A dominant defensive tackle like B.J. Raji could turn the Panthers defense around. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Oh 2009... do we need to say anymore? This was probably the worst draft in Panthers' team history, so instead of focusing too much on what happened to us let's look at the fortunes of others.
1.9 Green Bay Packers- B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College
Projected top-15 pick
On draft day Raji was called a ‘reach' in the top ten, now that idea is comical. One of the most dominant defensive tackles in the NFL Raji is what makes the Packers' defense tick. Clay Matthews may be the sizzle, but Raji is the steak.
Where the Packers went right: Everything. They didn't reach for a skill position player, or gamble on upside. They relied on film which showed Raji's dominance, and set aside group think. The feeling among analysts on draft day was similar to that of Jon Beason when we took him- a solid football player, but nothing special. As it turned out Raji was special.
Where the Packers went wrong: They didn't.
End result: He's one of the best DL in the NFL... not much more to say really.
How the Panthers could also get this right: Rely...on...film. Really, it's as simple as that. Don't fall for the combine numbers, or let potential capture your imagination, just watch the film. In the 2012 draft there's one defensive lineman who stands out on film, and that's Fletcher Cox. When you watch him decimate the interior lines of the SEC it's impressive. When you realize he played without another player on the Miss State line to make him look good that's taken to another level. He doesn't have the same insane raw potential of Quinton Coples, but there's a much better chance Cox could still be starting for the Panthers in 5 years.
Projected second round pick
With the future of Vince Wilfork in flux due to contract issues the Pats looked to get an insurance policy in Brace who could play 5-technique if needed. He paired with Raji to form a dominant BC defensive front, but they made a critical mistake.
Where the Patriots went right: Getting an insurance policy for a critical player shows the necessary foresight to build a solid team.
Where the Patriots went wrong: The Pats fell for the common mistake of assuming that because Boston College's DL was great, all the parts would be great. It was apparent quickly that the line benefitted from Raji's presence, and that nobody else was as good as advertised.
End result: Brace is still on the Patriots roster, but he's only had 35 tackles in three years without making an impact.
How the Panthers would make the same mistake: This is an area where analysts and fans are split down the middle. Talk to ‘draft gurus' and they'll extol the virtues of Clemson's recent defensive ends, talk to Clemson fans and they'll tell you their DEs have been average- a product of under-appreciated defensive tackles like Brandon Thompson. This year Andre Branch is getting a lot of credit, but Tigers fans will tell you he got a huge lift by benefiting from an almost constant double-team in the center from Thompson.