Coming into the actual start of the 2012 draft, my two personal dream drafts actually mirrored the drafts of what the New York Jets and the Philadelphia Eagles ended up fulfilling this year. With the way the draft played out this year, both of those drafts actually were obtainable for the Panthers. Initially, I was shocked at the route we chose instead. However acceptance comes quickly, and I now have a better grip on the rationale and wisdom behind the Panthers' moves. I wish to compare our draft path with two more we could have easily chosen, and examine the Panthers' reasoning behind their chosen path. The Jets and Eagles are two teams that have been somewhat successful over the past few seasons, so I am curious to see how the Panther way of doing things will eventually stack up. Hopefully in a few years, it is our strategy that turns out to be the most correct one.
My Prior Dream Draft A: High risk, high reward- The impact could be extreme if the player reaches his ceiling, but the bust potential is certainly there. Sometimes in this regard, we can ignore warning signs that are visible, or overestimate the potential of the said prospects. Even so the Jets fulfilled the draft my heart wanted, getting the two guys I desired most by picking:
Round 1: Quinton Coples, DE, UNC
Round 2: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
My Prior Dream Draft B: Fill needs with solid players- It may not be as flashy as draft A, but it would still be solid by filling needs. By going the safe route, we could get better at need positions without the risk of draft A. The downside to this strategy is that you may slightly reach to fill a need. This is the draft that my head told me would be best. The Eagles fulfilled this draft by picking:
Round 1: Fletcher Cox, DT, Miss St
Round 2: Mychal Kendricks, ILB/OLB, California
*Note: to add insult to my injury, they made Vinny Curry their other 2nd round pick for good measure. Wow!
I thought for sure the Panthers would go with Draft B at the very least, and with the success of Cam, even feel emboldened enough to pursue Draft A. But perhaps in the end, the Panthers have chosen a better way. Here is why we should have known better.
Round 1: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
I was pretty shocked with this pick, and I get the feeling I wasn't alone. Here at CSR, he was generally considered to be in the "big 4" of guys likely available at #9 who were on our short list to pick. However, Kuechly seemed to be near the bottom of that list amongst us fans. As the pre-draft analysis flowed out, I had the feeling he was a Rivera guy. I just underestimated how much of a Rivera guy he was. This pick says several things:
1. They really, really liked LK, and they went with the guy they liked. When Hurney says he wants a safe player that is BPA, he means that he wants a safe player that is BPA. I don't believe they had a dislike of Cox or Coples, just that they liked Kuechly much, much, more. For the record, I still don't believe that the Rivera and Hurney visiting Coples's house the week of the draft was a "smoke screen". The head coach and GM of an NFL team have far more important things going on the week of the draft, and they could have sent some assistants or position coaches if they just wanted to get a story out for the newspaper. I believe they were finishing due diligence in case their number one guy, Luke Kuechly, was gone.
2. For the majority of the season, the DT position was an obvious area of weakness. However by the end of the season, the DT position improved greatly with "McFua" on IR. Rivera went on record at the end of the season saying that DT was not a need. Despite several pre-draft DT visits to Charlotte, they seemed to stick with this mantra. All of the DTs brought in to Charlotte were left on the board when available.
3. My initial instinct when the season ended was that our biggest draft need was a weak-side LB. I assumed Davis would not be making a comeback, and expected low results even if he did. I was tired of watching another season of the defense in tatters due to the adjustments made in his absence. At the time, the highest rated OLB was Zach Brown, hence my early love for him. As time went on, analysis of him gave you the feeling he wasn't a "Rivera" type of guy. However I tended to disregard Kuechly because I doubted his ability to play the "Will". The Combine opened up eyes to re-examine his athleticism and potential. Contrary to some of our earlier musings, the staff obviously feels he can contribute in this role if needed (and all of the LB roles for that matter).
4. Additionally, it seems the Panthers have a proud history at the linebacker position (Mills, Green, etc.), and loved to use high draft picks on LBs in recent years (Morgan, Beason, Davis, Anderson, Connor). When in doubt, trust your first instinct and trust the history.
Round 2: Amini Silatolu, G, Midwestern
1. The handwriting was on the wall for us to pick a guard early the minute Wharton and Schwartz were cut. In a matter of days we lost both of our starting guards. Again this is where you look at your draft history. Think about Gross, Otah, Kalil, and Wharton. The Panthers like to draft OL high, but had not done so in a few seasons. That means we were due to invest a high pick into one, especially considering that we have a young franchise QB to protect.
2. To me the question was not so much would we take a guard in the second round this year, but would we take one over the bountiful talent that slid to us in our dream draft scenario? (Glenn, Hill, Jeffrey, Worthy, Still, etc.) Again like with Kuechly, obviously the Panther braintrust really, really liked Silatolu. He was their BPA, and again they went with BPA. This pick also served a dual purpose because it was a spot where we technically lacked a starter, as newly signed Pollack does not appear to be starter material.
I've come around much since draft night because like I said, acceptance comes quickly. Heck, its not like we have a choice. I now believe there is wisdom in how the Panthers drafted, and they are truly building a team for the future. The BPA mantra has worked for several teams. While we could argue all day over who was the "BPA" in certain spots, it is up the Panther brain trust to make such decisions. Us watching Youtube clips and surfing WalterFootball.com are inadequate substitutes for professional scouts applying their craft over an entire year. I will be very interested to see how the picks that the Jets and Eagles made play out over the long term. However I see the wisdom in the strategy that the Panthers chose to employ, and I am optomistic that it will eventually pay off.