Panther Paw Prints: Pre-TC Edition

I'm back with another wonderful batch of Panther Paw Prints. Let's start with a little humor as WR Steve Smith posted a picture while driving just as DE Greg Hardy did:

Steve Smith pokes fun at a teammate’s bad decision | ProFootballTalk
Smith doesn’t have a Twitter account, but made sure to get the word out. He took a photo of his own Bentley speedometer (which he can more easily afford than a sixth-rounder on a rookie deal) doing a solid 26 mph.

Just another example of how far Smith has come from young hothead to elder statesman. Though James Dator has already mentioned that DE Luis Castillo would be a good fit I like what his estimated price tag might be:

Why Newly Released Luis Castillo Would Be Great Fit in Carolina: Fan's Reaction - Yahoo! Sports
Castillo could probably be gotten fairly cheap His last contract was for one year at one million dollars. That is a bargain if the Panthers could get a similar or cheaper deal. When it comes to experience in the NFL, you usually have to pay a little. Castillo could be a bargain in that regard. The Panthers certainly are not forced to make any moves along the defensive line, but judging from Ron Rivera's past, it is easy to see why you might think he would go after Castillo. Like Antwan Applewhite and Legedu Naanee before him, it could rejuvenate his career.

We could certainly use some veteran depth up front. Speaking of a veteran presence, here's another guy that would bring some veteran value:

Three Reasons the Carolina Panthers Should Bring Back Jeremy Shockey: Fan's Take - Yahoo! Sports
Shockey's production is only half his value While Shockey may have dropped in production over the last five years, he has a ton of experience to bring to the table. When Shockey needs to make a catch, he makes a catch. The guy is clutch most of the time and is excellent at positioning his body to prevent defenders from breaking up his catches. All of these things can be passed along to this next group of tight ends that Carolina will be working with. Shockey is a winner as well.

I have to admit the guy does make clutch catches. I would welcome him back in a heartbeat.

Panthers.com is running a series of position reviews and though most are fairly vanilla I did like this stat:

Position preview: Defensive ends
With 20.5 sacks over the last two seasons, Johnson stands as one of 11 NFL defensive ends with more than 20 over that time. The list doesn't include Julius Peppers, the Panthers' all-time sacks leader whom Johnson replaced in the lineup when Peppers signed with the Chicago Bears.

I never miss an opportunity to point out CJ has more sacks than Peppers over the past two seasons.

In this paw print I found myself feeling as Rodney did immediately after the Kuechly pick but there later seeing the wisdom in it:

Carolina Panthers 2012 Linebackers Position Preview: Fan's Take - Yahoo! Sports
Like most fans, I was a bit confused about Kuechly as our first pick on draft day. As a huge North Carolina Tar Heels fan, I was familiar with him. He was a tackling machine at Boston College University and we played them most every year. I knew he was an NFL ready type of player and we need those on defense in Carolina desperately. I seriously thought we would get a defensive lineman though. Over time, I have grown to understand the pick and even agree with it. Kuechly can be a game changer in year one, especially if he is alongside Jon Beason.

I think we are going to love this pick. No, actually I KNOW we are going to love this pick.

Now when speaking of 'pick ups' Mike Tolbert is the easy one to love:

Ranking The Running Backs: Where Do All 32 NFL Teams Stand? - SBNation.com
What has been billed as Double Trouble in the past becomes Triple Trouble in 2012. The Panthers added RB/FB Mike Tolbert to the backfield to go along with their already lethal tandem of RB DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. In 2008 Williams and Stewart became the first RB tandem to log over 1,100 yards a piece as they juked and stiff armed their way through NFL defenses. Panther fans expect a return to those days as the Panthers hope to strike more of balance between running and passing in 2012. Tolbert is a TD vulture and is expect to carry the rock inside on goal line situations. With the #6 ranked offensive line front of them the Panther running game should be fun to watch in 2012.

Is it vain to link up my own quotes when used on other sites? Hee hee...

So has the conventional wisdom that the NFC East is the toughest division finally been toppled?

NFL Divisional Power Rankings: Who's No. 1? - NFL.com
Cam Newton's emergence creates a trio of contenders.

That's right, the NFC South has been voted the toughest division.

I still don't understand the issue with this. Fans aren't just getting an autograph, they are getting a chance to meet their hero and talk to him if only for a brief moment:

Why Carolina Panthers Fans Should Gladly Pay for Cam Newton's Autograph: Fan's Take - Yahoo! Sports
Cam Newton is a regular signer for free If you have ever attended a Panthers function or practice, you know the guys that are signers and that are not. Cam Newton is known for staying longer than anyone to sign absolutely free and even take time to talk with his fans. Cam Newton revels in the time he has with fans. You can see it in his face. He is living his dream and if you don't think that is true, watch him interact with them someday. You will see it for yourself.

If you value that type of thing at all it has to be a bargain.

We have talked extensively about Jonathan Stewart's contract situation but we have pretty much overlooked the fact CB Captain Munnerlyn is on the last year of his deal too:

Cam Newton's contract a Carolina Panthers bargain - NFL.com
Contract issue looming in 2013:

Running back Jonathan Stewart has expressed a desire to return, but it's hard to envision the Panthers paying him and DeAngelo Williams at the same time. Something would have to give for that to happen.

Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn will also be a free agent in 2013, The 2009 seventh-round pick out of South Carolina started a career-high 14 games in 2011, but is ideally-suited to be a slot cornerback. Recent mid-round picks Brandon Hogan and Josh Norman could push for playing time going forward, but Munnerlyn's skills in the slot could have the Panthers looking to keep him around on a multiyear deal.

I had not thought about Munnerlyn being a sought after slot CB but maybe that is true. With CB being one of the hotly contested camp positional battles Munnerlyn has plenty of incentive to up his level of play.

Looks like everyone else is catching up to what we already knew, LaFell is a very effective WR:

Brandon LaFell's Surprisingly Awesome Advanced Stats - Fan's Analysis - Yahoo! Sports
One of the advanced statistics used by Football Outsiders is DVOA - Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. DVOA breaks down every single play of the NFL season to see how much success offensive players achieved in each specific situation compared to the league average in that situation, adjusted for the strength of the opponent. The more positive the DVOA rating, the better the player's performance.

Brandon LaFell's 2011 DVOA of 23.2% was 11th in the NFL, just ahead of stud receivers like Wes Welker (12th - 23.1%), Dez Bryant (13th - 21.9%), Greg Jennings (14th - 21.8%), and Andre Johnson (15th - 18.9%).

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