Well I'll be, they did it again didn't they? Roughly a year ago I spoke about occam's razor as it pertained to the Carolina Panthers 2011 draft. Early in the process Ron Rivera and Marty Hurney told us what the plan for the draft would be- fix the QB position, and fill needs; ultimately they did just that. Leading up to the 2011 draft we analyzed, overalayzed and read into everything that was said, and left unspoken. Fans were given such a clear, basic idea of what the plan was that we thought there was no way it could be so simple. The end result was an organization who took players almost exclusively out of need, and took several risks in the process.
Fast forward a year and they fooled us again.
Ron Rivera and Marty Hurney yet again gave us a clear road map of their plan in 2012- they were drafting BPA, not need and as an extension of that they wanted two things out of players- immediate impact, and sure things. As fans, we then added extra layers to this, obfuscated the landscape, and started to believe we'd take players like Janoris Jenkins, Quinton Coples and Stephen Hill- players who are the antithesis of 'safe' and 'immediate impact'. If you hate the two picks thus far that's fine, that's your prerogative- but after the jump I'll tell you the perspective the organization are taking, and why you might be upset now, but overjoyed in three years.
More after the jump
Cam Newton has created unrealistic expectations on how much productivity and impact you can expect from a rookie in the National Football League. Truth is, there are scant few rookies who are able to make an immediate impact in the NFL, especially at the defensive tackle position (where so many wished we went with #9). The problem is that fans will always want the team to go need- so long as it somewhat resembles BPA also. We watch 16 games ever year, we've identified the weaknesses in the pass rush and secondary, we've identified the need for another receiver- however what we don't get to see is what happens on the practice field, or how the players are developing. All we get to see is game day, and try to garner as much information as we can about it.
For better or for worse it looks like Ron Rivera is willing to let his bet ride, a bet he placed on Terrell McClain and Sione Fua last year, and a bet on Brandon Hogan. It's without question that McClain and Fua looked mediocre last year, but that has turned fans into writing them off- saying they're not NFL caliber players. Cam's early success is held in stark relief to two third round picks, still developing at a position most coaches will tell you takes 2-3 years to hit your stride. Then we have Brandon Hogan, a player who barely suited up in 2011. Solely because we didn't see him he remains an unknown quantity, and fans are willing to give him the leeway to be the starter. The truth is- none of us know how these guys are looking on the practice field, the leaps and bounds they're making. However, if you're like me and you have faith in the coaches then arguably the most exciting thing we could see if no DT taken in this draft, because that means they think McClain and Fua are 'getting it'.
So we arrive at the 2012 draft. One where we were told the Panthers would look for safety and impact. There are three positions that translate very naturally from the college to pro level- running back, linebacker and offensive guard. Players at these positions can make an impact early, because there isn't a huge jump in the basic tenets of their position. Then you need to overlay this with the Panthers draft history, one that shows they have a talent for identifying good linebackers and offensive lineman- throw a helping of BPA on top and here's what you get.
How does Luke Kuechly help an anemic pass rush?
This is probably the single biggest question Panthers fans left lingering following Thursday night. Most were in agreement that he's a stud football player, but many were concerned that he doesn't help the Panthers on Sunday, unless there's an injury. However, if you think this way I think you need to broaden your scope a little.
In many ways we're still stuck in John Fox thinking- the pass rush is generated by the front four, the safeties prevent the deep play and corners and LBs handle everything in between. Under Ron Rivera the pass rush can be generated from any position, and while the primary will still be the defensive line out of a base 4-3, there are numerous other looks they can employ.
With Kuechly in the lineup the Panthers can now start using a 4-4 look with regularity, and perhaps some 46 defense too. In the 4-4 we could see Beason and Thomas Davis at the SAM and WILL as pass rushers, with Kuechly and Anderson inside. In this look the pass rush would be generated from the edge speed of the two linebackers, aided with a big push from the defensive line. It's a defensive scheme that doesn't typically need huge size on the DL, but rather they need to hold their blocks.
We could also see some 46 looks.
In this defense it's likely that Kuechly and Davis become the Jack and Charley linebackers (SLB and WLB in this photo), or even Beason and Kuechly, with Davis becoming the SS in the box. Both the 4-4 and the 46 are designed around the basic concept of getting the best football players on the field at all times. It also requires cornerbacks to be strong bump and run guys, something both Gamble and Hogan excel at.
These looks would allow Thomas Davis to take a step back, come off the bench, and become a high-impact 'wrinkle' to the defense. This would add longevity to his career, and add some much needed confusion for opposing OCs. Just as Cam Newton added so much flexibility to the offense, so too Luke Kuechly can add so much flexibility to the defense.
The pass rush doesn't just need to come from the DL, it can come from anywhere as long as there's talent to do it.
Then we arrive at Amini Silatolu- a player Ron Rivera said they'd been watching since December of 2011, a player it appears the entire scouting staff were sold on. Immediately he adds a huge boost to the offensive line, an area that is more important to the Panthers than anything barring QB. Without a solid OL Cam will not be able to do anything in the backfield. It's all well and good to want another skill position player, but if Newton has no time to throw it doesn't matter.
Silatolu loves to pull and block down field. For a man his size he carries his weight flawlessly, and has a near endless motor. What I love about him on film is his willingness to finish a block, leave someone on the ground and then move to the next player and do the same. Silatolu can play either the RG or LG position, and adds the meanness the offensive line has lacked for a while. We have a lot of great blockers, but nobody who plays violently- Silatolu adds that.
As we sit here just one short hour away from the start of the fourth round it's clear where the majority of fans think we should go- DL, CB, WR. It's hard to argue with these needs, but please don't forget that we don't have any clue how last year's players are looking now. There's a plan, for better or for worse and we'll see how it all pans out. It appears the organization are willing to let those bets ride, and while it may take some time we'll see if it was the right move.