Entering the 2011 draft the Panthers laid out a simple plan for the organization- address their needs. They did this throughout the entire draft. For an organization typically rich in subterfuge, the end result of the draft was simple; they got a QB, revamped the defensive line, got a cornerback, then added depth at WR, LB and OL. This is exactly what coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers would do, and exactly what GM Marty Hurney said they would do. The most surprising thing about the Panthers draft was its predictability.
One thing I think we can gather from this draft is that Ron Rivera put a West Coast slant on the draft selecting players from Stanford, Hawaii and Washington State- typically outside of USC we don't see Carolina going after numerous prospects from that area, but it seems clear to me that Rivera has some contacts out there and that coupled with the scouting they did led to some players we wouldn't typically see in a Panthers draft.
As I casually head to NFL.com and look at the Panthers selections I see that the 'fans' have graded Carolina's draft as a 'C'. Personally, I think this is rather harsh. The funny thing about the draft is that after the 3rd round everyone becomes a scout and a 'reach' equates to 'I haven't heard of that guy' while a 'steal' is 'I've heard about that guy'. Therefore, it's only natural when Carolina selects Kealoha Pilares and Zachary Williams fan scream 'reach!'.
My grades for each pick after the jump...
Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
As the draft went on the selection of Cam Newton looked better and better for the Carolina Panthers. Is he still a huge risk? Absolutely. However, when Carolina got around to selecting at #65 only two QBs of note were left on the board, Ryan Mallett and Ricky Stanzi. While many of us thought Mallett at #65 would be a dream, after reading dozens of reports the consensus seems to be that only a situation with zero pressure and no demands could be a place where Mallett could succeed- Carolina never would have been that place.
I'm not naive enough to ignore the fact that some of the positive things we're hearing about Newton are surely PR moves, but when there's overwhelming evidence of something then a good portion of it must be true. Cam will be under a microscope in Carolina by the local and national media alike, but thus far he's doing all the right things and saying all the right words. I think he's going to put the work in, and I think we're going to get something very special.
Terrell McClain, DT, South Florida and Sione Fua, DT, Stanford
There are times that selections are more about a sum of their parts than each individual pick. I can't honestly say either McClain, nor Fua (as much as I like him) were the absolute best players at their position when selected. However, when you put them together you have tandem that was born to stuff the middle and stop the run.
McClain has the power and lower body strength to move between a 3-technique in the 4-3 and a 5-technique in a 3-4. He's the kind of guy who'll get penetration but not necessarily have an eye for the QB. He said he wants to be disruptive and he will be.
Fua on the other hand played NT for Stanford in their 3-4 and did so admirably, despite little help on the rest of his defense. For Carolina he represents a player who can move between NT in both a 4-3 and 3-4 system. The guys we did talk about like Ellis and Powe didn't really have this flexibility as much as were both suited to pure 3-4 systems.
Grade (collective): B+
Brandon Hogan, CB, West Virginia
I like this pick, but there are some concerns with the aggressive Mountaineer CB. Though he's only 5'10", 192lbs in reality he plays much bigger and if you look at his highlight package you'll see him stuck like glue to Pittsburgh WR (and 1st round pick) Jonathan Baldwin, breaking up a pass in the endzone.
In a lot of ways Hogan resembles current Panther Captain Munnerlyn. A gritty, hard hitting CB who can get lost in coverage sometimes. He'll need to become more disciplined, but I have little doubt Ron Meeks and co. can mold him.
Kealoha Pilares, WR, Hawaii
This is my dark horse pick for the 'I can't believe we got him here' award as we look back in hindsight on this draft. I'll be the first to admit this pick barely moved the needle for me when his name was read, but the more I look into Pilares' history the more and more I love this pick.
Too much is being made of his PCL tear throughout the fan base, without paying attention to the fact he ran a 4.42 in the 40 yard dash AFTER recovering from the injury. He'll be a-okay come training camp (whenever that is). Ever since Wes Welker became a household name after being undrafted teams have been looking at these small, gritty, slot WRs who can get separation. Pilares was a former RB converted to WR who finished he 2010 season with over 1,300 yards for Hawaii. He's described as 'loving' going over the middle, and benched 19 reps... that's 2 more than Julio Jones managed and he was regarded as one of the strongest WR in the draft.
I'm not going to lie... I don't know what this pick means for Armanti Edwards, but initially it doesn't look good. Training camp will tell us more.
Lawrence Wilson, LB, UCONN
This was one of the few BPA picks that occurred this draft for the Panthers. As it stands both Thomas Davis and James Anderson and free agents, and we're not 100% sure what will happen to either player. Wilson had a dominant 123 tackle, 10.5 for a loss and 3.5 sack season this year and was the best blitzing 4-3 linebacker available when the Panthers selected.
He was a great pick at this point in the draft and really could compete immediately for time at either linebacker spots. James Anderson was a 3rd round pick, Wilson was at the top of the 6th and both are very similar players.
Zachary Williams, C, Washington State
This was another pick where I really needed to look into it more after the name was read, and really I'm not extremely impressed. Reports from his shrine bowl workouts detailed poor C/QB exchanges, and getting 'steamrolled' by opposing DL. That being said, Williams does provide some depth behind Ryan Kalil and there's a good chance the Panthers would move him to add some depth at guard.
In the end though I can't help but feel like there were some better options left available like Andrew Jackson out of Fresno State, but the fact Williams can snap the ball should not be underestimated as the Panthers relied on Winston Justice and Bernardeau last preseason to fill that role.
Lee Ziemba, OT, Auburn
Given this was a 7th round compensatory selection I feel the Panthers got amazing value with this pick. Ziemba could actually compete a RT some, provided Jeff Otah isn't available and if not he could play a role at RG. The familiarity with Cam Newton will definitely help, as Ziemba was far and away the best blocker on the Auburn offensive line.
His grade is more based purely on where he was taken in the draft, but when you compare him to more recent 7th round OL selections there's no comparison... he was a ton of value.
The Panthers entered the draft with a plan- fill their needs, and they left New York with all of them filled. Carolina now have some $70 million to play with in free agency, and if that money is used intelligently to bring in some established talent at CB then this draft will pay its dividends in a few years. Lots of risk, lots of reward... but tremendous upside. In the end I believe our coaching staff will coach the players up.
Overall Grade: B
What do you think fans? How would you grade the draft? Who is your 'sleeper' pick for the Panthers this year?