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The majority of Panther fans are looking forward to who new Panthers GM David Gettleman is going to take with the 14th pick in this year's NFL Draft. The consensus among a lot of national outlets has the Panthers going with a defensive tackle, with an outside chance of a defensive back or wide receiver. There is also an agreement that this draft is very high on talent in the trenches but average at the skill positions, especially at quarterback. This suits the Panthers perfectly, as our greatest needs are on both the offensive and defensive interior lines.
Mock drafts this early in the year usually change drastically by the time April rolls around. Two years ago at this time, when the Panthers had the number one pick, many mock drafts had the team picking Nick Fairley, Da'Quan Bowers, or Marcell Darius. Then, the Cam Newton show arrived at the combine, and the rest is history. The point I'm making is that things can change very quickly at the combine. Teams can fall in love very easily with a player who is performing well in shorts and saying the right things during their interviews. This is especially true with quarterbacks.
This is a down year with the incoming quarterback class. Geno Smith of West Virginia is the number one ranked player across the board, and many are only grading him with a mid to late first round value. Yet, quarterback is by far the most important position on the field and can drastically change how well a team plays, for better or worst. In today's NFL, where the quarterback goes, the team goes. Look at Baltimore. They were a solid team who usually made the playoffs every year, yet it took five years in the development and maturation of Joe Flacco into the great quarterback we saw in the Super Bowl to get them a championship. Before that, the last nine Super Bowl winning QBs were Eli Manning, Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Brees, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Roethlisberger, Brady, and Brady. See a trend? If you want to get to the top in the modern NFL, you need a top QB.
I love Cam Newton. I think he can be much better than he already is, his ceiling is so high. This isn't about us getting a QB. It's about which of the thirteen teams ahead of us in the draft that are in desperate need of a quarterback.
Why does this matter to Panther fans? The more quarterbacks that get taken ahead of us, the more highly talented non-QB prospects will slide right into our laps at number fourteen. Look at last year when we had the ninth pick. We didn't need a QB with Newton in the fold. Luck, RGIII, and Tannehill were taken ahead of us. On top of that, we didn't need a RB either, and Trent Richardson was taken with the third pick.
So, essentially, we had the fifth overall pick in the draft in terms of our needs, because four players taken ahead of us were not at priority positions. We had our pick of all the defensive ends, defensive tackles and linebackers in the draft, at number nine! We eventually picked Kuechly, the best linebacker in the draft, and he turned out to be the defensive rookie of the year.
Also, a team behind us may trade ahead of us to get a QB they are afraid of losing. Heck, they may trade with us in order to the the guy they want, and we could collect more picks as a result. Now, let's take a look at teams who may take a QB in the first round of this year's draft.
3. Oakland - Carson Palmer has the big contract, but he is beyond his prime and turnover prone. Leinart has shown he can't be reliable. Are they going to give Terrell Pryor a chance?
4. Philadelphia - It seems like they are going to give Vick one more year. Foles was decent at the end of the year.
5. Detroit - Not taking a QB with Stafford in the fold.
6. Cleveland - Does Chud want his own guy, or does he want to work with Weeden? It will be interesting to see what happens with the Browns, but I have a feeling they will take an outside linebacker/defensive end since they are switching to a 3-4 defense.
7. Arizona - Kolb can't stay on the field. Skelton and Lindley were disasters. The probability is high.
8. Buffalo - Ryan Fitzpatrick can have his moments and he's not scared to make the tough throw. The problem is his physical limitations (e.g. arm strength) can turn those tough throws into interceptions, especially in a outdoor stadium in a cold weather town. This was the downfall of Buffalo's spread offense the last two seasons, good when it's warm in September and October, but once winter comes around, it's all over. It's possible they may look for a strong armed QB.
10. Tennessee - The jury is still out on Jake Locker, who needs to stay healthy this year. He'll probably get another chance.
11. San Diego - I think many in SoCal blame Rivers' problems on his supporting case rather than him.
12. Miami - They got their guy with Tannehill.
13. Tampa Bay - Freeman is in his contract year, and he's played well enough to see if he deserves the big money when 2014 rolls around.
Many of the teams behind the Panthers are pretty set at QB, for now. Although something crazy might happen (you never know with Jerry Jones), I only see a possibility of someone who picked before us trading back into the first round to get a QB they didn't get with their first pick.
Let's look at the prospects.
Geno Smith, West Virginia: He was a shoo-in for the first pick with his red hot start last year before he faded in conference play. He has all the tools for a franchise QB, and he put up prolific numbers. Andy Reid will watch him very closely this spring.
Matt Barkley, Southern California: If he had left after his junior season, he would of been a surefire top ten pick. An average senior season with all the talent around him and a history of USC quarterbacks underachieving (Sanchez and Leinart) are against him. He may impress at the combine with his football intelligence and leadership, and someone may remember why he had a high grade before his senior season and pick him high.
Landry Jones, Oklahoma: Same story as Barkley, if he had left after his junior season he would of been a 1st rounder. He has first round tools, and he is the Big 12's all time passing leader. More likely to be a 2nd or 3rd rounder, but again, things can change.
Mike Glennon, NC State: Some see Joe Flacco in him. Tall, lanky, and a cannon of an arm. I don't really see the type of poise in him that Flacco has. Many teams are interested though, especially the Cardinals and maybe Buffalo.
Tyler Wilson, Arkansas: An interesting prospect who did well at the Senior Bowl. Put up big numbers when Bobby Petrino was still the Arkansas coach and was decent last year when the team struggled. Experienced in a pro system and going against SEC defenses.
Ryan Nassib, Syracuse: A smart player with a good arm. Played under new Buffalo coach Doug Marrone.
EJ Manuel, Florida State: Probably won't be in the first round, but if he impresses at the combine, he is the perfect fit for the read option.
Tyler Bray, Tennessee: He is the most naturally gifted passer in the class. Tall, strong armed and confident. Disappointed in college, but there's a reason why he left after his junior season. He has all the tools. Would thrive with the right coaches. He's an enigma who could be anywhere from a first rounder to a fourth rounder.
So, as a Panther fan, root for these guys. Maybe a Star Lotulelei will fall to us while the teams ahead of us are swooning over their new rookie QBs.
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