With the combine right around the corner, this is my attempt at Carolina's six picks in April. On Monday, Jaxon put up his version of a 2013 pre-combine mock, which you can find here. I think his selections were great, and fall perfectly in line of need vs. BPA. Attempting to do the same, I'm changing things up slightly.
1st round - Kenny Vaccaro, FS, Texas
There were rumors shortly following the 2012 draft that while the Panthers were happy getting Luke Kuechly, their true target was safety Mark Barron -- who was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just before them. Both Dave Gettleman and Ron Rivera come from organizational backgrounds of strong safety play. Eric Weddle was Rivera's right-hand-man on his San Diego defenses, and with Sherrod Martin a free agent, it makes this pick a no-brainer -- provided he's available.
Rob Rang of CBS Sports draws this comparison, which will likely make Rivera happy:
Compares To: Eric Weddle, FS, San Diego Chargers -- Like the highly instinctive and versatile Weddle, Vaccaro has the athleticism and size to line up wherever his NFL team needs him most. Vaccaro hasn't yet shown the same ball skills as the Chargers' Pro Bowler but showed signs of improving in this area as a senior.
2nd round - Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers
I know, I know -- you're screaming "OL HELP!" The truth is, it's unclear whether the value will be there. Double-dipping on the secondary might seem like a luxury, but remember that Chris Gamble is likely gone, and Captain Munnerlyn could be close behind him.
It's easy to get caught up and make comparisons to fellow Rutgers' star Devin McCourty, but the 6-0, 190-pound Ryan is an excellent player without trying to make links. He's young, and will make young mistakes -- just like Josh Norman did last year, but for the long-term of the organization they need to defend the pass better. Ryan also has ability on special teams, something the Panthers desperately need help in.
Add Ryan to a stable of Norman, James Dockery, and Josh Thomas -- the future at corner looks bright.
4th round - Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois
This is unlikely to be a home run pick, but Dave Gettleman needs to start doing what Marty Hurney didn't -- stock the roster with talent on both lines. Spence has good size, and excellent run-stopping ability out of the gate. In a perfect world he could slide in immediately at contribute at nose, while the Panthers use their paltry free agent dollars on Chris Canty to play next to him.
Spence was very productive in 2012, amassing 72 tackles, 7.0 TFL and one sack. It's unclear whether he'll ever be a pass rusher, but holding the point might be enough.
5th round - Alvin Bailey, OG, Arkansas
It's time for a right guard.
The Panthers could forgo the offensive line one more year, hoping that Ryan Kalil's return is the glue to make it all work again, but why risk it? Geoff Hangartner had more downs that ups in 2012, but he was also asked to do a lot. When your backup plan is relying on Geoff Hangartner to be your second-most important OL, it's your own fault.
Alvin Bailey is a large (6-5, 315-pound) man who projects naturally to right guard. He moves a little better than you'd think, but don't confuser him for an elite athlete. His pass blocking can be suspect at times, but he has road-grading potential, and late in the draft it's a developmental pick. Bailey faced good competition, played well, and would add depth -- imagine that?
6th round - Dustin Hopkins, K, Florida State
I'm copying Jaxon here, because it makes too much sense. The Carolina Panthers have basically ignored the kicker position for their entire existence. They lucked upon John Kasay early, and rode him for near two-decades. Making the inane switch to Olindo Mare didn't pay off, and now they're floundering.
Do Carolina keep throwing stuff at the wall, or do they admit that what they're doing isn't working? Hopkins is the best kicker in this draft, and darn good one in general. Maybe, finally, the Panthers can stop hoping for something at the position.
What I like about this mock
In retrospect I like that I found a way to improve Carolina's secondary, while staying close down the board to where guys should be selected. There isn't anything that really knocks your socks off, but I think the team is far better over time. Adding depth on both sides of the line are a must. I'm not sure either guy is a 10-year starter, but they can contribute early due to the Panthers' lack of talent, and buy the organization time to find those elite talents.
What I dislike about this mock
I really wanted to find a place for a wide receiver early, but I just couldn't. Ron Rivera likes guys with strong work ethics, who are big, and physical. Meeting all those criteria became difficult, with all the prospects available having one glaring question that made it too much of a long shot.
I also don't like how I played it relatively safe. It's something I tend to do quite a bit when evaluating talent. Logan Ryan and Akeem Spence have room to grow, but the rest of the class is pretty much as-is.