Now that the NFL Draft is over with, the "experts" pretty much all agree on one thing: The Carolina Panthers drafted poorly.
None other than Bucky "Hoodieman" Brooks says the entire NFC South had a good draft - except for the Carolina Panthers. Brian Fischer at NFL.com gave the Panthers only a slightly better "grade" than New Orleans.
So why all the hate towards the Panthers?
In a word, headlines.
The problem there is when you are in lockstep dislike of a team's draft, you sound just like the rest.
The Draftniks Listen too much to Each Other
Okay. So Dave Gettleman turned nine picks into five, with several of those being traded-UP for. The "experts" seem to think this is a problematic way of approaching things, but they are unable to or are incapable of looking at the bigger picture at work, just like today's politically-polarized sides-choosers can be.
The "experts" are taking a very, very tiny moment in time - 3 days out of how many combined years all the Panthers players' careers combined will produce - and try to draw some negative conclusion based upon that. It often seems they don't even look at the team's make-up but what others say about it, then move on to make their argument....all based on a faulty premise.
They ignore the main point with the Panthers, for starters, and assume nine rookies could actually crack into the top-45 or so on a roster that won back-to-back division titles and a playoff game in the past two seasons. They would actually have you believe the Carolina Panthers need to turn over 20% of their entire roster to untested rookies after churning over more than that last season.
That's exactly what they're saying when they criticize "sacrificing" quantity for quality.
Late-Round Picks Seldom Make any Impact at All
True, Houston Texans mega-star Arian Foster was an undrafted rookie free agent. So was the Denver Broncos' WR Rod Smith, who played during the Elway Era.
It's also true that some Hall of Fame draft picks have been made in rounds in the past that no longer exist, but modern multimedia has helped bring much more information to the fingers of general managers all over the NFL in the past fifteen years or so, with the rise of the Internet.
It means that GMs are more aware of talent - even at smaller schools - than they ever have before, and no single GM has an advantage in technology since the "Computer Cowboys" of the 1970's. The technologies in question have long since been adopted by all clubs.
With that in mind, few 6th or 7th-round picks come along and become starters, let alone impact players. It still happens of course, but if you look at the last ten drafts, you'll find quite a correlation between draft position and production overall. You'll still find the odd mis-interpreted player (for example, Vontaze Burfict), but often these days, players like that come with emotional or behavioral baggage that will always be difficult to project, as was Burfict's case. The Panthers have been avoiding players like this under Gettleman, and that fact has gone pretty much unreported.
Draftniks Look for Convenience and Headlines, not Truth
Just like those darned Global Warming Alarmists who think doubling the amount of a trace gas will be the planet's entire downfall, the Draftniks don't seem to bother delving very deeply into ANY particular team's situation. They get enough info for their story and move along to the next thing.
I just touched on the reasons above - headlines and ratings over what's true - but there's more to it than just that. You don't get "your name out there" nearly as much by being in-line with what's proven to work, but by being an outlier and trying to brew up some controversy. They look for the easiest and most obvious targets in their eyes.
The Panthers are one of their "juiciest targets" today because of the unique nature of the past two seasons, mostly due to the 7-8-1 record that won the division in 2014. Using the Draftniks' own "illogic," since we went 12-4 then added a lot of players that were in college for that 12-4 season then went 7-8-1, we obviously need MORE new faces. In fact, the "logic" would point to the exact opposite, but you see what I mean.
They say a ".500 team" needs more of one thing or the other, meanwhile avoiding the exact mantra they themselves preach over and over again before the draft begins:
Draft the best player available.
When teams go out, like the Atlanta Slobbergoats did, and make selections based on need, the Draftniks reward such teams with good "draft grades." The ole Draftniks love it when teams fill multiple needs, and indeed, that's one part of good drafting, but only when need meets ability. They love Atlanta's first two picks, as I do their first (8th overall - Vic Beasley), but ignore the fact their 2nd rounder, CB Jalen Collins of LSU, has a history of three failed drug tests in college. He's the sort of prospect a GM like Dave Gettleman avoids like the plague.
So what IS The Truth?
