As the Panthers move on towards the end of the season, it’s looking more and more like the Panthers might snag that all-important and over-analyzed #1 pick. Many people in our fan base look forward to this, as it represents an important facet of football life: We have hit rock bottom. All of the plans we have made in the off-season have come to nothing, and our team has nowhere to go but up with a new coaching staff, new players, and a new season the following year. This event is almost there to say: "Congratulations Carolina Panthers! You suck! As a reward for sucking, here is a consolation prize! You get first dibs of all of the young enterprising college players fresh and ready to start their NFL Careers! Hurrah for NFL equality!"
The problem is that with having the #1 pick comes with incredibly high expectations for the player that is drafted with it. As a matter of fact, the first five picks are typically reserved solely for only a few types of players: A Franchise QB, A LT to protect your QB’s blind side, an incredible DE or DT capable of registering multiple sacks a game, or a star WR or RB that forces double teams every time he’s in the game.
That’s it. And usually the FQB always gets the #1 pick no matter what happens. Eight out of the previous 10 #1 picks have been used to take the best college QB coming out of the draft, to varying degrees of success. What we’re going to do here is go through each and every one of these positions, and we’re going to talk about what we expect from them.
1. The Franchise QB
Coupled together with a terrible to below-average supporting cast, a FQB has a lot of responsibility thrown on his shoulders in his first year that he often cannot meet. There is quite a big debate each year around the NFL and among their fans on how the transition from a college QB to a NFL QB should be handled. Some people desire for a QB to start in his first year and learn as he goes along, others demand that a veteran QB takes the reins and nurtures a QB for his first couple of years in the league before taking the starting job. But regardless of what happens, in the end a FQB is expected to take the team on his back and lead his team to several playoff appearances throughout the course of his career. They are also expected to make constant progress towards a Super Bowl Title, and must win at least one during the course of his career for him to be declared a ‘success’ in the NFL.
Eli Manning for instance had his career constantly critiqued by hecklers until the New York Giants upset the Patriots in Super Bowl in 2008. Carson Palmer is also regarded as an Elite QB in his prime years and in his back-to-back 4,000 yard seasons with the Bengals, but injuries to his arm sapped a lot of the arm strength that made him great. He also generally receives a bye in the wins/losses category because the Bengals defense has ranked in the bottom of the league in almost every category for so long and the coaches didn’t bother doing anything about it till it was too late. Michael Vick is a QB known for his illegal and immoral activities in the dog fighting arena and ignoring the passing game, trying to beat defenses with his legs instead of his arm. Only recently in his 30’s has he returned from jail, turned his life around, and became the QB that everyone imagined he could be coming out of college.
The list of failures is just as long as the successes though. David Carr and JaMarcus Russell quickly flopped out of their respective staring jobs in the first few years they received them. With the rise of Troy Smith in San Francisco, Alex Smith seems like he’s on the verge of doing the same. Matthew Stafford has had a good second outing for the 3 games he played with the Detroit Lions, but it’s the second year in the row that he’s gone down to injury, raising serious concerns about the Lions offensive line and whether they can protect him, and on Stafford if he can remain healthy for a 16, and soon to be 18 game season.
As a summary, a franchise QB can be regarded as a risky pick, but one that has endless benefits if the pick works out in your favor.
2. The LT
If there is one position on your offensive line that you want to be protected, it’s going to be the left side of your offensive line. Your typical NFL QB, as well as most men in general, is going to be right handed. They naturally look to their right for their star receiver whenever the play starts since they are more comfortable in throwing in that direction, and because of this they cannot see what is going on at the left side of the O-Line. This is why the left side of the offensive line is called the ‘blind-side,’ and why it is so important to make sure that the LT is a position of strength.
If a defensive player springs free at any other area of the O-Line, a talented QB can recognize it and either get the ball out quicker or throw it away. However, if a defensive end or a linebacker sneaks around the LT, the QB isn’t going to see him. This often results in a sack or a fumble, a higher risk of injury to your QB, and a heavily diminished chance to come back in late-games where the game is down to the wire and you need a touchdown to win it. When a QB doesn’t have to be afraid of a guy smacking him around when he doesn’t expect it, he can relax more in the pocket and get the ball out to the guy that is open instead of forcing it to a guy in double coverage.
