It was about the time the Panthers selected CB Brandon Hogan to start the 4th round that it occurred to me that the Panthers were essentially going straight down their needs chart, at least it seemed that way to me. You can actually verify it by listening to our Day 3 of the draft radio show. We then stated, James included, that if the pattern holds the next pick would be a WR.
Prior to the draft I would have listed the Panthers needs as QB, DT, CB, WR, C/G, OL. The Panthers then seemed to take the best player on their board at each of the positions. I even mentioned in several draft needs discussion that the Panthers actually needed two DTs. I admit though I never imagined they would take them back to back in the 3rd round.
Why is this significant? Because in the past Panthers GM Marty Hurney seemed to pride himself on not reaching for needs and taking the true best player available, even if there were quality starters already at the position. C Ryan Kalil, LB Dan Conner and Wr Dwayne Jarrett are examples. Several of these picks look, on the surface anyway, to be reaches at their respective positions as there appeared to be higher rated players on the board. The only deviation was the selection of LB Lawrence Wilson whom many feel was a value pick at this point.
We'll continue this review after the jump...
Another surprise for me in the this draft was the apparent influence of new Panthers HC Ron Rivera and his staff. The Panthers appeared to pay market price if not overpay for west coast players Fua, Pilares and Williams. Might Rivera know something we don't? Might his staff be more familiar with these players due to past proximity? It might be coincidence but I'm betting not fully if so.
I like the fact the Panthers seemed to take high risk, high reward players from one end to the other. Let's see where the risks were taken:
QB Cam Newton - The ultimate high risk high reward draft selection
DT Terrell McClain - Most think this pick was value or market price at the worst
DT Sione Fua - Many think this was a slight over payment as few had a 3rd round grade on Fua. I'm thinking we end up loving this pick
CB Brandon Hogan - The consensus is this kid has tons of talent but makes bad decisions off the field. I'm thinking the Panthers plan to sign a FA CB meaning there will be no pressure to get Hogan on the field. If he's going to flush out we will know soon enough. If he doesn't we might have landed a gem in the 4th round.
WR Kealoha Pilares - Some has called him a reach but so did many after the Panthers selected WR Steve Smith. That is exactly who Pilares reminds me of, the strong and feisty WR who runs like a RB after the catch. Look for this guy to get reps on the outside as well as the slot.
LB Lawrence Wilson - The first non-need pick aqs Wilson actually looks to be a special teams player who can add septh at LB. He was very productive in college and so is more of BPA pick at this point I think.
C/G Zack Williams - The Panthers needed a C/G combo in this draft to back up C Ryan Kalil. Williams was hardly the highest rated player left at this point at the C position but he has a mean streak that might make him special.
T Lee Ziemba - Ziemba is simply a perfect example of where need meets the BPA strategy too. The Panthers need more options in their depth at tackle and Ziemba is a perfect candidate. Tough, resilient and experience Ziemba has the added benefit of knowing the Panthers new QB very well.
So why might the Panthers we willing to take the risks they did? Might it be because they appear to be set up nicely with regards to cap space once free agency begins. Might they be planning to be very active in acquiring free agent talent to start right away at positions like QB, CB, DT and RG? I can only speculate but since the results of this draft seem to diverge from the most recent drafts I can't help but conclude there has been a change in strategy. Thought the jury is still out I find myself very enthused with this group of draft picks. If you also wondered how the Panthers could finish a draft without addressing needs you have to be enthused as well.