Getting the draft right has been the topic of conversation over the last three months. Every prospect has been looked over with a fine-tooth comb, and now it's about seeing where teams, talent evaluators, and fans think they should all slot in. Over this time we've looked at how the Panthers can succeed on draft night, but it's equally important to examine the myriad ways they could fail.
This isn't about looking at prospects, or pitting two players against each other. Instead it's about looking at overall draft philosophy. Dave Gettleman likely understands his organization's strengths and weaknesses, and will need to use experience to rule the day.
Understand the scouting department
It's important not to oversell Gettleman as film-hound. Yes, Carolina's new GM has a propensity for watching film on players and evaluating talent, but he hasn't been in college scouting since working in Buffalo in the late-eighties. There is a big difference between college scouting, and pro scouting. The former involves projecting where a player could be in 1-2 years, while the latter looks at how a player is now. The ability in pro scouting would translate if every player was NFL-ready, but scant few prospects are -- especially as you get further back in the draft,
Furthermore, this is still Carolina's same college scouting department they had under Marty Hurney. Unless you think Hurney was acting unilaterally on draft night (note: he wasn't), then the same pitfalls that marred the last decade are present; the ability to recognize first-round players, and struggle in the latter parts of the draft.
Don't get 'cute'
Over the last 24-hrs the idea of trading back has become part of the collective consciousness. For all the talk of this draft being equal from picks 10-40, the reality is that the NFL's best teams are looking to move up -- so there must be some elite talent they're gunning for.
The San Francisco 49ers are looking to move up, if rumors are to be believed. Aiming for either the 13th or 14th pick, it would be an ideal scenario for the Panthers if they're willing to move back to 31.
Herein lies the problem: Getting cute. In amassing more picks you increase your chance to hit, but it's also the difference between panning in a gold field, and using two pans in your backyard. Dave Gettleman called this 'three dimes vs. a dollar', but the same essential element remains: If there's a guy you like, take him.
For all New England's genius, look no further than their moves from 2009 to see the danger in getting 'cute'. In this draft the Patriots traded back once from 23 to 26, then moved back again from 26 to get a second round pick, and two thirds.. then kept moving back to get more selections. The end result: Baltimore got Michael Oher, Green Bay selected Clay Matthews -- while the Patriots ended up with Darius Butler, Brandon Tate, and Rich Ohrnberger, none of which are still with the team.
Top three or bust
It seems like a pretty elementary technique to evaluate the draft, but not everything needs to be overly complicated. If the Carolina Panthers don't leave the first two rounds with one of the top-three rated wide receivers, defensive tackles, safeties, or offensive tackles -- they've failed.
At this point you can cross tackle off your list. Carolina wont have Joeckel, Fisher, or Johnson on the board unless something stunning happens on Thursday. From there it becomes about the remaining prospects at their most dire positions. It's too easy to hang the entire draft on BPA, because need very definitely plays a role -- and it's here where Gettleman's comments on 'two starting players' find their way into the discussion.
Fans have taken his statement too literally of late, choosing to view it directly as "the Panthers need to get two starters" and holding that against the depth chart. While this isn't a bad starting point, it overlooks how the offense could run three wide receivers for the majority of their snaps, the defensive tackle rotation on third down, as well as the safeties being interchangeable. In this case 'starting' doesn't always mean 'top of the depth chart', it can mean players who get a lion's share of the snaps on Sunday.
Who are these top-three? Everyone will have their personal opinion, but based on everything we know from media, insiders, and rumors, here's how it's shaping up.
OT: Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson
DT: Sharrif Floyd, Star Lotulelei, Sheldon Richardson
WR: Tavon Austin, DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen
S: Kenny Vaccaro, Jonathan Cyprien, Matt Elam
Twelve players total, representing over two-thirds of the first round. One of these players will be available at the 14th pick, no question about it. Here is where trading back can become tricky, because it's only worth it if you think one of these guys will still be there.
Why is a top-three evaluation important? Because no matter how talented a position is, there is always stratification. This is a deep draft at defensive tackle, but there's ample reason why the three players above are seen as being head-and-shoulders above the likes of Kawann Short, Sylvester Williams, and Jesse Williams. The further back you get in a position, the more you're taking risks. Questions about motor, work ethic, flexibility, upside, and technique all rear their head -- and it's a huge mistake to take more risks, especially when you have as many needs as the Panthers.
If the Carolina Panthers choose to eschew top-three in favor of the fourth best offensive tackle, then they're having problems. Want more proof? Look at their most recent draft successes: Cam Newton (#1 rated QB), Luke Kuechly (#1 rated MLB), Jonathan Stewart (#2 rated RB). Maybe this is coincident, or perhaps it's simply a by-product of taking higher-rated players.
Don't draft because of the Jones's
Revis is an amazing talent, and one of the best defensive players in the NFL. This means he influences one side of the field, in one half of the offense, which is under 50% of a game. Spending an early pick to mitigate that risk is a huge mistake. No team should draft because of their division, especially when there's no guarantee Revis will be elite in five years time, or even remain on the roster.
The last time Carolina drafted to counter a divisional threat it was Thomas Davis. Selected to counter Michael Vick, it was a move that ultimately worked out for the best, but could have been a disaster. If it wasn't for Davis's determination to become a complete NFL linebacker (typified by his rehab from injury), the Panthers could have been stuck with a player good for one thing -- countering a player who was no longer in the NFC South.
Forget about Revis, build your team, game plan for those two Sundays... that's all you can do.