"It's not you, it's me" (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
As both a football fan and a writer I look each year to identify my weaknesses as a talent evaluator in the hopes I don't repeat the same mistakes I did the year before. I think this is the off-season where I finally have worked out my no.1 stumbling block in looking at prospects- I fall in love with film. Some like to over-analyze combine numbers in the hopes they can derive information from them, others view everything through the lens of 'need' and focus on players who will immediately help the organization; I watch a lot of film on a lot of prospects and fall in love with certain archetypes of players. Ultimately I end up grading these guys too high, or ignore the scheme the Panthers have in place, too often trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
I freely admit I did this with Blaine Gabbert last year. In hindsight I underestimated how reliant the Panthers offense would be on the deep pass, and devalued the importance of the Air Coryell in finding a new QB. While I still believe Gabbert will be a fine QB (because I think far too many are using the stellar first years of Newton and Dalton as the new rookie baseline) I acknowledge he wouldn't be the right player for this offense where everything is now run through the QB. Call it 'Fox fatigue' if you like, but I think a part of me still believed we'd be a run-first team and need a QB who suited those ends- but I digress.
In reading Jaxon's justification for why he chose Fletcher Cox (and by extension eliminated Melvin Ingram) he raised an extremely salient point:
"I can't see spending a #9 on a DE that may not play three downs"
I've talked for a while about how enamored I am with Ingram, and how he could be the best pass rusher in this draft class. However, Jaxon was right- he's not a good fit here. I'll explore that and more...
After the jump
To argue that Ingram could be a 4-3 DE based on his size is trying to justify how to fit that square peg in that round hole. While he possesses all the key pass rushing tropes, he also lacks the basic skills needed to play low and get leverage out of a three point stance. There are many times on film where Ingram gets pushed around on initial contact, only to then get the better of his man and make a big play. At the college level this is fine, because the game moves slow enough to give a defender time to lose leverage, re-establish and then get to the QB. In the NFL as soon as that leverage is lost the play is over. That's not to say Ingram can't learn that skill, but it is something to be worked on in the NFL. He was always at his best when standing upright, and that's why he'll be a devastating 3-4 OLB at the next level, but he's no 4-3 DE.
A top ten pick is too valuable to risk on a position conversion- and that's what you would be doing with Ingram. Sure, he played DE at South Carolina, but the myriad skills he would need to play the position in the NFL negates the impact the Panthers are looking to get out of the position. Yes, he's scheme versatile and will be amazing for the team who drafts him, but it's just not right for us- even with the few 3-4 looks we employ.
This morning Doug Farrar of Football Outsiders was discussing how much he liked Ingram, so I took the opportunity to ask him about him.
Me: Do you think he (Ingram) really has the skill set to be a 4-3 DE? That's what I struggle with on tape looking at him for CAR
Farrar: 3-4/5-2 OLB, LEO, DE in sub (nickel/dime) packages. In a straight 4-3? I struggle with that. Coples seems more suited for that role.
Me: That's what I was thinking. I just love the hands, violence of Ingram more than Coples' ability.
Farrar: Yep. Coples needs to be an outside guy. Ingram can do more; makes him a natural for varied fronts.
Yes, the Carolina Panthers are looking to infuse their offense with more 3-4 looks, but this isn't what Farrar is talking about when he says "varied fronts". He's talking about the way Baltimore, Houston and Pittsburgh use their defenses where the idea of 3-4 and 4-3 are thrown out the window for some very bizarre and confusing fronts.
Let me put it this way: The Carolina Panthers need a can opener at DE, and while Ingram may be a Swiss-army knife with a can opener it will never be as good at doing that one specific job than a dedicated can opener would.
It's easy to fall in love with all the skills Melvin Ingram brings to the table, but at the end of the day I've reconciled the fact he isn't the right choice for the Panthers. It isn't prudent to debate Coples v. Ingram because they're not equivalent players, just as it wasn't really apropos to debate Newton v. Gabbert 365 days ago. This process is about identifying what the Panthers truly need, not what we want; and while I'm still scared of Coples for many reasons, he could be what the team truly needs.