Any coach or player worth their salt aren't thinking about the draft too intently. The front office are in their infancy of starting their boards, and regional scouts are working up their reports before the off-season madness begins.
Winning two of their last three games, the Carolina Panthers are straddling a line -- one between giving fans some much-needed confidence, the other is still ensuring they get the best possible talent in the 2013 draft. Sitting at four wins, the organization are still on pace for a top-five pick, and today we take a brief look at some of the talent available.
Carolina's 4-and-9 record, paired with 0.550 strength of schedule means they currently hold the 5th overall pick; this from Mocking the Draft. As an aside, it's interesting to think about the Panthers in relation to the Detroit Lions. Without divulging their records back in July, and simply saying "On December 11th the Panthers will have the same record as a Lions", it's only natural to be thrilled; after all, the Lions and Panthers were both believed to be taking the next step, and yet both organizations have fallen on their faces.
Looking at the prospects there are several that jump out. In talking to some scouts, there's an overwhelming feeling that unless something surprising pops up in the next few months, Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel will not be available at the fifth pick. His reputation precedes him as one of the most sure-things in the draft, and at a position of need for numerous teams. Many Panthers fans have been salivating at the idea of finding a ten-year offensive tackle for Cam Newton, but it appears Carolina will need to get more creative.
Another name who has popped up a lot is Star Lotulelei. The defensive tackle out of Utah may not possess an eye-popping pass rush like Ndamukong Suh, but that's not his game. He is better at manipulating the pocket, and pushing offensive linemen back into a quarterback, rather than blowing by them for the sack. This lack of standout pass rushing moves will cause some to be weary of him, but he compares favorably to Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. Adding that kind of force in the middle would open up the pass rush for Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy.
If both are gone the water gets a lot muddier. Numerous names could enter the equation -- from Ohio State's Jonathan Hankins, to Alabama cornerback DeMarcus Milliner; some wide receivers could get a look, too.
As the process moves forward we'll have more on the draft, but for now we're more concerned with seeing the Panthers close out the 2012 season. Treading the line between top-five pick, and still winning games is near-impossible to do, but it will be fun to see it play out.