Now first off let's get this out of the way. I am not going to make this into a piece crying for Clemson's DaQuan Bowers. I consider myself a pretty good writer, so I can put aside my obvious Clemson bias and look for the right guy. With that said, I go on.
As we all know, the Panthers get to choose the first player of the NFL Draft. College undergraduates have till January the 15th to declare their eligibility, and the Panthers get to choose among those available who they want on the team. At first the obvious choice was Andrew Luck. We all wanted him, Jimmy Clausen wasn't impressing, and with a surefire franchise QB we could begin to build a talented offensive line in front of him and begin to build a team that can compete for a championship. His not declaring killed that notion, and it threw the #1 pick into the air.
I thought long and hard about the players available, and what they could offer to the team. In the end, I think the list comes down to two people. Nick Fairley, and AJ Green. This could change if one of the two players blows it during the Combine, but for the most part these top picks don't move up or down the draft board. Nick Fairley provides something that the Panthers haven't had since Kris Jenkins: A dominant defensive tackle. While Charles Johnson have impressed on the outside, both of the tackles on the interior of our D-line have been garbage. Never applying pressure, and always giving the other QB as much time as he wants. With Nick Fairley and a good FA pickup, the problem is instantly fixed. Plus he does a good interview!
AU Football: Every Day... Nick Fairley Dominates vs. LSU (Ep. 8) (via AuburnAthletics)
AJ Green on the other hand provides one of the most sure-fire receivers that the NFL Draft has seen in a long time. When you hear his coach say that it's "Highly unusual for AJ Green to drop a single pass during the course of a practice," You know you have a special player. And ever since the first catch of the 2010 season, AJ Green has done nothing but impress. He is a playmaker. Television broadcasters have called him the "Best Wideout to come out of the draft since Calvin Johnson." And unlike Dwayne Jarrett, who never had good route running skills or any elite speed, AJ Green has both. He is the complete package, through and through, and all he has done since he's stepped on the field is make plays. Against Patrick Peterson of LSU, supposedly one of the greatest CB's coming into the draft, AJ Green had the best day of his season in catching 9 receptions for 165 yards and 2 touchdowns.
I was at an impasse with this decision for quite some time. I didn't know who to pick. You have two great problems with the Panthers. We can't pass the ball and we can't stop the run. Either one of these players go a long way towards fixing that problem.
And then I remembered what Steve Smith was talking about, a long time ago in articles like this. Suddenly, it all made sense. The Panthers have just suffered the 2nd worst season in franchise history. We finished 32nd in the league passing the football. Panther jerseys are being sold on the discount rack everywhere you turn. What this team needs is a fresh dose of talent. Someone that can help us give a true judgment on Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen. Someone that can get the fans excited. And while Nick Fairley may help us on defense, he's not going to be the flashy player we need and he's not going to score points for us. And hasn't that been the Panthers problem all season: Scoring points and staying on the field? How is Nick Fairley, nor any defensive player we choose in the draft, going to be effective if we can't stay on the field and give them a rest?
Once you use that train of thought, there is only one player for us in the NFL Draft. It is AJ Green. Period. And that my friends, is my final answer. AJ Green has declared for the draft as of 8 hours ago.