After addressing needs at the quarterback, defensive tackle, and cornerback positions with the team's first four picks in the 2011 Draft, the Panthers decided to add some depth to the receiving corps when they drafted Hawaii slot receiver Kealoha Pilares with the first selection in the fifth round (#132 overall).
Pilares was a bit of an unknown commodity to most fans thanks in part to playing college ball for the University of Hawai'i and for not participating at the 2011 NFL Combine. In fact, I knew little about Pilares before researching for this article, so I must admit that when the pick was initially made it was a bit of a head scratcher for me, because I was left wondering why the front office would use a draft pick on a kid who measures 5'10", 199 lbs., especially when they used three draft picks on the wide receiver position in last year's draft (including the oft-criticized trade for Armanti Edwards).
After doing some research on Pilares' career at Hawai'i, and after watching some impressive highlight reels of some of his performances for the Warriors, I am quite convinced that the Panthers have made a draft selection that will reap huge dividends in the near future.
We will explore what Pilares brings to the table for the Panthers after the jump...
Pilares has several strengths in his game, and the first (and probably most important) of which is his ability to make defenders miss in the open field. Pilares is seen as a shifty runner in open space, and he runs like a running back when he catches the ball in the open field. (Of course, this makes sense because he converted from running back to receiver in the 2009 season at Hawai'i.)
Pilares is a good route runner who is not afraid to go over the middle. He has the ability to get open on underneath routes and can also sneak behind defensive backs thanks to his smaller size. Even though he's not the biggest guy on the field, he has the ability to run over defenders when he has the ball in his hands, partly because of his instincts as a running back.
Last season at Hawai'i, Pilares had 6 games where he recorded over 100 receiving yards, 9 games where he caught more than 5 passes, 4 games where he had more than 1 receiving touchdown, and only 3 games where he did not score a touchdown (Utah State, Boise State, and Tulsa). His most notable game from 2010 came against USC, where he caught 5 passes for 176 yards and three touchdowns, but his biggest game was against Louisiana Tech, where he had 18 receptions(!) for 217 yards and 2 touchdowns.
One of Pilares' biggest strengths is something that can't be measured with stats. He has one of the best attitudes of any young player that I've seen in a long time, and he has a tremendous work ethic. The day he was drafted he made sure that he completed his daily workout routine before celebrating the fact that he had just been drafted to play in the NFL, and to me that signals that he is a player who fits right in with the vision that Ron Rivera has for the Panthers football team. He comes across as a guy who will do the work necessary to succeed in the NFL, and if he doesn't pan out it won't be because he failed to put forth the proper effort to use his talent to the best of his ability.
Here is a video of an interview with Pilares, during which he says that one of his goals is helping the team win. (You have to love the attitude from this kid. I think he's going to fit right in with the Panthers way of doing things.)
Also be sure to check out this video of Pilares clean lifting 360 lbs. (keep in mind he's 5'10", 199 lbs.).
Like every player who's picked after the 2nd round, Pilares does have a few weaknesses (if he didn't have any weaknesses, he would have been a top-10 pick). Pilares is somewhat hampered by the fact that he lacks the height found in typical receivers, and he's not a thread to stretch the field by getting open on deep routes. Even though he runs a sub-4.5 40, he is criticized for having "limited speed" (his 4.11 short shuttle and 6.85 3-cone drill were a little on the slow side when compared to other prospects). The fact that he converted to wide receiver from running back also hinders him because he has the hands of a running back, resulting in him getting a case of the dropsies from time to time.
Value of Pick:
His draft grade by NFL.com was 3.1 (out of 10), which put him as a late round to undrafted prospect. By comparison, AJ Green was graded at 8.6, Julio Jones was graded at 8.4, Jonathan Baldwin was graded at 6.9, and Leonard Hankerson was graded at 6.7. Walter Football projected Pilares to be either a 7th round pick or a UDFA, so according to Walter Football, Pilares was a bit of a reach since the Panthers took him in the top of the 5th round. However, Pro Football Weekly draft expert Nolan Nawrocki projected Pilares as a 4th-5th round pick, so according to him the Panthers took the receiver where he should have been taken in the draft.
Click here to see PFW's draft profile of Pilares.
According to many "experts", the Panthers did not get much value out of this pick. But, if I know anything about the Panthers front office and new coaching staff, they wouldn't have made this choice if they didn't see something worth taking. One thing that must be taken into consideration is that Pilares did not participate at the combine because of a PCL injury, and he ran drills at his Pro Day just three months after recovering from the injury.
Pilares' starting potential is dependent upon what the Panthers do with Steve Smith. If they trade him, then Pilares will be expected to contribute immediately as the team's slot receiver. If the Panthers decide to keep Steve Smith (or are unable to get a reasonable offer for him), then Pilares will most likely be used in a reserve role. Regardless of whether Pilares is a starter or not, he looks to be a focal point of the offense because of his ability to gain yards in open space, and he will be a dynamic addition to the receiver corps.
Fit in Depth Chart:
Right now Pilares is 4th on the depth chart, depending on how the coaching staff feels about Armanti Edwards. Pilares will probably move up the depth chart if Steve Smith is traded, but if Smitty remains a Panther for the 2011 season, Pilares figures to stay 4th or 5th on the depth chart for his rookie campaign. Regardless of where he stacks up to the other receivers on the roster, don't be surprised to see his name called on Sundays as the Panthers look to take advantage of more 3-4 receiver sets in Chudzinski's offense.
Pilares directly compares to New England's slot receiver Wes Welker. Pilares is slightly bigger, faster, and stronger than Welker, and Pilares will look to model his career after the Patriots receiver who has overachieved throughout his career by being one of the deadliest slot receivers in the league.
A lot of analysts believe that we reached for Pliares in the 5th round, but I happen to think that we took the steal of the draft by taking the kid from Hawai'i at #132 overall. Time will only tell, but I truly believe that in three years we will be laughing all the way to the bank with this pick.
Stay tuned to CSR for the remaining profiles of all of the Panthers 2011 draft class.