Carolina Panthers Mock Draft v. 2.0 and 2.1

After Greg Hardy signed his franchise tender, keeping the most dangerous front-seven in the NFL intact for 2014, eyes are turning to the secondary and to the offensive side of the ball.

I'm showing you TWO drafts, and here are the URLs:

My hand-drafted Panthers draft:


Just to be clear, here are our "need" positions in order of need:

1 - left tackle
2 - wide receiver
3 - right tackle
4 - cornerback
5 - wide receiver (yeah, another one)
6 - guard, depending on Edmund Kugbila's status
7 - free safety

We could argue all day about the proper order, but I think we all agree that the Panthers need OT/OL and WRs pretty badly. We need a true #1 corner and someone to replace Mike Mitchell. BTW I'm still sore about losing him in free agency to the Steelers. Congrats to the Steel City, however, as they're getting a fine young player to put next to aging Troy Polamalu (or He With The Flowing Hair).

I also need to point out that, for all the talent in free agency, there really are VERY few players that could be cornerstone-level players to be had and that's usually how it goes. A guy like Peyton Manning in free agency is the exception, not the rule.

Quick update - It appears Gettleman and the Panthers are targeting Hakeem Nicks after all. With his injury history, Gettleman wants him on the cheap but Nicks wants a long-term deal. It should be a "prove it" contract, 1 year long, OR if a longer-term deal, should be contingent on games played.

More to come on this as it unfolds - keep eyes and ears peeled for any news on this and/or Steve Smith's impending release.

I think the Ravens re-signed tackle Eugene Monroe - besides, Gettleman isn't going to spend much on any one player in free agency - he couldn't if he wanted to because of the salary cap structure in the first place. Not after spending 11 million on Hardy's franchise label, and it makes the Smith/Nicks saga that much more interesting.

With the Falcons getting better by getting healthy and some minor free agent signings, the Saints seemingly morphing into a pass-crazy team on BOTH sides (they signed the best safety in Jarius Byrd to put with last year's rookie sensation Kenny Vacarro), and the Bucs getting WAY better just by hiring a real coach, the Carolina Panthers need to make progress just to stand still because we are now two starters down (Smith and Gross) from last year's offense.

My friend Anthony wrote about the "NFC Stout" and all indications are that he's gonna be right about that. I think an 8-8 record might just be the team in the cellar of the division this year, without knowing the exact schedule yet.

How should the Carolina Panthers approach the upcoming draft?

Consensus among we fans here at CarolinaCatChronicles is that this draft is the most important one in a decade for the franchise. That could be argued as well, since the draft after the 2-14 season was also quite important - after all, we were picking #1 overall and choosing our franchise quarterback, whom we nailed it on. Cam's the best and by far the most physically talented QB in that draft class.

Now, with Jordan Gross retiring and Byron Bell's continued cluelessness regarding pass blocking 101, the offensive line needs both upgrades and depth. One doesn't generally draft FOR depth, but winds up WITH depth through it if players don't pan out quite as well as projected but still offer something for the team.

Gross' retiring really threw a wrench in the works, but such is life. It also put the LT position atop the shopping list.

This shouldn't be quite the problem as one might think during an average draft year, though. In the top-60 or so players (roughly where the Panthers draft overall in round 2), there are probably about a dozen WRs in the group. It's the deepest draft at WR in memory - perhaps the deepest ever - and a deep draft for OTs.

The Panthers are very lucky in that this "deep draft" is actually deep-EST at the two positions we need the most - and gives Gettleman room to do things his way and without having to "reach" for a pick early. The top-tier OTs should be long gone by 28th overall.

How will it look on draft day?

That, of course, is the question we all want the answer to, but I'll give it a shot here - and unlike many full-team 7-round mocks, I'll say why the pick is a fit for the Panthers - and also for comparison's sake, the number in parenthesis after the pick is the spot that player was taken in the fully-automated picks. In italics at the bottom are some names that they resemble in physical equivalence and style - not necessarily how good or bad they might wind up as NFL players so please keep that in mind.

