Alabama safety Mark Barron has been a late visit, and I don't buy it for a second. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
As I've said on numerous occasions that I don't have a bevy of ‘sources', I haven't been in the room to see the draft board, and there's nobody feeding me inside information (at least of any real note). What I have done, however, is follow every bit on news surrounding the draft, no matter how small or insignificant seeming. When you look that deeply at one topic some things can get obfuscated, but others seem to shine through.
I've been careful not to give too many ‘predictions', because they tend to be so easily swept away, but I did touch on what I was getting a sense of based on the information we've been presented with. This was the same ‘sense' I got last year when I said the Panthers should trade for Greg Olsen- no inside information, just following logic and connecting dots.
This morning I'm excited and tired; excited because I can't wait to start to crunch depth charts, look at the roster and really get a sense for the path of the 2012 Carolina Panthers, tired because I'll be relieved when the draft process is over. There is so much wind-up for this one event that we've talked, double talked and examined every single angle of the NFL draft. Each year though I want to put out my feelings on what I think could happen so when everything goes to hell in 13.5 hrs we can laugh, poke fun, and be fans together.
So without further ado, my five ‘gut feelings' for the 1st and 2nd rounds
- I don't believe the Carolina Panthers have ‘a guy', one specific player they're really hoping for at #9. I think they have a collection of 4-5 players who they are all seriously considering with the 9th pick, and that's why I'd be surprised if they trade up for a specific player (something Hurney has already said).
- It wouldn't surprise me for a second if Luke Kuechly is the highest graded defensive player on the Panthers draft board. He has so many skills they value at the linebacker position, is a safe pick, and if he played he would have an immediate impact. That being said, I believe if Fletcher Cox and Kuechly are both on the board at #9 they'll take Cox out of need, looking for a linebacker later in the draft. I think the grades between both players could be that close.
- Based on the players they've visited with I think the Panthers will look for an offensive guard on Friday. They've spent time with both Midwestern State's Amini Silatolu, and Wisconsin's Kevin Zeitler- players thought to be BPA right around pick forty, however in recent weeks teams who are drafting in the late 20's have spent a lot of time with both players. There's a chance neither player will be available in the second round.
- I think it will take a pretty special receiver falling to #9 (read: Blackmon) or someone like Hill or Wright to be available at #40 for the Panthers to take a WR early in this draft, even though they've spent a lot of time with prospects. It's not that there isn't a long term need there, but I feel like ‘bigger fish to fry' might apply. It's one thing to hear Hurney say the plan is for a BPA draft, but 2011's class was almost exclusively need.
- These ‘last second visits' reek of trade baiting to me. I think because the Panthers have 4-5 players they're interested in they would love to move back and land a 3rd rounder, or even a 2nd (if possible). Quinton Coples and Mark Barron have been visiting the team in the last week, and I think there's no surprise Barron has been a hot commodity recently in the rumor mill.
So there it is. Feel free to skewer me in three days when we take Trent Richardson in the first and then trade the next three drafts to get another top-ten pick and take Justin Blackmon!
Happy NFL Draft everyone. There will be plenty of chances to laugh, cry and make merry tonight. On a personal note I would really like to thank all of you for reading, and those who pored over draft lists to compile mocks, analyze the draft and give us a cadre of wonderful fan posts over the last three months. You are what makes this site great.
I'm obviously insanely biased, but I think we have the best group of fans in the NFL. Thanks for your participation and passion every single day.