On April 25th, 2013, 32 professional football teams will each make a choice that will change the future of their organization. Some will emerge with emerging football stars or just good starters to build around. Others will not be so fortunate, but will land themselves a lesser player or perhaps even an outright bust that could set the team back for years.
The Carolina Panthers are one of the 32 teams that will make a selection in the NFL Draft in late April to determine the future of their team.
Many here, on CatScratchReader, have already begun postulating as to whom the Panthers might select. Even though the draft is nearly 100 days away, many are already forming opinions about who they would most like to see drafted by the Panthers.
What follows is an examination of many of the likely options that the Carolina Panthers might have when they are called upon the podium to select with the 14th overall pick. The idea behind is post is that the Panthers will have many good choices to consider when they arrive at the podium.
Rather than prioritizing needs, I will present the Panthers positions of needs, and the candidates that are of value and could be available at the 14th overall selection. I have omitted QB, RB, C, TE, DE, and LB from consideration because the Panthers either have a young star/starter at the position or have an abundance of talent at the position.
A short note: this is not to say that the Panthers will not select a player from one of these positions (QB, RB, C, TE, DE, LB), as the player could be the best player available (BPA). However, I see it as less likely. Possible, though less likely.
To begin, I see seven positions that the Panthers have a need that would justify a first round selection. These are WR, OT, OG, CB, S, NT, and UT.
At Wide Receiver, there are two candidates that the Panthers could look at.
DeAndre Hopkins- Although fellow Clemson WR Sammy Watkins typically receives more attention than Hopkins, Hopkins is a legitimate first round prospect and value. At 6-2, 200, Hopkins has good size. And while he isn’t a burner, he runs exquisite routes and is able to gain separation rather easily. Runs all of the routes on the tree and makes the difficult catch in traffic or in a clutch situation. Had a great season, amassing 18 TDs and over 1400 yards. He also came up huge in the Chick-Fil-A bowl game, having 13 catches for 191 yards and 2 TDs against a stout LSU defense. Currently, Hopkins is very underrated, however he is the top WR in my eyes. Would transition very easily to the pros, and could have a Julio Jones/AJ Green type impact his first year.
Keenan Allen- In the eyes of the experts, Allen is the top WR. A native North Carolinian, Allen had a big season for the Cal Golden Bears. He is 6’3, 210, and is very much akin to Hopkins skills and style of play. He runs near flawless routes, and although doesn’t have great get-away speed, he can get away. Sometimes he will drop a pass or two, but is a NFL ready wideout. The only red-flag surrounding Allen is his knee injury. Allen tore his PCL, and his recovery is unknown. This issue will likely loom large among scouts and evaluators at the Combine, where the health of his knee will be fully evaluated. Although Allen is talented, this could be a huge sinker for Allen’s stock. Would complement Steve Smith well, however may not be a number one guy at the next level. Also may have to wait until his knee is fully healed to make an impact.
At Offensive Tackle, there is really only one candidate the Panthers could look at, being that Luke Joeckel will almost certainly be gone within the top 10.
Lane Johnson- Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan would have been graded higher than Johnson if they decided to enter the draft. However, this is really no knock on Johnson. Johnson is simply raw. A great athlete, Lane Johnson has played DE, TE, OT, and even QB! This past season, Johnson made the transition to LT, and he has flourished at the position. Shows great quickness and movement skills for a LT, and plays with a nasty demeanor. A very underrated player, but Johnson very likely can play at the LT position in the pros. He might need a year or two, but he would be a fine replacement for Jordan Gross.
At Offensive Guard, there are two candidates that the Panthers could look at.
Chance Warmack- Although David DeCastro was widely held as the best OG prospect in a long time, Warmack is held as an even better prospect than DeCastro. With a very strong physique, Warmack is a pure mauler. However, there is little to dislike in his pass protection as he also has pretty decent footwork. Plays with good leverage, and looks to be an impact player and ready to start at the next level. If chosen, Warmack would likely take over LG duties, while Amini would transition to RG, giving the Panthers a very stout O-line.
Johnathan Cooper- Cooper is the draft’s second best OG prospect. If Warmack were to be taken before the 14th pick, Cooper would not be a terrible choice. While Warmack’s specialty is mauling, Cooper’s best asset is his agility and quick feet. He is very adept in pass protection and when he is on the move, being pulled, or getting to the second level. Could add some strength, but is NFL ready. Could play at LG or RG for the Panthers if chosen, likely would start at RG.
At Nose Tackle, there are four viable candidates worth consideration.
Star Lotulelei- Lotulelei is often mocked in the top 5 and top 10. However, there is always the possibility that he could fall. He is incredibly talented, much like Haloti Ngata. Great burst off of the line, and can single-handedly dominate the interior of the line. However, much of this is dependent on desire. It seems that his motor often runs hot and cold. This could preempt a fall. His potential has not been harnessed yet, however the talent remains there. If he should fall to the Panthers like Nick Fairley did to the Lions, most would think it would be an easy choice. However, the Panthers would probably have to consider why he would fall so far, and weigh the costs of drafting him. Would be an instant upgrade for the Panthers D-line. Might not be there at the Panthers pick, but it could happen.