1 (28) Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame (34, listed at guard on DraftTek)

Martin is a tackle who could "project" to the NFL as a guard. Some say he can play tackle, others say his limited range might limit him to guard. Others say he's a RT prospect. In any case, he could upgrade whichever position (likely RG; possibly RT) and potentially be a Pro-Bowl caliber NFL guard. The point is that his having played tackle in college and being looked at as a guard in the NFL means he could have versatility to play either guard spot or the RT spot, and that helps tremendously when one of the linemen inevitably gets injured. Yes, perhaps a bit odd to take a "guard" prospect at the end of the first round when it's not the MOST glaring need, but the entire Panthers offensive line needs to be upgraded and depth added, so getting a lot more solid up the middle will help the running game and keep the pocket from collapsing directly in front of Cam. In this particular scenario, a true LT would be a reach with this pick and if you can pick up lineman help, even at guard, at 28th overall, I say solidify the line - especially if a guy of this caliber falls this far. If Gettleman wants to roll the dice for a possible All-Pro LT, Antonio Richardson could be the choice here, but I'll need a LOT more good news on the medical issues regarding his knees before I could say that he should be our top pick. A bona-fide "anchor" LT would be ideal, but I doubt one will fall this far so the Panthers upgrade their line - somewhere - with the best player available...thanks to the fact that the interior line is more de-emphasized in the draft than overall talent suggests and is at the opposite end of the spectrum of positional values compared with QBs and LTs.

Compares to: Logan Mankins - New England Patriots
2 (60) Kelvin Benjamin, WR, FSU (23)

Benjamin is not going to be one of the "easier" WRs to coach up and likely won't be a huge factor for the Panthers in the first half of the season at least, unless they cannot get Hakeem Nicks or another WR in free agency.  What he CAN do as a rookie, albeit more raw than most WRs, is be a chains-mover and red zone threat because this kid is a monster at 6'5" 235 lbs as a receiver. He's a big, physical kid with a huge catch radius but needs to work on his route-running. Even at the NFL level, he should be able to come in and get "jump" passes with his frame and reach. He'll be a nightmare for any corner in the NFL to match up with and has a very high ceiling, but only after a year or two in the league. He's a bit "boom-or-bust," falling here in the second round.

Compares to Plaxico Burress - Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, and the Oneida Correctional Facility

3 (92) Morgan Moses, OT, UVa (46)

Moses may not be parting the Red Sea, but if he's installed on the right side of the line, has the size and long arms to at least re-route most pass rushers. Both Moses and Martin have a good base, bending their knees instead of at the waist (a deadly mistake in the NFL), and Moses would certainly be a nice upgrade in pass protection over Byron Bell from day one. Ironically, Bell is the better run-blocker as Moses needs to hone his technique there somewhat, especially on outside runs. Moses could start at RT from day one or, hopefully, already be sound enough (he's one of the few seniors in this year's draft) to start at LT and grow and learn as the season progresses. Don't forget that Jordan Gross began his career at RT and moved to the left side. The plan here is probably to do the same with Morgan or install him on the left side to begin with and go the trial-by-fire route.

Compares to Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos

4 (124) Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss (103)

Moncrief is another big WR at 6'2" 221 lbs but runs a 4.40 40-yard dash and a veritable steal in the 4th round. He runs crisp routes and is an accomplished blocker in the running game - something important to Rivera's power-running game scheme. He's not a "natural" hands-catcher and in college he was a little bit of a hybrid WR and RB the way he was used in the Rebels' offense. Otherwise, he has a lot of tools in the toolbox to work with.

Compares to Golden Tate - Detroit Lions
5 (156) EJ Gaines, CB, Missouri (132)

Gaines is a very good athlete with a body and frame that are very good for a cornerback. Although he's only 5'10" - which helps him fall this far - his athletic ability and instincts mean he should be around the ball most of the time and shows an emerging penchant for possible development as a ball-hawk, much like the undersized Captain Munnerlyn has shown. Think of this kid as a physically improved version of the old fan favorite for the position as he shows many similar strengths. Like Captain, he can blitz off the edge when asked to so he should slide into that nickel-corner role fairly quickly from the outset with good upside potential to possibly become the team's #1 corner - but you won't find a plug-and-play #1 corner in round five, most likely. He has that slight "edge" to him that the Panthers really love.

