NFL 2013 Offseason: Do the Carolina Panthers take a Nose Tackle?

Edwards was a nice signing to patch the Under Tackle hole. Can the Panthers find another Dwan at Nose Tackle? - Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

It's about that time. With the NFL Draft a little more than a week away, the questions arise. What needs will be addressed this year? What will Dave Gettleman do to patch up the remaining holes? A big part of successful drafting is taking the players that will help a team the most and will contribute the most over time. And one can beg the question, will Gettleman elect to take a Nose Tackle high in the draft?

The Picks We Have:

The Carolina Panthers currently possess five picks in the NFL Draft; the 14th (first round), the 44th (2nd round), the 108th pick (4th round), and a fifth and sixth round selection. The Panthers needs spread across the board, but the most glaring needs are Wide Receiver, Offensive line (Tackle and Guard), Defensive tackle (Nose and Under would both be considered a need in the future), Cornerback, and Safety. One could also argue that the Panthers could elect to take a tight end or a linebacker for depth as well.

The bottom line here is that five picks simply aren't enough to address every need in this draft. The Panthers could also elect to take a kicker! Drafting solely out of the most glaring needs often can cripple a team, as reaching for need instead of drafting for talent can come back to bite you. Two of the biggest examples in recent history are Jimmy Clausen and the "double dip" at DT by Hurney in the 2011 draft.

Jimmy Clausen was hailed as the most NFL ready quarterback of the 2010 draft, but unfortunately was tasked with stepping into a system that many would argue he wasn't fit for, with little talent offensively to help him. This would in turn give the Panthers the 32nd ranked offense of the entire 2010-11 season, where they would elect to choose a new quarterback anyway.

My second example referred to the picking of Sione Fua and Terrell McClain in the 2011 draft using a pair of 3rd rounders after the selection of Cam Newton. The idea here was to have two players lined up and ready at both of the defensive tackle positions. Neither one could really be argued as the best player available at the spot they were taken, and neither one really stepped in and played all that great. The art of selecting a defensive tackle is knowing that they often require development, especially in the later rounds. We may in fact see Fua blossom, but currently he is not the answer.

The reason I bring these three up is they were NEED picks. McClain is no longer on the roster, being released in the 2012 offseason the same day the Panthers signed Dwan Edwards, who did in fact play well. Of the 3 discussed, only one (Fua) will really have much chance to sniff the field as a Carolina Panther, and even then his odds of starting do not look good. Clausen is buried in the depth chart behind franchise quarterback Cam Newton and one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league, Derek Anderson.

That all being said, there could be a variety of options available to the Panthers at Nose Tackle in the first two rounds (mainly, the second). It also isn't that crazy to see one selected in the later rounds. However, with the first two picks, a good drafting franchise will usually be able to get two starters (or at the very least, a starter and a good contributor). And with all of the Panthers' needs, Gettleman cannot afford to miss on either of those picks this season.

The Options in The Draft:

This draft is especially heavy in defensive tackle depth. However, for the sake of this article, I will take a look at strictly nose tackles. Here is the breakdown of 2013 Nose Tackles:

  1. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
    Height: 6-3. Weight: 311. Arm: 33.58.
    40 Time: 5.15.
    Projected Round (2013): Top-16.

    4/6/13: The heart issue that caused Lotulelei to be pulled out of the Combine has been determined to be a non-issue. He has been given full medical clearance to play pro football. Lotulelei put on a show at his pro day and was very impressive with power, speed and explosion.

    Lotulelei had an excellent senior season. He played well against BYU, Utah State, USC, UCLA and Washington. Lotulelei was extremely disruptive and more so than the numbers indicate. He recorded 42 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles and four passes broken up.

    Lotulelei has a rare combination of size, power, speed and explosion. He beats blockers with strength and speed. Lotulelei is dominant when he isn't double-teamed and remains effective while taking on two blockers.

    8/25/12: Lotulelei was a First-Team All-Pac-12 pick in 2011 and won the Morris Trophy as the conference's top defensive lineman as voted on by the starting offensive linemen. He recorded 44 tackles, 1.5 sacks, nine tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. As a redshirt sophomore in 2010, Lotulelei was a backup for most of the season and had 21 tackles with 2.5 tackles for a loss. He is still developing and has tons of potential.

    Lotulelei was more disruptive last year than his numbers indicate. He causes a lot of havoc at the point of attack by his ability to fire through his gap and penetrate the backfield. Lotulelei is powerful and extremely quick. He has the sheer strength to grab guards and toss them aside. He also explodes off the snap to quickly gain leverage on the guard.

