Luke Kuechly - This guy didn't get mentioned as a probable pick for us until much closer to draft night, but apparently we had him high up on our draft board the entire time. Almost everyone else had us going for a DT, DE, or CB. My early draft thoughts pined for the same thing, as we really need something to ramp up our pass-rush and our pass coverage. Well, Kuechly does help in TE coverage. And, with his skillset and ability to play all three LB positions, he may free up the other LB'ers, safeties, and even a CB to come up on blitzes a bit more often. If nothing else, it widens the defensive playbook and possibilities for us. And it doesn't hurt that he's an exceptional tackler. Additionally, Kuechly provides immediate insurance if Thomas Davis and/or Jon Beason either don't make it back from injury or re-injure themselves during the season. Regardless, Kuechly can immediately see playing time, either by displacing one of those injured LB'ers, moving James Anderson back to a supporting/rotational role, or by shifting Thomas Davis back to more of a safety. Either way, you know he'll see the field. He was the absolute best LB'er in the draft. He's a tactician with tremendous talent with a completely instinctive understanding of the game. And now he's a Carolina Panther. So, welcome to the fold!
Amini Silatolu - Again, we chose to pass on drafting a DT, DE, or CB in favor of upgrading our offensive line. That's because the quality was there once more. With Travelle Wharton gone and the continuing question marks about Jeff Otah's durability, Byron Bell's limitations, and a general lack of depth, we opted for a flexible lineman in Silatolu who can play OG or OT. He's got an absolute motor and nasty streak for getting after defenses and making an impact with his play. He could become one of the best pulling guards we've got. Some are even saying he could become Pro Bowl quality as he develops. Regardless, he can likely start right away. The one thing that continues to be reflected in terms of draft strategy and long-term vision for the Panthers, is the desire to pick guys who play hard and bring a strong effort on every down, making the most of their god-given talents. Silatolu definitely fits that mold. And, we'll likely be quite happy we got him.
Frank Alexander - Surprise, surprise. We finally make a trade. But, rather than move up into the 3rd round, we work out a deal to give us back-to-back picks in the 4th. We have to trade away a 3rd round pick from next year and a 6th round pick from this year to do it. But, at last, we make a pick to upgrade the D-line. Is Frank Alexander an immediate starter? Maybe. He'll certainly compete for it. Hurney mentioned that he was the one player they felt confident enough about to trade up to get him if he fell this far. Well, he did. And we took him. Again, he's a high motor guy. He had escalating productivity throughout his final two years in college. He caught Rivera's eye while they were scouting another player at Oklahoma and they liked what they saw. Now, he also came with that scare involving the hole in his heart, which kept him from participating at the NFL Combine. It was a misdiagnosis, though. So, no worries. Four different doctors cleared him. He participated fully at his pro-day workout. And he demonstrated the ability, both in-person and on film, to be a playmaker. The guy's always involved. Is he worth a future 3rd rounder and this year's 6th rounder? We'll have to wait and see. But, this doesn't seem like the same kind of reach as the Armanti Edwards deal during Fox's tenure. We're not asking him to learn and play a different position. So, let's see what happens in training camp.
Joe Adams - Speaking of Armanti Edwards, it looks like his days are numbered with this pick. Joe Adams is the number one PR in the draft. He's drawing comparisons to Steve Smith and could become our all-time best Panther's eventual successor. Of course, he'll need to beat out Pilares for that distinction eventually. But, it seems pretty clear he'll likely supplant Armanti among the WR corps. Regardless, this was another value pick which also happens to meet a need for us. If he becomes a game changer for us on special teams, he'll be a tremendous help.
Josh Norman - Well, finally, we address the CB position. Norman is another guy who demonstrates the great amount of depth in this year's draft. He's a 4th round talent who fell to us in the 5th. He's got good size and long arms to deflect balls. He's also got some decent ball-hawking capabilities considering the number of interceptions he made. Of course, he ran a bit slower than some CBs. That's why he's only a 4th round talent. But, he should be capable enough to compete with Hogan and Munnerlyn for the right to start across from Chris Gamble. Personally, I expect Hogan will likely win that job, which would put Norman into the rotation as a backup or nickel/dime contributor. Even so, he's great insurance if Hogan doesn't pan out or manage to grasp his responsibilities in an NFL secondary.
Brad Nortman - It seems like a lot of people had their hearts set on the Butler kid out of Georgia or Powell from FSU. But Nortman apparently impressed a LOT of people at the Senior Bowl. He's got consistent distance capability with good hang time. He also faced adverse weather conditions in Wisconsin and still put up great numbers. Perhaps his best ability is reflected in how consistently he pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line. It also doesn't hurt that he's got experience serving as a holder for his team's FG kicker. One report on him indicates he's mastered a variety of directional punting techniques, which may put him a step ahead of the other punters available at this pick. Bottom line, he should be able to do everything we need him to do...and then some. The Panthers will likely bring in another UDFA to compete with him for the job. Since Butler didn't get picked, we could easily see both of them in training camp. And may the best punter win!
D.J. Campbell - I was curious to see where the Panthers would go with this pick. You're unlikely to find anyone who makes the final roster in the 7th round. It happens, just not very often. But, at least you can find decent developmental prospects for your practice squad. So, I expected to see them go for a lineman or a DB who could possibly contribute to special teams. Looks like they opted for the latter. And, by spending a pick on Campbell, maybe they light a fire under our existing safeties with a bit of competition. Not necessarily for the starting role, but certainly for a spot on the special teams coverage units.
So, all in all, I like what the Panthers chose to do here. I can understand their thinking. But it definitely differs from what everyone assumed they'd be thinking. We still didn't draft a DT, but we are getting a decent one back from injury this year. Plus, Neblett was playing well there toward the end of the season. Fua and McClain will finally have a full training camp and set of OTAs (plus everything they learned last year) to help them improve. I'd assume they've been conditioning themselves, as well. So, hopefully, we've got enough to get by here. Nobody who's all-world or anything. But I think we've got to trust Rivera and the rest of the coaching staff. They're closer to the situation to assess how dire the need might be. And, we'll still have the opportunity to take a look at some UDFAs as well as whoever hits the waiver wire or any UFA's that hit the market during roster trim downs. There might be a salary cap casualty we could pursue if the coaches don't like what they've got. Same deal goes for CB and DE.
For the time being, however, the Panthers just managed to improve themselves in a lot of key areas. They really improved their depth at LB and O-line. This team is rebuilding one draft at a time. Last year, we had a significant upgrade on offense with Cam Newton. This year, we've ensured our LB'ing corps remains strong in the face of two significant injuries and the loss of a good backup (in Dan Connor). We also offset some of the concerns around our O-line depth and the loss of Travelle Wharton. You pretty much never have enough picks to address ALL your needs in any given draft. But, in these past two years, the Panthers have certainly managed to address a LOT of them, including those problem areas that only recently cropped up due to unexpected injuries and free agency. I like what they've done this year. More importantly, I like how Rivera and Hurney continue to conduct themselves in reshaping and enhancing this team. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither is a Superbowl contender. And the pieces the front office gathered in this year's draft should serve as an ongoing foundation (or core nucleus) of players that'll pay dividends for years to come.
But that's just my two cents,