The truth is out there, just as the old TV show The X-Files used to say. You just have to know where to look and what to look for. In this case, it's not rocket science...or even climate science:
Last season saw more rookies make the team, and even then it was on a team that went 12-4 and won the division the previous season. Bene Benwikere, Tre Boston, Trai Turner, Kelvin Benjamin, Kony Ealy, and even undrafted Philly Brown and Fozzie Whittaker made big contributions when called upon. The first four are solid starters and even rising stars, Ealy progressed nicely over the season, and Brown now has two huge targets around him (three if you count TE Greg Olsen) to help take heat off him from the slot. Whittaker helped an injured RB corps, and even practice squad player Brenton Bersin came in to fill a niche role.
That's not even to mention Jonathan Stewart's contribution over the last six weeks of the season.
The truth is that Dave Gettleman drafts his best player available while only keeping an eye on "need" when it suits him: If two players are rated the same, THEN and only then does "need" enter the equation. He knew the roster couldn't accommodate nine rookies so he did what I thought and indeed what I had said he would do - trade those later-round picks to move up and go get the guy he liked, and at the appropriate positions. When trading up, one has the luxury of making sure talent and need meet on the draft board.
You see, when you can trade up, you can go get a value who is sliding for some reason or you can go get a needed position player when his perceived value reaches the point where he could be gone at any time.
When the early second round began with teams taking the last of the monster receivers off the board, Gettleman saw that Devin Funchess would never last until the 57th overall pick, spent the draft capital, and went up to get him. With two non-trade-able compensatory picks at the end of the fifth round in his pocket, Gettleman didn't need the 6th or 7th rounds to find even more marginal talent than he'd find at the end of the 5th.
So what's Being said Negatively about Carolina's Draft?
Let's take a quick look:
Round 1) - Shaq Thompson, OLB/S/RB - "The kid without a position" is the common refrain here, ("Slash" by me) but the same Draftniks all say Tampa Bay did well in taking Jameis Winston with the top overall pick. Thompson cost way less in draft capital, has a great motor, great speed, good strength and instincts and is such an athlete that he played several different positions in college.
This is exactly the sort of "shallow thinking" I'm talking about. I bet most of those Draftniks don't even know Thomas Davis came into the NFL as a safety, was converted to outside linebacker, and three blown knees later, is one of the best (if not THE best) strong-side linebacker in the game today. Notice, when a Draftnik doesn't like a guy whose size is a question, he's labeled as a "Tweener." When a Draftnik does like a guy whose size is a question, he's labeled as a "Hybrid."
My Take: Thompson's as versatile as anyone in the entire draft, and the Panthers have a "need" at all three of the positions he has played - I never have liked A.J. Klein as a weakside 'backer in pass defense, for instance. The NFL is a game of match-ups, and I see Shaq as being able to cover just about anyone except the Julian Edelman types that nobody can cover anyway. He's only 20 years old and will very likely add a little weight to his frame. He also has the ability to play behind Thomas Davis, learn from the best with Kuechly present as well, and has a great chance to become a ten-year starter and force at either outside LB spot.
With Thompson finishing classes this summer, he won't be much of a factor until at least mid-season, but Gettleman drafts with the long term in mind. Florida offensive tackle D.J. Humphries would likely have been the choice but was taken just the pick before, at #24, but Gettleman always has a backup plan. The only REAL reason some may call him a bit of a "reach" is due to him getting a late start on the season because he's finishing school, but as my eighth-grade English teacher used to say, "A short-term issue is no excuse for a long-term project." Some Draftniks are thinking very, very short-term while using the excuse of being able to play several positions as a bad thing? *shaking my head*
Round 2) - Devin Funchess, WR - "Big but doesn't separate" is the common beat-down on Funchess, but as I've said, you can find something about anyone that isn't exactly what you're looking for. Coming in to the draft, conventional "wisdom" was that Carolina needed an outside WR with some speed to compliment possession-style, intermediate-range WR Kelvin Benjamin. Funchess lacks that "top gear" although he ran a 4.5-40 at the combine I still think that knock on him is true.
However, Gettleman wasn't looking for a big, fast WR or he'd have taken UCF's Breshad Perriman, the kid I was thinking was the target. Nope. Turns out, Perriman's issues about dropped passes coming out of college makes Kelvin Benjamin's FSU career look like he was Raymond Berry or Fred Biletnikoff.
