In my mind, there is a very simple equation concerning the interests of the Carolina Panthers when their NFC division rival Tampa Bay Bucs, presumably, pick at No. 5 in this month's NFL Draft.
Tampa Bay goes offense equals good for Carolina. Tampa Bay goes defense, not so much.
Don't get me wrong, I don't think the sentient recognition of this fact holds any bearing over who the Tampa Bay Front Office selects at that spot. They've got their hands full trying to restart a program that quit on their coach last year worse than the UNC Tarheels quit on Butch Davis's interim replacement.
Then, as Carolina Panthers fans we know EXACTLY what it's like to go through a season that features a lengthy losing streak, many of those losses coming by double-digit deficits, that leads to the prompt departure of the head coach at the end of the campaign. Now don't we?
The greatest difference between these parallel rebuilding efforts would have to be Carolina going out and getting a proven NFL leader in HC Ron Rivera to right the ship in Charlotte. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay rolled the dice on a guy whose best resume qualification is a brief run of mediocre Big East teams who went to cheesy bowl games.
Not even comparable.
There are other differences, such as Carolina's attention to locking up its own draft picks while the new Tampa Bay is going all Washington Redskins on the free agent market. If you're asking me, the Panthers roster is also a heck of a lot more desirable than that bunch of quitters in north Florida too.
That said, Tampa Bay has, in many ways, an enviable position coming off last year as compared to Carolina a year ago. For starters, they already have the guy they believe is their franchise quarterback. For another, they had oodles of cap space to go outside of the organization and overpay for desirable pieces around him. For yet another, they have the chance to go out and invest a top-five pick in the NFL Draft on something other than a signal caller as they bounce back from what they hope was rock bottom.
And that leads me to Tampa Bay's draft strategy. And particularly, how it could go a long way toward facilitating the Panthers gettng the second defender off the board - presumably the first defensive lineman. This has to be seen as the best case scenario for the Panthers while sitting at number nine. Hell, it'd be the best case scenario if Carolina had the five pick instead of Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay isn't the only team that could go defense ahead of the Panthers in the first round, but they certainly appear to be the first. I'd also set odds they are second most likely behind the Jacksonville Jaguars. Furthermore, Jacksonville's front seems like it could use a specialized pass rusher rather than an edge-setting defensive end, which I see as the greatest need for the Panthers at this spot. This leads me to believe Jacksonville could invest in Melvin Ingram and steer away from Carolina's draft directives.
In the case of Tampa Bay, one would have to think the same defensive players that are on the Panthers' radar (i.e. LSU CB Morris Claiborne, UNC DE Quinton Coples and Miss. St. DT Fletcher Cox or LSU DT Michael Brockers, whichever NFL scouts have deemed better) would be on their own.
After the Jump we'll take a look at several scenarios in which Tampa Bay's pick at number five has a direct bearing on what the Panthers do at number nine, bad news first.
Scenario One: Tampa Bay upgrades their defensive line by grabbing the best prospect available.
In my mind, the best prospect available is UNC DE Quinton Coples, and it appears Tampa Bay may agree since they brought him in for a private workout. In addition to Coples, it is known the Bucs worked out LSU DT Michael Brockers recently.
NFL Prospect Quinton "Q" Coples via cdn.bleacherreport.net
The worst case scenario here for the Panthers would be for the Bucs to break the ice on defensive line picks with the Jaguars and Dolphins remaining to pick before the Panthers, both of whom could also reasonably be looking for a stud defensive lineman to shore up their fronts.
In this scenario, it is likely LSU CB Morris Claiborne is no longer on the board, having been snapped up by Minnesota (Cleveland's set in the secondary, and would drool at pairing USC OT Matt Kalil with OT Joe Thomas). However, if he is still on the board he will certainly be the pick for St. Louis, and then we're still two picks away with the top two defenders gone.
There is also the possibility they swing and miss on a guy we didn't want to begin with, but I'd rather skip having to wait that long to find out who won if possible.
Luckily, I find this scenario less likely than the following two scenarios...
Scenario Two: Tampa Bay decides Claiborne is BPA when their pick comes up and finds their replacement for CB Aquib Talib.
NFL Prospect Morris Claiborne via cdn.bleacherreport.net
This scenario is still potentially harmful to the Panthers, for the simple fact the seal is now broken on defense, and with three picks before the Panthers turn any team that goes defense is going to hit the defensive line.
On the bright side, we're not naive enough to think Claiborne was going to get to us anyway, and this pick almost certainly means St. Louis will go offense with the remainder of Alabama RB Trent Richardson or Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon.
This means the pick gets to Jacksonville, who could possibly grab Ingram or go offense. Then, the Dolphins could go Tanneyhill or Floyd and set us up.
Then, the Panthers still get their counterpart to "Big Money" on the defensive line, and the vast majority of us are happy.
Scenario Three: With Claiborne still on the board, the Bucs choose the remainder of Richardson/Blackmon.
In this case, the Panthers are sitting pretty, and even if St. Louis goes BPA for Claiborne instead of getting the playmaker they desperately need, the Panthers may still get to make their choice from a virgin field.
If St. Louis follows this pick by going WR Michael Floyd or offensive line, then the Jags presumably grab Claiborne and Miami grabs Tanneyhill, that would be best case as I see it.
Do you have any particular scenario you favor when the Bucs pick at number five?