It seems too bizarrely fortuitous that the morning I decided to write about what A.J. Green would bring to the Panthers it would be roughly 12 hrs since the news broke that Steve Smith wanted out of Carolina. One point I had planned to make was about planning for the future, and Green being a chance to be a proactive, rather than reactive selection- but c'est la vie... it looks like he would be another attempt to bandaid a bullet hole.
As it stands I think there's an outside chance he's the pick, but a chance nonetheless- so lets look at what he brings to the organization.
1. Green has the rare talent to make his QB better
We all know the common thinking when it comes to a WR- they can't do anything without a good QB. However, when it comes to A.J. Green he's really one of the exceptions to this rule. He brings a rare combination of size, speed, athleticism and astounding hands to the table that truly makes the life of his QB easier. Need more proof? Look no further than to his QB Aaron Murray:
- Average game without A.J. Green (2010): 61.45% completion, 219.75 yards, 1.25 TD
- Average game with A.J. Green (2010): 64.53% completion, 246.5 yards, 2.37 TD
When you have a WR who can lift he QBs performance like that he becomes worthy of a top selection, especially when he's the surest thing on the offensive side of the ball.
In short, it gives the Panthers the best last chance to give Jimmy Clausen one last chance before deciding he was a waste of a 2nd round pick. If he can't succeed with A.J. Green at WR, then it's unlikely he'll be able to in any other situation. In this way Green fills myriad roles of helping you evaluate current talent, and set yourself up for the future.
More after the jump
2. He is a bonafide #1 receiver
Until last night this would seem to be a topic for the back-burner, or an afterthought... but now it has to become a stark realization that without Steve Smith the Carolina Panthers have far and away the worst receiving corps in the NFL. Both Brandon LaFell and David Gettis did very well as #2 receivers their first year, but one of the reasons this team got to 2-14 in the first place was putting too much stock in single season's worth of good numbers.
Though both were tremendous value where they were picked in the draft, and despite Gettis showing flashes of #1 WR ability, ultimately neither look like true #1 receivers, not yet.
3. Immediate impact
There's only one player at the top of the draft on the offensive side of the ball who can immediately step in and improve his team, and that's A.J. Green. Either of the quarterbacks would need at least one year of seasoning and instruction to be ready, but scouts believe Green's route running and feel for the game is already so advanced that he can step in immediately and contribute. Here's some food for thought:
- Calvin Johnson: 756 yards, 4 TD his rookie season (John Kitna as QB)
- Steve Smith: 556 yards, 2 TD (Jimmy Clausen as QB)
Despite Fitzgerald, Johnson and Johnson not having elite QBs, they still put forward better performances their rookie seasons than any Carolina Panthers WR did last year. If Green is truly in that same class, then he's worth the pick.
4. We have a precedent of getting the WR first making the most sense
I again need to lean on the above examples of Detroit, Houston and Arizona. Sure, Houston hadn't worked out David Carr was a complete bust yet in 2003, but how much easier did it make Matt Schaub's transition into the role of starting QB to have a #1 target out of the gate?
The Cardinals were relying on Josh McCown and passed on Philip Rivers when they took Larry Fitzgerald, but pairing Fitzgerald with Kurt Warner proved to be the dynamic needed to make them NFC champions.
Detroit were still looking for their way when they took Calvin Johnson, passing on Brady Quinn... but as it stands if Matt Stafford can remain healthy the nucleus is there.
Though some see it as putting the cart before the horse, the reality is that having an established and seasoned WR makes life easier for a QB when they hit the field. Even if the Panthers waited and took a Ryan Mallett/Ricky Stanzi later in the draft, having them on the bench while Green worked a full season would ultimately aid their transition.
5. This is a passing league
This is the phrase we keep hearing over, and over, and over again... and it's true. However, there's more that just getting a QB needed to fill in this equation, you also need a reliable WR. If you're going to look at this draft from offensive BPA (with BPA meaning the ideal for his position) then Green is the best guy you can take.
Tomorrow I'll return to the defensive side of the ball and conclude this series with LSU CB Patrick Peterson.