My Take: Funchess looks more or less like a Kelvin Benjamin clone, and given the fact I've been saying for years that Rivera/Gettleman want to give this franchise a power running and defense-style identity, you won't find two WRs that can seal the outside in the running game than the two guys we have. The offense isn't built to be explosive but rather to wear opponents down by the second half, and I think you'll see Carolina outscoring opponents in the second half two-to-one over the course of the season, if not more the later in the season we get. The team spent a 3rd-rounder to go get him, but he's both the type of player the team wants and at a position of need, both. With more firepower remaining to trade up a second time later in the draft, the Panthers weren't hurt at all with this move and in fact may have finally shown their hand in their "build" of the offense: strength, strength, and even more strength. It has also been noted that when Cam misses, he misses high, and having a trio of targets with size (Funchess, Benjamin, Olsen) is exactly what he needs.
Round 3) - Daryl Williams , OG - There go those silly Draftniks again, trying to funnel a massive guard into a tackle's just-slightly-less-massive body. They labelled Daryl as a question mark - at least, many did - unsure if he'd be asked to play guard or the oft-ballyhooed pining over The Next Great Left Tackle. Well, guess what? One, Williams is drafted to play guard, as he doesn't have the athleticism laterally to play tackle, and especially not the left tackle spot. Two, he was drafted to play guard! Three, He was DRAFTED to play guard. And fourth, he was drafted to play GUARD!
I hope I've made my thoughts clear, but just in case I haven't here's.....
My Take: I'm not 100% sure, but I have a clue that Daryl Williams is gonna be a guard. Pair him up with Trai Turner, and we'll have a top-ten...."nasty" guard combo for running up the middle. I don't know how much more plain to make it, but Carolina's offense is going for power over speed at every turn they can make that choice. Daryl doesn't have much agility in space, but his job is going to be to line up and knock the slobber outta the 3-technique's mouth. Camp battles between he and Kawann Short and/or Star should be epic.
Round 5) - David Mayo, LB - This is yet another small-school project (West Texas St.) that may not be such the "project" a lot of people seem to think. He was very productive in college as a MLB, and while he lacks Kuehcly's size and speed, he has good instincts. In fact, when I wrote the day-three draft recap, I wondered aloud about many of the things I have since come to affirm about the guy.
My Take: Mayo IS a "poor man's Luke Kuechly," and his presence will really help hold this defense together if Luke ever goes down due to injury. He's certainly not a LK clone physically, but he can back him up, play some special teams and sub-packages, and learn behind the best MLB in the game. He DOES have instincts similar to Kuechly's and would likely project to become an eventual starting inside linebacker on most teams, especially as an ILB2 in a 3-4 defense. As it is, consider Mayo's presence in 2015 as an insurance policy on Luke. Fortification is going on here, and with this pick, Gettleman has really jacked up the LB depth in this draft with an eye towards not just the future but the present as well. If LK or TD go down due to injury, it won't be "season over" now like it would have been last year, and the Rumor Mill has it that TD is going to retire by the 2017 season, so DG is bringing in two good rookies now (one inside/one outside) to cover his bases and keep the defense the strong point of this team with the next few years in mind.
Round 5) - Cameron Artis-Payne, RB - "CA-P" (pronounced KAH-yap in the South; rhymes with kayak) was the SEC's leading rusher in 2014 on an Auburn team that runs a high-school offense...albeit one with a lot more "Trickeration" built-in than most. He's a between-the-tackles runner with just enough speed to make Mike Shula call some bad wide runs with him. It's not what he's suited for. CA-P is the lone player the Draftniks have largely left alone, and only then likely because he was one of two Compensatory picks (Mayo the other) that couldn't be traded. As a fresh rookie, he'll be a one-trick pony called to tote the rock up the middle and is best-suited for a zone-blocking running scheme...something the Panthers have used with Cam Newton's "zone/read" running plays.
My Take: You can believe my word on this kid about as much as any fan's blog because, being an Auburn grad myself, I watch their games and am very familiar with this guy. He's a no-frills, no-nonsense north-south runner who is patient in letting his blocks develop. His running style is similar to that of Le'Veon Bell's but without the extra burst that Bell has. CA-P has a LOT of "tread on the tire" and will bring the Panthers that fresh set of legs in case J-Stew goes down. As a backup, he won't be asked to catch passes or pick up too many blitzes but will have to learn to block if he's going to see much of the field. That's going to be the single biggest indicator of his progress as a pro - if he's healthy but can't get on the field, you'll know he's still a work-in-progress on that front. However, as a pure inside runner without the extra bells and whistles the 'backs in the top few rounds have, he's as good a pick as you can get. He's also going to be the rookie that "sets the bar" for the others in terms of his work ethic. It's second to none and borders on being OCD. Yes, he's that dedicated to honing his craft.
