The latest mock draft from ESPN's Mel Kiper was written by design to take into account potential free agent moves around the NFL. While there's a good chance best laid plans will be blown up Tuesday afternoon, at least it gives an idea of where he thinks teams will go. You can find the entire mock here (insider), but today we're focusing solely on Kiper's pick, and who the Panthers pass on.
At this point it's shaping up to be a wide receiver. Like it or not, that's the position the Panthers have invested the most time in scouting so far -- and this is an organization who haven't exactly held their draft cards close to their chest. In 2011 it was clear they wanted Cam Newton, and desire aside, they looked poised to take Luke Kuechly in 2012.
14. Tavon Austin, WR -- West Virginia
Pick analysis: Austin can't be used in the same manner as Steve Smith, but he can add another element of explosiveness to a passing attack that could use a player with his exact skills. Smith turns 34 two weeks after the draft, and Cam Newton could use an underneath target with the capability to do some damage after the catch.
Free-agency factor: The Panthers lack the flexibility to add splash in the passing game via free agency, so I don't see the process doing anything to diminish the value Austin could add.
In this scenario Austin is the second WR off the board, as Cordarrelle Patterson is taken a couple of picks before. Despite having needs at DT, OL, and S -- he elects to give the Panthers a play-maker.
Even the best of us tend to get a little size obsessed, and the majority of people will write this off as a Kiper mock. There's still a lot of hurt feelings in these parts regarding Jimmy Clausen, and as his biggest proponent Kiper is often denigrated for this alone.
Set aside the size issue for a second and see the player Tavon Austin is, not his height. While there are bigger, more archetypal wide receivers in this draft, few are the pure play-makers Austin is. What's his role in the NFL? Pure receiver, scat-back, slot receiver -- all of the above? I'll let you decide.