Compares to Darrelle Revis - New England Patriots

6 (188) Jake Murphy, TE, Utah (undrafted)

Jake is one of those who is pretty good at a lot of things, but isn't an elite athlete and isn't GREAT at anything. He can play wide, H-back, or in tight and probably could be plugged in at fullback in a pinch if needed. He lacks good speed, but has good body contol and agility and can become a complete NFL TE, albeit one with a limited ceiling, in time with good coaching on his run-blocking. He has the size and strength to do it; he just needs the techniques to become ingrained and that will happen - with time and patience. His father? Ex-Atlanta Brave star Dale Murphy.

Compares to Dennis Pitta - Baltimore Ravens

7 (202) Kenny Ladler, FS, Vanderbilt (159)

Another kid with good size and who has average speed for the position but made a bit of a name for himself in college forcing fumbles. He's a good, aggressive and competent tackler and with continued development, he could become a nice ball hawk as a free safety or an enforcer-type as a strong safety. I think he's best-suited at FS, which is what the Panthers need.

Compares to Thomas DeCoud - Atlanta Falcons

All in all, this is a nice group of big, physical guys that would seem to fit in nicely with the Panthers' schemes. In this scenario, the Panthers get offensive line help they need in Zack Martin and eventually a solid LT in Morgan Moses. The one concern I do have is how well Moses can hold up from day one or if he's not better-suited at RT. At this point, however, things are always in flux so for the moment, I'm fine with it.

The team is also getting bigger and stronger at WR, with both choices being good or potentially good run-blockers while at the same time giving Cam Newton a larger window of throws to make while being able to win those "jump ball passes" that are becoming more and more popular as receivers get larger while corners (minus Richard Sherman) do not. Moncrief should be able to contribute from the beginning and Benjamin will only grow more and more as a threat as he matures.

This would be great for Cam, since the main complaint I have about him is not being accurate on a consistent basis. Adding the Utah Ute TE late will help the offense overall and give Cam a nice hotread target that can catch and move the chains while being a better run-blocker than Greg Olson.

Add in the physical defensive backs in Gaines and Ladler, and a draft similar to this one could really inject some life into the offense, giving it some much-needed explosiveness while helping to shore up a defensive backfield that has no star players.

Don't forget that the Falcons draft #6 overall and the Bucs are right behind at #7.

If you don't get ANYTHING else out of this article, please realize there is no way in HECK that Jadaveon Clowney is getting past the Falcons in this draft unless they trade back for a boatload of picks. Then, Clowney probably will get picked by the team trading up to #6 (in such a scenario) and if for some reason he doesn't, Tampa Bay would LOVE to replace the 1-season-removed DE Michael Bennett with Clowney....and with 4 of the top 5 teams in the draft likely selecting either a QB or Sammy Watkins (Rams look to take Watkins or a LT like Auburn's Greg Robinson), I'd say the odds of Clowney landing within our division are better than 50/50.

I think Clowney likely goes either #1 overall or falls to 6th or 7th in the absence of trade data. The Texans will take either a QB to replace Ye of Destroyed Self-Confidence Man in Matt Schaub or take Clowney tops, despite the questions on his work ethic, because the Texans have the locker room to be able to DEMAND Clowney work as hard as he can or become a bit of a pariah.

Lastly, I thought I'd post, for comparison's sake, the results of an automated draft where the computer does all the picks without factoring in schemes and styles of play. Here is the current version of that draft for the Panthers - along with the player's draft position in the yours truly-hand-picked Panthers' draft, with the computer simming the others:

1 (28) - Odell Beckham, Jr, WR, LSU (17)

2 (60) - Cyril Richardson, OT, Baylor (69)

3 (92) - Billy Turner, OT, North Dakota State (85)

4 (124) - Marcel Jensen, TE, San Diego State (191)

5 (156) - Shaquil Barrett, 4-3 OLB, Colorado State (undrafted)

6 (188) - Deion Belue, CB, Alabama (undrafted)

7 (202) - Michael Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest (128)

The fact that the "spread" in the draft positions widens out exponentially after the third round tells me that the "split" in upper and lower tiers of talent occurs someplace in the fourth round. Therefore, those first three rounds should see quite a bit of action via trades or otherwise will be hectic as teams try to finalize their selections of players that have the balance of talent level, polish, and/or upside that fit best into their system.

