This time last year conventional wisdom said the Panthers would take a defensive tackle or a wide receiver. They had glaring needs at both positions, and players who could potentially be available at their selection. Despite having their pick of the class at DT, Carolina bucked this thinking and took Luke Kuechly; is anyone disappointed? Pete Schrager of Fox Sports has a new mock draft, and it has the team going against the grain once again.
It's hard to justify a need for a pass rusher given last year's production. Charles Johnson was dominant, and Greg Hardy joined him for the first time. The duo became one of the most productive pass rushing tandems in the draft, and the first pair to amass over 20 sacks in Charlotte since Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker. With both players under 30-years-old, it seems like madness they'd add to this unit again.
14. Carolina Panthers: Bjoern Werner, Defensive End, Florida State
The Panthers would be more than happy to see Werner drop to 14. A 6-foot-4 pass rusher with exceptional quickness and strength, he didn't "wow" in Indianapolis, but shouldn't slip out of the top 20. His 13 sacks led the ACC in 2012 and he left Tallahassee as the NCAA active leader in sacks with 23.5. Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson provide some pop from the edges in Carolina. Werner would be a wonderful addition at defensive end.
While there's no evidence Werner has visited with the Panthers, there's a lot of logical reasoning that makes this pick work. Personally, I think Werner will be this year's 'sad face in the green room' on draft night, waiting entirely too long to get his name called. However, many outlets believe he's a top-ten talent. CBS Sports rate him as the sixth best player overall, comparing him to Chris Long of the St. Louis Rams. If you're preaching 'best player available', he could very well be the selection.
The secondary aspect to taking Werner would be Greg Hardy's future as a member of the Carolina Panthers. His agent is already angling for a new deal, and given the market for young, productive pass rushers it's wholly possible he's worth around $10 million per-season, far more than the team can afford.
If you want to keep Hardy and look in other directions during the draft, that's perfectly justifiable. Just don't pretend you're not thinking like Marty Hurney. Extending Hardy to a huge long-term deal would be precisely what the former GM would do, no matter how you reason it. Without a doubt it will be Dave Gettleman's most difficult decision as GM of the Panthers, and this draft could ultimately decide what they do.
Selecting Werner would be making a commitment that the Panthers are going to save money again, and will attempt to play in free agency -- even if they have to wait for 2015. You don't take a first-round defensive end when another is in a contract year unless you're looking to go in a different direction, but even then it seems unlikely that a team with as many immediate, pressing needs would add a DE.