When news broke that the Panthers had not only selected Armanti Edwards in the third round, but that they traded next year's second for it, pundits immediately expressed outrage, shock, and disbelief.
What had been a great Carolina draft to that point was suddenly spoiled by their reach for a small college player whom they probably could have gotten in the fourth. And on the morning after, a lot of people still felt that while the Panthers got great value with their first two picks, they overpaid for their third.
But value is a tricky thing to define. If the Panthers get a player who helps them win, then that player is worth a draft pick, whether it's in the first round or the seventh. And they obviously think that Edwards will eventually help them win.
In the third round, the it was reported that the Panthers felt that if they wanted Edwards, they needed to jump or someone else would. So Marty Hurney made the call and they traded a future draft pick and made him their choice. And once they did, they seemed pretty happy about it.
Now if it was Al Davis and Oakland, then all the talking heads out there would just nod and smile knowingly at one another. But this is Marty Hurney, and aside from a real willingness to move around the draft through all kinds of trades, he's generally a pretty fair assessor of talent. So why is there such a disconnect between what he thinks and the collective opinion of the major national sports writers?
A lot of people will attribute the pick to local ties. He's certainly a local hero, at least at the small college level. At Appalachian State, Edwards started 49 games. His college position was Quarterback, although he will transition to Wide Receiver in the Pros, a position he played in High School. He stands 5'11", and weighs in at 187 pounds. He's got fairly big hands at 9.5 inches. He had 13 reps on the bench press, a vertical jump of 34.5", and ran the 40 in 4.44 seconds.
As a quarterback, his four year cumulative rating was 154.54, with 768 completions out of 1,180 attempts (65.1%). He threw for 10,392 yards, 74 TDs, and 33 INTs. And he rushed 755 times for 4,361 yards (5.8 YPC) and 65 TDs. He led the Mountaineers to the Southern Conference Championship every year he was there, and to the National Championship game three times, winning twice.
Edwards is the only player to win the Walter Payton Award twice, given to the most outstanding offensive player in Division I football. Prior winners include Dave Meggett, Steve McNair, Brian Finneran, Brian Westbrook, and Tony Romo. He holds seven single game records for the Mountaineers, 21 single season records, 19 postseason records, and 17 career records. He's a three time all-conference QB and easily the most decorated player in Appalachian State history.
By any measure, Edwards has had an extraordinary college career. If he was a few inches taller and 20-30 pounds heavier, he probably would have heard his name called on the draft's first day like Joe Flacco, the Delaware QB who Edwards thoroughly outplayed in the 2007 Division I National Championship game. But he isn't taller, he isn't heavier, so he didn't get taken in the first round.
If he had played wide receiver his entire career, like fellow Alum Dexter Jackson, he may have been selected in the second round, like fellow Alum Dexter Jackson. He's actually bigger than Jackson, and although he's .05 seconds slower in the 40 he's still just as good at open field running. But he plays quarterback, so the second round went without his name being called.
Instead, he's done it all as a quarterback, a position that he's probably too small to play at the next level. But even as a quarterback, he hasn't just made plays with his arm. Edwards is an electrifying open-field runner. He's fast, quick, and elusive. For four years he's left opponents grasping for air, en route to 65 touchdowns.
When he runs, he does so with a shifty awareness of the field. He's patient enough to let his blockers get set up, and sharp enough to see where the holes are about to open and burst through them. This is the ability that got him drafted. He'll switch to Wide Receiver, but he'll also be used in the return game an probably as a wildcat quarterback.
Although he's never fielded punts, he did so on his pro day without hesitation. He hasn't run a route in five years, but as a quarterback he knows their importance and he showed off his big, soft hands as a potential receiver to any scout that cared to watch.
And as a wildcat option, there are few available who can run like he can, stop on a dime, and throw the ball 50 yards in the air with plenty of accuracy. If he makes it in the NFL, you can bet that a lot of opposing defensive coordinators will lose some sleep scheming to stop him.
Off the field, he's a model citizen. He's already gotten his degree, six months ahead of schedule. In preparing for the NFL, he's taking a "wherever they need me" approach that has endeared him to coaches around the league. For a player of his accomplishments, he has a humility and team-first attitude about him that's almost refreshing in the world of professional sports.
So what are the knocks? Well, there's the position switch. It's not that common, and although it's been tried a lot it isn't always successful. Then there are the injuries. He had more than a few on the college level, and the players he'll be facing are somewhat bigger than your standard division one linebacker. And the level of competition is another red flag.
But while he played at the Division I level, he still faced some high quality opponents. Ask some Michigan players how much they respect him. The squad he beat in 2007 had 11 players who were later drafted into the NFL. Against them he threw for 227 yards and rushed for 62, and accounted for three TDs through the air and one on the ground. But to be fair, the next year at LSU the Tigers keyed on him and held him to one of the worst games of his career. Even so, when a top ten college team schemes specifically to stop a division one quarterback, that's quite a compliment.
To be fair, Edwards may never make it at this level. But he's going to get his chance, and if he siezes it with the same drive and work ethic that he's displayed to this point, don't bet against him. And if his skills translate to the pro level, look out. Carolina will have another playmaker on the roster to line up with Smitty and Williams, and a hell of a presence in the locker room.
And if he can help win one game, if he can give the Panthers a home-run threat on special teams, if he can produce reasonable field position on a regular basis, then the pick will have paid off big-time.
Sure there's risk, but that's true of any player drafted. And few have the upside Edwards does. So let the pundits talk about the risk. Think about the rewards instead, and look forward to seeing him on Sundays.
We certainly will.