When you look for a franchise LT, you look for a talented guy that is dedicated to his craft and team, has a good personality, isn’t injury prone, and is willing to stay with the same team his entire career and become the building block upon which you build a strong offensive line. The only recent example of a LT that was taken with the 1st pick would be Orlando Pace of the St. Louis Rams, and he went on to become one of the most important facets on the 99-01 version of the fast-scoring Rams offense, nicknamed "The Greatest Show on Turf." He gave his team a tremendous 9 years of service before injuries started to take his career down a notch in his 30’s. This is a perfect example of a LT you want on your team, and was a fine selection in the 1st round for the St. Louis ramps.
3. The Star DT or DE
When you sign either one of these players in the first round, you are looking for one thing. A playmaker. You are looking for that star along the defensive line to become the nightmare of every coach’s dreams. A leader who barks a lot on the defensive line and instills fear into the heart of the other QB. For a DT, you want him to shut down the run and push offensive linemen into the QB’s face and draw constant double teams. For a DE, you want him to break free from the O-Line and cause hits, fumbles, sacks, and tackles behind the line. In both cases, you want him to be a game breaker. When an OC is game-planning to win a football game, this has to be the player he designs the plan around. Because he knows if that he is ignored, there will be a QB put in the hospital come game-day.
Finally, you want someone who is going to give their biggest effort on every single play. Someone unlike Julius Peppers, who has a whopping 2 SACKS since arriving in Chicago.
4. The Star RB or Receiver
Not a lot of guys that are good enough to get picked in the top 5 come around anymore. And there are several reasons for this. First off, when a team hits rock bottom, they usually don’t need a star RB or a receiver. They are a team that has multiple needs in their offense and defense. They are far more likely to add a QB or LT and build up from there rather than add a star WR or RB, which would be one of the things you’d be looking to do if you were on your way to a championship. In short, if you can’t get the ball to your WR or RB, what point is there in drafting them?
However, every once in a while there is a star that is drafted in the Top 5. And once every couple of decades or so, there is someone good enough to be drafted for the 1st pick of the NFL Draft. The latest example would be Keyshawn Johnson, who was drafted with the 1st pick of the NFL Draft. He went on to have a decent career for a #1 receiver, notching 4 seasons with over 1,000 yards and 1 season with 10 touchdowns. He also won a Super Bowl with the Bucs in 02.
When you’re looking for a playmaker in the 1st 5 picks, you’re looking for a durable guy that can be a play-maker every week of the NFL Season. You are on-guard against college award-heavy guys like Reggie Bush, who made it to the first 5 picks because he won the Heisman Trophy and looked ‘electrifying’ in college. You take a much harder look upon them, to see if they can take their college success and transfer it into the NFL. Physical build becomes extremely important, especially whether or not a player can take the hits on a NFL level instead of the hits in college. The combination of all of these factors is usually enough to take them out of the Top 5 picks, but the risk/reward factor is still great enough so that a team with a good O-Line will take a chance at these players if the situation demands it.
Who will the Panthers will take if they have the #1 pick?
The Panthers greatest needs are at DT, CB, and DE in order of importance. Richard Marshall has been sub-par at best since taking over for Ken Lucas, and offenses have been picking on him all season. We have to replace him, and Patrick Peterson out of LSU has all the makings of a shutdown corner coming out of college if he receives the right training. With the Panthers traditionally being a defensive team I cannot see how they can pass this talented guy up. Prince out of Nebraska presents an viable alternative if either one or the other is chosen, both of these players are worthy of being in the Top 10 picks of the NFL Draft. Now if our Panthers come back and win the next few games so that they drop out of the top 5 and both of these guys are taken, expect the Panthers to turn their attention to DaQuan Bowers from Clemson or Robert Quinn out of North Carolina. If they aren’t there, expect a star DT like Stephen Peau out of Oregon State or Marcell Darious out of Alabama.
But if they have the #1 pick and Patrick Peterson keeps up his great play for the rest of his college season, I can’t see how the Panthers can resist pairing him up with Chris Gamble and forcing QB’s to make a few more looks before they get the ball out.
So Panther fans, here’s what you got to look forward to.