With a lot of momentum coming off of last year's discovery of a franchise quarterback through the draft, the iron is hot for the Panthers to strike again in the first round even if we've already got a resident "icon and entertainer." There is a very real opportunity to parlay this top-10 pick into another cornerstone building-block to fit in with Newton, Beason, Gamble and Double Trouble.
The first group of prospects was set to arrive in Indianapolis today, so this is the last real opportunity for me to go ahead and lay out our most likely choices at 8/9 in the first round going off my gut. It is also, to my relief, one of the last opportunities to distinguish whether we pick behind Jacksonville or Miami, pending a coin toss at the event. Then, the Panthers spoiled that opportunity for me by hooking up with LSU DT Michael Brockers agent to schedule a get together to talk football, draft picks and maybe even contracts - if everything goes well - before the Combine kicked off. Alas, I've been tainted by professional football opinion!
My personal approach to this year's first pick has been to keep an open mind and understand that whoever we use this pick almost HAS to be a long-term hit on the team for us to carry out our "build from the draft and supplement through other avenues" philosophy. This makes it essential the team sits on its evaluations of players rather than reach to meet an area of need.
That said, I was originally turned off by the idea of going defensive tackle, partly because we spent a pair of third rounders last year who we haven't been able to reach a verdict on, and also because we brought in some stout, young competitors for them in camp next year. Add DT Ron Edwards coming back, and the position should already be overhauled.
However, I must relent that I was extremely short-sighted in overlooking the talents and prowess of one Michael Brockers. I have since come to my senses. If they want to take a look at him, then I do too. He's still not my top choice, but I've visualized him a lot more, and I kind of want to say "John Randle." That's kind of where his upside could go with his explosion and athleticism. If he is half the warrior Randle was, to go along with those freakish God-given advantages, we could see our defense make a quantum leap from "porous against the run" to "stout all along the line of scrimmage." He could inject that type of presence.
I feel the "on-the-radar" player who has the most to prove/lose at the Combine is USC WR Alshon Jeffrey, who I was high on all season. Of late, all the uncertainty surrounding this prospect has left me questioning what I saw, and whether I just watched too many games and fell in love with the Gamecocks whole roster. Marcus Lattimore was the only one I liked more than Jeffrey at the time, but Melvin Ingram certainly does seem to be the more attractive prospect in my mind at this point, hands down.
I am excluding the two quarterbacks from our conversation, as well as Alabama RB Trent Richardson, as I don't see any of these three prospects being there. I'd love to get our hands on one to trade for multiple picks, but won't even speculate about that in this conversation. I don't think it's impossible. If Richardson were on here, I'd have him at 1 or 3 or 5. I just can't decide, based on his value to other teams.
My Pre-Combine Carolina Panthers First Round Draft Board:
1) USC OT Matt Kalil
2) LSU CB Morris Claiborne
3) UNC DE Quentin Coples
4) LSU DT Michael Brockers
5/6) Alabama DE/OLB Courtney Upshaw
5/6) USC DE/OLB Melvin Ingram
7) Iowa OT Reilly Reiff
8) N. Alabama CB Janoris Jenkins
9) Stanford OT Jonathan Martin
10) Alabama CB Dre Kirkpatrick
In my defense, this may seem a little offensive line-heavy, but honestly I just feel that Reiff and Martin are both worthy of top-ten consideration (not that I'd pull the trigger). That's just a loaded portion of this draft.
I also could see Stanford G David DeCastro, Boston College LB Luke Kuechly, Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon and, my man, USC WR Alshon Jeffrey, in the conversation. In my most somber imaginations, however, I just can't see us going offense except to find a successor for LT Jordan Gross with this pick. It's just too valuable.
To me, the optimal pick very well could be at the three or four spots on this draft board. It's got the feel of a Coples-Brockers type of sitchiation, whichever man is there to choose.