Did Gettleman REALLY Pick ONLY the "Best Available?"
No, I can't say he did in every case but then again the same can be said of everyone who let a few players (like DT Michael Bennett) slide. The fact is that a handful of players slide each and every season for no readily-apparent reason. The unspoken fact is, as well, that those same players all do slide for a reason. The GMs know it, which is why they don't pick the guys until the 5th or 6th rounds. It may well have been that several that Gettleman "passed" on that appeared to be bargains have either some medical issue we don't know about or perhaps some off-field issue, or something as simple as a questionable motor - that last one causes kids to drop like flies. It may have been that a Michael Bennett was never the "BPA" if he had a true sixth-round grade on him when everyone else thought he should have been long gone. That, we may never know.
However, I can say Shaq and Funchess were likely the "BPA" where they were taken. Linebacker isn't a "pressing need" on this team, yet, Gettleman drafted one in the first round anyway. Some Draftniks say he may well have been there at #57, but I say all the teams knew about him, but his "red flag" is a "false flag" in that he didn't have a defined position coming into the NFL. Gettleman hasn't whiffed on a first-rounder yet, so I'm on his side here. Being a great athlete that played multiple positions in college should be looked upon as a good thing. It means he's selfless and played where the coaches put him and he excelled at every turn. I see no reason he can't excel in the NFL, but his youth (age 20) and that lack of a defined role in college may have had some teams shy away from him this early in the draft. Gettleman's playing chess while the others are playing checkers....again.
I really don't see any obvious "reaches" either. Since the organization traded up for their second and third picks in the draft, the Panthers got who they wanted or they wouldn't have made the trades. Draftniks tend to look too much at need vs. fit of certain players while not looking enough at talent level alone regardless of current need. That's their error.
Instant Draft Grades are a Fool's Errand Anyway
ANY Draftnik worth a penny will admit this, but then they go ahead and do "grades" anyway. Why? See above: headlines. Readers. Hits on the web counter. Stirring things up causes arguments in comment sections and that means readers coming back again and again and again, ticking that webcounter ever-higher as they return to counter a point made by a fan of, say, those same Atlanta Slobbergoats who are reveling in the fact that a 23rd-rated Draftnik like Bucky "Hoodie" Brooks says they did a good job. It's all part of the self-delusion the fans come to right after the draft finishes.
Once again, reality seeps in. Nobody is going to know how well we drafted until a few years down the road. Some kids are simply better-suited for one type of coach, one style of play, or one type of scheme than others and nobody truly can foresee "locker room chemistry" until everybody has milled together for a while. The best you can do is draft the best guys you can get, hope that some of them are a good fit, and go forward from there.
With "parity" being the over-arching theme for the NFL and the draft being the Socialist's wet dream, it actually works in American pro sports because it's built as part of a process. The better teams year-in and year-out are the ones that remain as stable as possible from one year to the next so that when the next year begins, they can take things from page 40 instead of from the preface and be that much more ahead of the competition.
When you're constantly losing veterans and replacing them with youngsters, experience suffers as a predictive result while perhaps lowering the overall payroll and likelihood of injury. It's all a trade-off when you get down to it, and that's exactly how Gettleman played this draft: via the draft, trading up for better choices, and replacing fewer parts. He thinks Michael Oher can get the job done at left tackle, and unlike the Byron Bell experiment, I'm much more inclined to think that the "blind side" should be in better hands this season. How much better remains to be seen, but the number one thing the offense is designed to do is to be physical above all else. That's easily seen in the design by free agency as well as the drafts the few years that Dave Gettleman has been at the helm.
The strategy I see working is to keep the defense one of the very best each year first and foremost. Defense wins championships. Secondly, the overall idea is to line up all sides of your team against the other team for 60 minutes, brutalize one another like football does, and find out who feels slightly less horrible at the end of the game.
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