    The main thing that the senior has to work on is adding some more pass-rushing moves. He should add a rip move and spin move to go along with his speed and power rushes. Lotulelei is still raw. He has a huge ceiling and should only get better as he gains more experience. Lotulelei could fit in any NFL scheme, but could be a prototypical tackle for a 4-3 defense.

  2. Jonathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia
    Height: 6-3. Weight: 359. Arm: 33 1/8. Hand: 9 1/2.
    Projected 40 Time: 5.45.
    Projected Round (2013): 1-2.

    4/6/13: Jenkins racked up 50 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack in 2012. He stood out with good games against Missouri, South Carolina, Florida and Auburn. Jenkins played well in the SEC Championship and beat Alabama guard Chance Warmack for a sack.

    Jenkins is a load at the line of scrimmage who can collapse the pocket while stuffing runs. He helped his stock this season and was dominant at the Senior Bowl. Jenkins was destroying interior linemen with his bull rush and showed some serious explosiveness off the snap. It isn't out of the question for Jenkins to be a mid first-rounder.

    8/25/12: The junior college product Jenkins showed off massive size with some surprising athleticism in his debut last year for the Bulldogs. The junior had 28 with six tackles for a loss and three sacks.

    Jenkins is a massive load at the line of scrimmage. He is a natural fit as a zero-technique nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. It helps that Jenkins already plays that position for Georgia.

  3. Johnathan Hankins*, DT, Ohio State
    Height: 6-3. Weight: 320. Arm: 33.08
    40 Time: 5.31.
    Projected Round (2013): 1-2.

    4/6/13: Hankins was solid, but unspectacular, at the Combine. He started out the year extremely strongly for Ohio State. He was a monster in the middle of the line as a run-stuffer with some pressure as a pass-rusher.

    Hankins was a dominant force against California, among others. He totaled 10 tackles and a sack while making plays all over the field. Hankins made tackles outside of his gap. One was on a wide receiver screen on the perimeter. He was beating double-team blocks from a guard and center to stuff runs at the line of scrimmage.

    Hankins' play cooled off some after a dominant September, but he still caused problems at the line of scrimmage and finished his collegiate career strong with a good performance against Michigan. Hankins totaled 55 tackles, four tackles for a loss and a sack in 2012.

    8/25/12: Hankins is a massive tackle who takes up a lot of space and blockers at the point of attack. The sophomore had a strong 2011 season. He was a fabulous run-defender at that point of attack and totaled 67 tackles. Hankins also had 11 tackles for a loss and three sacks. He notched 16 tackles and a sack as a freshman.

    Even though Hankins only had three sacks last year, he was a better pass-rusher than the numbers indicate. Hankins got good penetration into the pocket to hurry quarterbacks and take away space for them to step up in the pocket. He has serious quickness that he uses to fire into his gap and disrupt plays.

    NFL coaches are going to love Hankins' versatility. He has played all over the defensive line. Hankins has lined up as a three-technique, on the outside shoulder of the guard; a two-gap defensive tackle technique; a defensive end; and the zero-technique - as a nose tackle above the center. Thus, he could fit as in a 4-3 as a defensive tackle, or in a 3-4 defense as a nose tackle or defensive end.

    If Hankins becomes a more consistent pass-rusher and is able to produce a quality sack total, he could contend to be the top tackle selected. With Ohio State's new attacking defense, it wouldn't be surprising if the junior increases his sack production in 2012.

  4. Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
    Height: 6-3. Weight: 323. Arm: 32.08.
    Projected 40 Time: 5.35.
    Projected Round (2013): 2-3.

    4/6/13: Scouts told they don't view Williams as a first-rounder because he won't be on the field in pass-rushing situations. However, some project him to go on Thursday night.

    Williams had a rough start to his senior season. He was limited against Michigan in Week 1 and sat out the next game, against Western Kentucky, with a concussion. Williams played better later in the year with good performances versus Texas A&M, LSU, Georgia and Notre Dame. He had 37 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and one sack in 2012.

    Williams is a good run-stuffer, but doesn't offer much of anything as a pass-rusher. He looks like a two-down player at most for the NFL, and with the amount of nickel formations teams run, may only end up playing 40 percent of his defense's snaps.

    Williams was unable to run in the field workouts at the Combine.

    8/25/12: The "tattooed monster from down under" has some shear power and quickness. The Australian didn't start playing football until he was 15 years old. He played a couple seasons of community college before breaking into the lineup as a junior for Alabama.

    Williams had 24 tackles with four tackles for a loss and half a sack in 2011. He was a starting five-technique defensive end but moved inside to tackle as part of a four-man front in pass-rushing situations. Williams should take on a prominent role in the Alabama defense since the Crimson Tide lost a number of players to the 2012 NFL Draft.

