Carolina Panthers' fans hoped that the seemingly impossible would become reality, that Star Lotulelei would somehow be available at the 14th pick. It was a pipe dream, but one that drew closer to reality with the reports of the prospect's heart condition. The obvious silver lining is that it appears those fears were unfounded, and possibly a product of a false positive -- which is an excellent thing for Star. The by-product is that he's back to where he should be, a top-five pick. Over at Mocking the Draft, they took account for his rise in their latest mock draft, giving him to the Philadelphia Eagles at #4. Meanwhile the Panthers get a familiar name, with a different take.
With the 14th pick, the Carolina Panthers select...
Sheldon Richardson, DT -- Missouri
The Panthers get a steal here, as our No. 2 defensive tackle falls to them at No. 14. Sheldon Richardson could get drafted much higher than this. With the lack of talent Carolina has on the interior of the defensive line, adding a disruptive player like Richardson could bolster the front seven for the foreseeable future.
An early pro-day, pared with a spate of news at the DT position has pushed Richardson out of the collective consciousness. Mocking the Draft aren't alone with their evaluation. Josh Norris of Rotoworld has him ranked as the 7th best overall prospect, while not long ago many mocks had him in the discussion for the first overall pick.
What I really love about this pick is that it gives something the Panthers haven't had in a long time -- patience. Too often the organization have relied on thrusting rookies into starting roles, hoping they can adjust to the speed of the NFL. While this baptism by fire might jump-start rookie development, the cost for the team is that they often have a lackluster starting unit. If Carolina drafted Richardson, they would have a full year to allow him to sit behind Dwan Edwards, and rotate in as needed, before thrusting him into the fire in 2014. It's an ideal situation that keeps the current, and future defensive line strong.
The concern with Richardson is two-fold: Firstly he has maturity issues, typified by off-field spats with coaches, and publicly dismissing the Georgia program prior to a game. This is slightly worrisome, especially due to his second issue -- age. Taking the community college route, Richardson didn't enroll to Missouri until he was 20-years-old, making him a 24-year-old prospect. It's easy to become an ageist in these situations, and pine for a guy who will have a 15-year career, but the reality is that most guys don't manage to make it that long anyway. Take the top talent, and don't fret a couple of years here or there.