Ample time has been spent looking at the QBs, DTs and CBs in the 2011 draft, but if there is one position with talent at the top of this draft (Bowers, Quinn) that we haven't really talked about it's DE. I believe the position has drifted from our collective draft consciousness due to a combination of Charles Johnson's outstanding play, coupled with two promising young players in Greg Hardy and Everette Brown filling the depth positions.
What if we lost Charles Johnson to free agency? As it stands he's been tendered at the 1st and 3rd round level, and though it seems unlikely someone would sign him to an offer sheet at that level, there is a good chance he may be looking to leave when he's an UFA. I say this because sentiments and statements like Johnson made over Twitter don't go away, but rather oftentimes foreshadow a player's true feelings. We may not want to believe it, or stick our fingers in our ears and ignore it, but he certainly doesn't seem to be the kind of player who will stay in Carolina purely out of loyalty to the organization.
I already know what some of you are thinking: "But James, we have bigger fish to fry than DE. We have Johnson for another season at least, so no need to address the position right now." To this I would counter "Why did we wind up 2-14 in the first place? Waiting too long to replace key positions, and not addressing needs until they were in the forefront."
We'll look more at this after the jump
I have my concerns about Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers, and as CSRs resident Tiger-holic I certainly take the words of Revshawn with gravitas when he says that Bowers would be a mistake at #1. For many draft analysts he's still seen as the best DE in this draft, and it wasn't long ago that he was considered the best prospect in the 2011 draft, hands down- though he has slipped from this discussion due to his non participation in the combine. The fact remains though, it's hard to turn a blind eye to 16.5 sacks, regardless of how he got them. As important as it is to have a franchise QB, it's equally important to find a way to rush your opposition's franchise QB.
On the other end of the spectrum we have Robert Quinn. An equally talented DE, but with perhaps more questions than even Bowers after sitting out the 2010 season at North Carolina after being dismissed for his dealings with agents. Eight months ago it was Quinn who has regarded as the best defensive prospect in the 2011 draft, going behind Andrew Luck in almost every ludicrously early mock draft. What could muddy the water between Quinn at #1 and the Panthers is his agent, Carl Carey- who represents Julius Peppers. However, with a rookie pay scale in place negotiations on both sides should be much easier to conduct than those with #90.
With trading back still an option coupled with depth at defensive tackle it wouldn't be wholly surprising to see the Panthers select one of the top DE's with their top selection, a QB in the second round with an acquired pick and then getting a third round DT. I agree defensive end may not be a top concern as it stands, but it could be right around the corner and it's far better to prepare now than get caught lagging behind.