Carolina Panthers draft: Perception vs. reality

Disappointments like Jeff Otah have marred recent drafts - The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE

While former general manager Marty Hurney was often maligned for his draft classes, an outlet ranks the Panthers as one of the league's best.

One of the most hotly debated off-season topics over the past five years has been Marty Hurney's role at managing the draft, and putting his team in a position to succeed. There is an overwhelming feeling that despite a desire to build through the draft, the Panthers rarely were able to fulfill this lofty ideal through poor drafting, and bad selections. A five, and ten-year analysis of all 32 teams might surprise you.

In a special column for the National Football Post, Tony Villoti of Draftmetrics.com dove into the last decade of NFL drafts and attempted to normalize every pick into a systematic ranking. This is based on four essential elements: active players, games started, average share of starts, and Pro Bowl appearances. What we learned about the Carolina Panthers was very telling. We all know Marty Hurney's draft classes were excellent early, but got weaker as time went on -- but how much weaker?

10-Year rankings

Carolina Panthers: 90.5 (4th)

In the last decade, the Panthers are one of the best drafting teams based on this four-pronged metric. They also exceeded their expected ranking, based on the projection of the players they took (they were expected to finish 9th). For all the praise that gets heaped on more successful teams, Carolina out-drafted the New England Patriots (5th) and Pittsburgh Steelers (29th).

Meanwhile the top-three teams? The Cardinals, 49ers, and Browns. With the exception of the last two years, it's hard to make a strong argument for building through the draft. When the teams who have the best draft rankings are lagging behind in the standings, it says a lot about the organization's methodology to build through the draft.

5-Year rankings

Carolina Panthers: 79.6 (17th)

The drop-off in Hurney's final five years really tells the whole story. While Marty wasn't making the picks himself, it shows the fundamental flaws in the organization under his watch. For what it's worth, the Panthers were slated to be ranked 12th, but were undoubtedly hurt by the inactivity of Everette Brown and Jeff Otah.

In these last five years it's more of the same: The Cardinals, Dolphins, and Chiefs have been the league's best drafters -- and also its cellar-dwellers. We know where Hurney's flaws were, but what about the New York Giants? It's easy to point out their myriad successes, especially with Marc Ross interviewing for GM jobs -- but what you'll find is that they haven't been great either. The New York Giants finished with a rank of 29th -- one of the worst drafting teams in the NFL, yet they have two Superbowls.

Every metric has its flaws, but this is a fairly damning indictment of the 'build through the draft' model. It shows that like all things, the Panthers need to find balance. Free agency isn't the sole answer, and Dave Gettleman's disdain for big name free agents is a prudent way to manage the cap, but the lack of mid-level talent being brought in as upgrades has put Carolina in a position of playing their youth before it's ready.

There are still a few months before the draft and free agency get underway, and it will be interesting to see if the Panthers change their obsession for putting the blinder on, and building solely through the draft.

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