I think it's quite telling that the two drafts carried such a similar group of players.

I really like mine a lot better than the automatic one. While Odell Beckham, Jr. is quite a great WR prospect, he was gone at #17 to the Baltimore Ravens, taking that dilemma out of my hands at #28, where I went with the need who also happened to be a very nice value pick at the same time in OT/OG Zack Martin.

The "top" of this draft is pretty good - I just like the one I did from top to bottom better. I don't see OBJ falling to us, but again...anything is possible.

The automated draft picked up its two tackles with the 2nd and 3rd rounders while I alternated between OL and WR in my first four rounds. Kelvin Benjamin, while young, raw, and with some maturity questions, has tremendous upside and was a "steal" at #60 overall for my second pick - again, addressing a need while getting "value" at the same time.

Same with Morgan Moses at 90 - he went off the board at #46 in the autodraft and while I don't see him being on the board when we pick in the real NFL draft at that spot, in this scenario he did and stranger things have happened. With a draft heavy on talent at OT, Moses could go as early as the late first round or as late as the third because of his need to develop a tad more and the fact there likely won't be a solid day-one NFL starter at the LT position at 28th overall speaks to the high draft premium on that position.

It is nearly as hard to find a starting LT late in the first round as it is a QB that can, but surprises can and do  happen. There is also a "feel to the flow" during a draft that I can't describe, but if you try your own I think you'll find out what I'm talking about. It's not an easy thing no matter how many times you go through it.

The later rounds are almost pure conjecture, but if Donte Moncrief is there with the Panthers on the clock in the fourth round, we'd be crazy not to nab him. I really don't know why he's so under-the-radar, having played his college ball in the SEC, but apparently he's a slider in some drafts.

I know this post is already quite long with TWO "mock drafts" and explanations, but I want to be thorough and share with my fellow fans as much relevant information as I can.

I just want to make one last brief point about the NFL draft in general, and it's one that escapes many people when they get tunnel-vision on a player or need or whatever, and that is that the draft is every bit as much about VALUE as it is TALENT. For instance, while Zack Martin may not be the day-one prototype left tackle we'd like, they'll be gone halfway through the first round even with a draft as deep as this one.

Such is the heightened positional value of that left tackle, which is second only to that of a QB and above even all but the most dynamic of pass-rushers (ie: Clowney).

That's why you hear about teams sometimes drafting guys at positions they are relatively set at as opposed to going for an obvious need. The teams that draft based mostly on need are the ones that have high draft picks year in and year out.

You see, the whole idea of drafting "BPA" - Best Player Available - is exactly one of "value."

If it just so happens to be that said player also happens to fit a big need, that's a bonus.

It's what Gettleman did when drafting Luke Kuechly in 2012. We had Jon Beason, who was a very capable and versatile linebacker already, and with Thomas Davis and James Anderson present, our starting LB corps was set....or so we fans thought.

We really needed defensive tackles, but Kuechly was at the top of Gettleman's draft board and he took him. The idea of drafting "BPA" is that, over time, the "needs" even out as the "BPA" drafted at any given time would likely be spread around a lot of different positions over the seven rounds in the draft, and over several years.

Think about it - if you draft the "BPA" each round for three drafts, if you have 1 pick in each round each year, you'll have 21 "BPAs" on your roster....and folks, it only takes 22 guys to start on both sides of the ball. Also, keep in mind how fluid all this pre-draft talk is and take any given mock draft with way more than a grain of salt. It's all just a way to stir up discussion about talent, the draft, and how your Panthers are looking to approach the draft.

This also rolls into the fact that in order to truly turn around a franchise, the "three year plan" is the template for doing so.

Do you really think it's a coincidence?