Looking at James Dator's recent post, the sort of "it's not you, it's me" of WR's and DT's, something struck me as somewhat odd, the DT's they have had in for visits or interviewed are almost all fits for a 3-4 defense. The only 4 DT's that had visited the Panthers can play in a 4-3 defense, but also in a 3-4. Fletcher Cox is either a pass rushing 4-3 DT, or a 3-4 DE, as is Jerel Worthy. NT Dontari Poe's 346 pounds is a natural fit as a 3-4 NT, though his great speed would also allow him to play NT in a 4-3 defense. Most consider Michael Brockers to be a DT, but his lack of a pass rush, combined with his great bulk (322 pounds at the Combine), and lack of speed (an "official" Combine 5.36-40, 1.77-10, and 4.81-20 yard shuttle), will likely force him to move to NT, probably in a 4-3 defense, and maybe a 3-4 as he grows bigger.
We've all read the argument many times that the Panthers have stated publicly that they will be a 4-3 defensive team, case closed. Though they have also said they would like a hybrid 4-3 with different looks as well. Once again, look at James list of visits, if the Panthers are really locked into a 4-3 defense, then why haven't they had 4-3 DT's Devon Still (maybe his past injuries?), Kendall Reyes (he could also play 3-4 DE), and Mike Martin (also a 4-3 NT) in for a visit, or interviewed them?
Of the draft's top pass rushers, only DE Quinton Coples is a true 4-3 DE (but he has major question's about his motor), and all the rest (Ingram, Mercilus, Perry, Upshaw, Branch, and Curry) are combo 4-3 DE/3-4 OLB types. So, unless the Panthers overlook Coples faults (motivation, with poor 7.57 3-cone drill, and 4.78-20 yard shuttle times, which aren't even good for a DT), they will draft a pass rusher that can play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense.
DT Fletcher Cox is discribed by Walt, at walterfootball.com, as having a "fabulous" Combine, but that's not really true, what he did was run fantastic times for a DT (an "official" Combine 4.79-40, 1.63-10, 7.07 3-cone drill, and just an OK 4.53-20 yard shuttle), but his 26 inch vertical jump, and 8-7 broad jump were poor (showing little explosion), while his 30 bench reps were just a little above average. Cox may be OK as a rookie, maybe even good if his great speed allows him to get several sacks, but needs about 2 years in a NFL weight program, along with NFL experience, to reach his peek.
The case of the Texans #81 pick in 2010, DT Earl Mitchell (6-3, 296), who's combine numbers were very close to those of Fletcher Cox, with an "official" Combine 4.78-40 (1/100ths of a second faster than Cox), a 1.56-10 (7/100ths of a second faster), a 7.31 Pro Day 3-cone drill (24/100ths of a second slower than Cox, a 4.55-20 yard shuttle (2/100ths of a sesond faster), 25 bench reps (5 less than Cox), a Pro Day 33 inch vertical jump (7 inches higher than Cox), and a 8-11 broad jump (2 inches longer tha Cox), might serve as a warning to lower the rookie year expectations for Cox. Both Mitchell and Cox college stats improved greatly in their final season, with Cox having 56 tackles, 14.5 TFL's, and 5 sacks. With so much in common between Mitchell and Cox, look at Mitchell's production in his first 2 seasons (though the Texans have forced Mitchell to play out of position at NT, and he has yet to start his 1st game):
2010 - 15 games - 27 tackles - 1 sack
2011 - 16 games - 28 tackles - 1 sack
Of course the Panthers might not even get the chance to draft Cox, as some are now ranking or projecting) him as the draft's 6th or 7th best player.
If the Panthers want a 4-3 defense only, then on the D-Line they will need to draft a pass rushing DT, and at least a bigger backup DE, all the current ones are 258 to 261 pounds, combo 4-3 DE/3-4 OLB types. If the Panthers want a hybrid 4-3 defense that can shift into 3-4 at times, then they will want to draft a pass rushing DT who can also play 3-4 DE, and that would matchup with their 3 backup combo DE/OLB's, with Hardy being CJ's backup, though they might want to draft a combo DE/OLB pass rusher, and maybe a bigger NT as Well. However, if they wish to play a 3-4 front more than just a few times a game, they will need a bigger NT, a good pass rushing 3-4 OLB, and maybe a 3-4 DE. So their needs, and their draft choices depent upon their future system plans.
The Next Queston, Will The Panthers Draft For Defense Or WR In The 1st Round?
I was thrilled, and a little surprised to see all the comments supporting Georgia Tech's WR Stephen Hill in respose to James post. Hill may have the most upside of any player in the draft, he certainly has the best speed (an "official" Combine 4.36, "unoffically" a 4.28-40, and an incredable 1.20-10 yard split, the fastest I can remember by more than 2/10ths of a second). Hill (6-4, 215) also fills the need for a big WR (to catch Cam's occasional high throws), with only 2 WR's (Derek Moye 6-4 1/4 and Tommy Streeter 6-4 7/8) in the draft who are talller. Hill only had 28 catches, for 820 yards, a 29.3 yard average, with 5 TD's, in 2011, but Tech only passed the ball about as often as it snow's in Georgia. What's really stricking when you watch some of Hill's highlights is the number of times he has a 5 to 10 yard lead on the defender, but outruns his QB's arm, causing him to slow down, or sometimes even stop to make the catch, allowing the DB to catch up with Hill, and make the tackle. I don't think that will ever happen with Cam's arm. Hill's team will need train him up in his route running, and understand that he needs time to develop, perhaps not reaching his peek until his 3rd season. With the Panthers, Hill would likely rotate with David Gettis, keeping them both fresh, with Hill running mostly deep routes as a rookie (so other rookie WR's will have more catches, but Hill may have as many or more TD's), which will pull the Safety on his side of the field deep, away from Steve Smith's side of the field, and opening up underneath routs.for the other receivers.
If the Panthers wish to draft Hill, they can probably trade back with the Eagles at #15, or Jets at #16, and also get an extra 2nd round pick (the Eagles have 2 2nd round picks, but no 3rd round picks). If so the Panthers could take Hill in the 1st round, the best pass rusher left at #40, and a WLB (Mychal Kendricks, Zach Brown, or Bobby Wagner) or DT with the other 2nd round pick (Mike Martin, Brandon Thompson, or maybe even Kendal Reyes, Jerel Worthy, or Devon Still).