. Whatever the case turns out to be, watch for his name when you're looking at the draft either on TV or in a recap somewhere. He might be the best man-cover safety in this year's draft.
Run 'til Daylight
The last position I listed in the opening paragraph is RB depth, and if you've been following pre-draft talk at ALL, there are really only two RBs that consensus says should go in the first round: Melvin Gordon from Wisconsin (shocker there that the Badgers run the ball) and Georgia's Todd Gurley.
So, who is better? I have heard arguments both ways, but I think Gurley is the one with the highest upside, and there's a small chance that he could fall to #25. I personally highly doubt that he will get past San Diego, drafting #17, but he was injured for most of last year and as a result, his draft status is highly uncertain.
Assuming the "wisdom" holds and neither kid is there at #25, the Panthers won't take an RB here. Period.
David Gettleman at heart is a "best player available" drafter, something that had been a hallmark of the New York Giants for decades. Gettleman proved he likes that strategy when he drafted Kony Island in round two last season. Remember, Ealy was drafted before the Greg Hardy situation even existed. It just happened to turn out that Gettleman looked like a savant after the fact.
Since taking late-round fliers on RBs the past two seasons hasn't worked out, I expect the Panthers to be more aggressive in obtaining some youth at the running back position. Beyond Jonathan Stewart, the team has no proven producer and I don't care how high you might be on Fozzie Whittaker; he's no workhorse back.
I'll be very surprised if the Panthers don't draft an RB by the fourth round.
Yeah, the Panthers actually have three fifth-round picks this year due to compensation for losing free agents. This may not sound like much, but it actually means quite a lot for the draft in that it gives Gettleman some elbow room to do some wheeling and dealing after the first round.
Those may not be high-dollar "poker chips" in DG's pocket, but they're there nonetheless. The idea here is moving up from the back-end of a round to the front-end of a round by packaging two of those 5th-round picks with their late pick in the same round to jump up ahead of a group of teams that may be looking to take a kid that Gettleman likes, but isn't graded-out as a first-rounder.
Recall, the team did exactly that a few years back when they traded up to get DE Frank Alexander. He was taken in either the third or fourth - I can't recall at the moment, but it's not particularly important for my purposes here - and that pick was the result of a trade-up that Gettleman made to grab him. As it turned out, the team "jumped" up somewhere around 15-20 spots, or thereabouts, via a trade. So the precedent Gettleman set is in place.
Draft choices of ANY kind are gold, and it might be that DG stays put and grabs three bodies in the fifth round. Considering Benwikere was the team's selection in last year's fifth round, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see us stand pat with them, either. I think any trade scenario would be dependent upon a player that the Panthers like is sliding (in the 3rd or 4th round) to begin with, the Panthers are still too far "out of range" to hope he still falls to them, so they cut out the uncertainty by spending that gold draft capital to nab him.
The point of all this is don't go into the draft, watching live or reading a recap the next day, and expect the team having to draft either an offensive tackle OR a wide receiver. The other point is if they do NOT, then that means Gettleman is very, very high on whomever he does pick, and we should respect it while digging into the future-new first-round pick's stats and college career.
The NFL draft always has several kids who slide nearly inexplicably down the draft (remember Aaron Rodgers??) and there are always a few that get drafted much higher than people might think (Ezekiel Ansah in Detroit).
2015 should be no different.
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