Jesse Williams- Probably the best pure NT in the draft. At 6-3, 320 and with a bench press of over 600 lbs, Williams is nearly immovable. He is really a wall, Guards have a very difficult time clearing space for RBs when faced against Williams. However, Williams’ pass rushing game is rather one-dimensional, being that he doesn’t have many moves beyond the pure bull rush. Williams energy and hustle though are a rarity at this position, and he still manages to put some pressure on QBs by hustle alone. Would benefit Kuechly greatly by keeping O-lineman off of his pads, and would instantly transform the Panthers D into a solid run stopping group.
Johnathan Jenkins- At nearly 350 lbs, Jenkins is a heavy NT. When he plays with leverage and good form, there is little moving Jenkins. However, he often plays without good leverage, and gets washed out of the play. He also may have benefitted from playing alongside the underrated Kwame Geathers, who held the NT position, while Jenkins was able to play some 3tech/UT. Very talented, but will need some coaching at the next level. Would be a fine NT to pair with Hardy and CJ.
Johnathan Hankins- At the beginning of the year, Hankins was universally mocked among the top 5 to 10 candidates based on talent. He has fallen since due to concerns about his motor, however Hankins is very talented. In my mind, Hankins is most reminiscent of Vince Wilfork. He is a massive body that has some anchor weight to him, and has pretty good athleticism for a NT. Again, he seems to disappear on tape at times, and loses energy throughout the game. Could take some time to develop and fully harness his potential, if it seen at all, however could be a Vince Wilfork type for the Panthers.
At Under Tackle, there are two likely candidates for the Panthers to consider.
Kawann Short- One of the most productive DTs in college football. Short has some bad weight and isn’t the most fluid athlete. He is however, very strong. And when he decides to turn on the juice, he can explode off of the line and disrupt entire plays by his lonesome. Will need some coaching and conditioning, but is a very talented player, and would be an immediate upgrade over anyone the Panthers have at DT.
Sheldon Richardson- An outspoken personality, however Richardson has the talent to back it up. He very much resembles Fletcher Cox. He has a very lean but muscular physique for a DT, almost like that of a stronger and thicker DE. His best skill is his quickness. Very adept at shooting the gap. However, he often loses contain and is washed out of the play. Counterbalancing this weakness is his hustle. Richardson often chases down players across the field. It is rumored that the Panthers liked Fletcher Cox last year. If the Panthers are looking for a look-alike, Richardson would be a player very much in the mold of Cox.
Sharrif Floyd- Perhaps the most talented of all DTs, however is the most underrated. He is almost the DT version of Julius Peppers. Immensely athletic and talented. Strong as an ox, and quicker than a jackrabbit, Floyd has few holes in his game. He has been moved around quite a bit on the Florida D-line, and doesn’t have incredible statistics to represent his talent. However, I see Floyd as a JJ Watt-esque player, one that didn’t light the world on fire in NCAA football, but will thrive in the NFL. Would be everything that the Panthers are looking for in a DT, strong against the run, and can provide some push in the pass rush.
At Cornerback, the there are two potential candidates for the Panthers to consider
Dee Milliner- The consensus top CB, Milliner will likely go before the Panthers select. Nonetheless, there is always the possibility that 13 teams have more pressing needs and skip over him. It is especially unlikely that he will make it past the Bucs, at 13, who are in desperate need of CB. However, the Bucs traded up and down last year, so there is no telling what could happen. As for Milliner, he really is the most complete CB in the draft. Very fluid athlete, and has good ball skills. Excelled in the BCS Championship, and would probably be an easy choice if he is available.
Xavier Rhodes- Although Rhodes isn’t the best CB in run support, Rhodes doesn’t get the love he deserves. At 6-2, 200, Rhodes has the ideal CB stature. And Rhodes is perhaps the best man-cover corner in the draft. Very physical and athletic. Doesn’t have great short area quickness, but overall is a great cover corner. Perhaps one of the most underrated players that haven’t been discussed as a legitimate option.
Out of these 14 candidates, I believe that the Carolina Panthers will likely choose one. It is possible that a candidate could surge into consideration late in the game, however less likely. There is also the possibility that the Panthers could trade down in an effort to pick up more selections. However, one of these players would likely still be available where/if the Panthers should slide downward.
If you should take away one thing from this post, it is that the Panthers have an array of great options at the 14th selection. No need to worry that the Panthers will get a good talent, because there are approximately 14 quality candidates, as I see. Furthermore, there is no need to have tunnel-vision, with regard to prospects, as the Panthers will certainly nab a great player.
So, Who’s your favorite?
Did I miss one that you think should be included?
What are your thoughts on the NFL Draft and the Carolina Panthers?