  5. Brandon Williams, DT, Missouri Southern
    Height: 6-1. Weight: 341. Arm: 32 3/4. Hand: 9 5/8.
    40 Time: 5.37.
    Projected Round (2012): 2-3.

    4/6/13: Williams was a consistent pass-rusher over the last three seasons. He totaled 25.5 sacks over that time. Williams had 68 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks and five forced fumbles this year. He totaled eight sacks and 35 tackles in 2011. Williams recorded nine sacks and 17 tackles for a loss as a sophomore. He helped himself by performing well at the Senior Bowl.

Of the nose tackles, it wouldn't be all that surprising for the Panthers to select one of them in the 2nd-4th round. Star Lotulelei is all but gone from our hopes, as he will probably go in the top 5 of the first round. Sylvester Williams from UNC also isn't out of the question, as he did line up at Nose in college. There are a variety of options available here, but as we all know, when the draft actually falls, weird things can happen.

What If We Don't Take One?

The Panthers could very easily scoop a nose tackle up in the second, and have shown a great deal of interest. However, we have seen more visits with under tackles like Sharrif Floyd and Sheldon Richardson, and many others. What if one of those two is available at #14? What if Jonathan Cyprien or one of the other highly rated safeties is available at #44?

It's almost a foregone conclusion to assume that the Panthers will take a wide receiver with one of their top 2 picks. Steve Smith won't be around much longer, and of Cam's 7,920 yards passing in two seasons, Smith has accounted for 2,568 of it. That's a whopping 32.4% of Cam Newton's passing yards. If the Panthers want to be able to win when Steve Smith is gone, easing in his replacement is ideal, and having that added weapon will help the passing game for the present Carolina Panthers.

Gettleman will most likely elect to take a receiver with their top pick, but if they choose not to, the second rounder is almost certainly pointing in that direction. And herein lies the problem. A wide receiver is a very ideal pick in this year's draft, there's a lot of good ones available all around the top two rounds. So with a receiver almost certainly being a lock for one of the top two picks, Gettleman could go in any number of directions with the other. There's safeties, under tackles, and offensive lineman that are all highly rated, and very likely to be available when the Panthers are on the board.

What Do We Do Now?!

So draft day has come and gone, and we look back on the scenario where the Panthers don't take a nose tackle. Now begins the time to figure out what to do to patch this hole. And to start, we look at the current roster. The We currently only have Colin Cole, Sione Fua, and Frank Kearse as the only three with any nose tackle experience. Colin Cole has been absent from football since September of 2011, after failing his physical with Seattle from an ankle injury. He went through surgery to repair it, and is returning. Cole is an interesting prospect here, having started 11 games for Seattle in 2010. He could very easily push for some playing time in a relatively thin group at NT.

We covered Sione Fua earlier. With 12 starts under his belt and two offseasons, he has every opportunity to get some playing time. If he simply needed some time to develop and get into the pro game, this is his time to prove it. He can easily win the starting job, or lose his job entirely this season.

Then there's Frank Kearse. The coaching staff has been high on Kearse since acquiring him from Miami's practice squad in 2011. He's a very large lineman with the physical attributes to be successful, and we've seen flashes of it. When Ron Edwards was not in or injured, we often saw Kearse step in and play. Kearse has 8 registered starts so far as a Panther, and he will also push for some playing time. If the Panthers don't draft a nose tackle, look for some undrafted free agents to come in and push as well.

And finally, we have what I like to call the Dwan Edwards phenomena. On September 1st of the 2012 season, we were looking at Ron Edwards and Terrell McClain as the starters on the d-line. The next day, Dwan Edwards would be in a Panthers uniform, and maintain the starting position at Under Tackle for most of the season, while McClain would be sent packing.

The point here is that if the Panthers don't find "their guy" at nose tackle during the draft, its very possible that before the season or during training camp that the Panthers find a quick signing for a veteran presence. Now, it's hard to bank on this happening, but Gettleman would not allow for the Panthers to be left high and dry at nose tackle if he didn't think we have the players here on the roster. The draft is the place to find your future, and unfortunately the cards don't always fall where every need can be met.

So I hope that I'm wrong and that the Panthers find the right guy at nose tackle in the draft and this article is rendered irrelevant. But defensive tackles often need time to develop, so it's possible Gettleman doesn't take a nose tackle high in the draft. It's important to take the players who will make the best impact. The past two years we have been extremely lucky to have back to back offensive/defensive rookies of the year. I think we can all agree we'd like to see that again!

What do you think, Panthers' fans? Should we take a nose tackle or find another way to patch the hole?

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