Not since their inaugural draft in 1995 have the Panthers held the number one overall pick. Of course, Bill Polian wound up trading that pick to the Bengals, who infamously selected Ki-Jana Carter, one of the worst first picks of all time. In return, we collected the fifth pick (Kerry Collins, a promising quarterback who reached an NFC Championship Game before his descent into alcoholism) and the 36th pick (Shawn King, a defensive end best known for his multiple violations of the NFL’s drug policy).
Yes, neither turned out to be a franchise cornerstone. As I remember it, however, there were no slam-dunk prospects for that first overall pick. Moreover, Polian understood that his young franchise had so many needs on both sides of the ball that building talent was the greatest priority in the goal of becoming competitive.
Sixteen years later, Marty Hurney finds himself in a similar situation. After last year’s debacle, this roster has a number of question marks. Depending on your belief in Jimmy Clausen, quarterback is either a concern or a crisis. Even though David Gettis and Brandon LaFell have shown some early promise, the Panthers still lack a proven number two receiver to free up Steve Smith. Jeff Otah’s injuries raise red flags for the right side of the offensive line. At defensive tackle, the days of Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner are a distant memory, and defensive end could be an issue too if Charles Johnson bolts Charlotte. And then there’s the secondary, which has been a major liability and could get even worse if Richard Marshall leaves (depending on your opinion of Marshall, that is).
Because of the Armanti Edwards trade last year, the 33rd pick belongs to the Patriots. Hurney’s move handicapped our ability to stock up talent in this draft. The drop-off in quality from the first pick to the 65th, our next slotted selection, is dramatic. In my opinion, the best way he can make amends is to follow Polian’s example and trade out of the first pick.
There is no prospect in this year’s draft that is a slam-dunk, must-have guy for the first pick. Not only do the Panthers have a number of needs, but almost every one of the guys that have been linked with the top spot could drop out of the top five. The right move here is to find a team in the top ten that has become enamored with one of these prospects and trade back. Most agree that this would at least get us back a second round selection and a first rounder next year, which would be instrumental in a rebuilding effort that will likely take a couple of seasons.
Perhaps Hurney is already planning for this, sending up smoke signals about Cam Newton in the hopes of enticing QB-needy teams like the Bills, Cardinals and Titans to make a deal. Here’s hoping, because the return to the top will take much more than a marginal first pick.