Picking MLB Luke Kuechly at #9 was a great pick, but what does it mean for the future of the Panthers defense, and the rest of the Panthers draft?
Everyone is debating what LB position Kuechly will play this season, with some simi-delusional fans even so sure that Beason and Davis will return to 100% full health this season that they want Kuechly to replace James Anderson as a starter, or to just be a backup for those 3 LB's. Now back to reality, Kuechly is a starter, probably on the outside with Anderson, and hopefully a fully healthy Beason at MLB. Anything the Panthers get from Thomas Davis this season should be viewed as a bonus, perhaps viewing him as almost a player/coach, who helps Kuechly and the other young OLB's adjust to the position, and the NFL. Health permiting, TD can also play WLB in probably limited action, if Beason is a no go at MLB, or if they move Kuechly inside with Beason, whenever they shift into a 3-4 defense.
So what does that mean for the future of the Panthers defense? With 2 great MLB's it opens the posibility of more 3-4 looks. Both of the Panthers 2 current non-NT's Niblett and McClain are 4-3 DT's who could probably shift into 3-4 DE's, and so will any DT the Panthers might draft tonight (Still, Reyes, etc.) are likely to be as well. Dito for any pass rushing DE the Panthers might draft, except for maybe DE Jake Bequette (6-4 5/8, 274, 4.78-40, 1.72-10, 10 sacks in 2011, a likely 4th round pick) or Frank Alexander (6-3 3/4, 270, 4.76-40,8.5 sacks in 2011, a late round pick). Here are some 4-3/3-4 combo DE/OLB's that the Panthers could draft.:
DE/OLB Vinny Curry (6-3 1/8, 266, Combine 4.85-40 and 1.68-10, Pro Day 4.64-40, 1.58-10, 11 sacks, 22 TFL's, 77 tackles, and 7 forced fumbles, in 2011, a 2nd round pick)
DE/OLB Cam Johnson (6-3 1/2, 266, 4.75-40, 1.66-10, 4 sacks, 11 TFL's, and 30 tackles in 2011, a likely 2nd to 4th round pick).
DE/OLB/TE Taylor Thompson (6-5 7/8, 259, 4.57-40, 8 sacks, 9.5 TFL's, and 44 tackles, in 2011, while playing at 285 pounds, a 3rd to 5th round pick).
DE/OLB Brandon Lindsey (6-1 5/8, 254, 4.78-40, 1.56-10, 8.5 sacks, 11 TFL's, and 54 tackles in 2011, a likely 5th to 7th round pick).
The Panthers also need to draft an OLB late in the draft, just in case both Beason and TD breakdown again. The weakness of the Panthers LB's is that none provide a pass rush, but their 3 backup DE's can also play 3-4 OLB, though they aren't big time pass rushers. My favorite pick would be Houston OLB Sammy Brown (6-1 7/8, 242, 4.64-40, lead the nation with 30 TFL's and had 14 sacks in 2011, a likely 6th or 7th round pick), who has the speed to play in both a 3-4 and a 4-3 defense, and on draft day jumped from #373 up to #260 in the nfl draft scout rankings.