ESPN now has the Panthers with the 9th pick in the 2012 draft, and if they should beat the Saints Sunday, then they might even go higher, maybe around 12th. This might mean that several of the players we've dreamed of drafting may now be out of reach (OT Matt Kalil, WR Justin Blackmon, CB Morris Claiborne), gone before the Panthers pick. This means that several players who the Panthers probably wouldn't have considered drafting at around the 5th pick, are suddenly in play for the Panthers pick at around 5-12 (OT Jonathan Martin, OT Riley Reiff, G David DeCastro, DT Devon Still, DE Quinton Coples, WLB Zach Brown, or CB Dre Kirkpatrick).
However, here is a surprise name for the Panthers 1st round pick, 4-3 DE/3-4 OLB Whitney Marcilius (6-4, 265, 4.65-40), a junior from Illinois, who's last name is pronounced Merc - i - less. He played against top compition in the Big 10, recording 52 tackles, 19.5 TFL's, 14.5 sacks, and 9 forced fumbles, leading the BCS in both sacks and forced fumbles this season. He's currently projected to go from the middle of the 1st round, to the top of the 2nd round, but unless his numbers come up short at the Combine, I believe his stat line will carry him up to arond where the Panthers will be drafting. This pick might be a longshot dark horse, but here's why I think he might interest the Panthers.
1. He's the top pass rusher in the draft, and the Panthers would like to improve their pass rush.
2. He fit's both a 4-3 defense as a DE, and a 3-4 defense as a pass rushing 3-4 OLB.
3. Think of the pass rush with him at DE, CJ at the other DE, and Hardy inside, or him blitzing as a 3-4 OLB, on the same side as CJ or Hardy.
4. If the Panthers also draft another big (330+ NT like Poe or Ta'amu) in the 2nd round, then the Panthers will be equally good in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense.
In other post I've suggested drafting a DT/DE like Jared Crick or Quinton Coples, to provide an inside pass rush at DT, and as the top backup DE behind CJ and Hardy. However, they are a little small for a DT at around 285 pounds, and the only 300 pound DT with a very good sack total (9.5 sacks this season) is Derek Wolfe. Well, it just hit me today, why draft a small DT in the hope his pass rush translates to the NFL, when DE Greg Hardy could fill that same roll (at least on passing downs, as he sometimes does now)? Hardy is only listed at 277 pounds, but that's only around 8 pounds less than Crick or Coples, 14 pounds less than rookie DT Terrell McClain, and I belive he could add that 8 pounds without losing any speed.