*Hello! Long time reader and Panther fan, first time poster/commenter. I got into football seriously in 2007. I watch when I can and read what I can, but I still have a very macroscopic understanding of the game. I feel I've learned enough from CSR and the like though to contribute a little and continue learning. I hope this article proves intriguing for you or at least provides a venue for new discussion.
During the free agency and draft periods, speculators oft examine prospects based on needs. I've done it, and odds are you've done it. Then, when the drafts have been picked and the salary cap spent, we sometimes make the mistake of judging our acquisitions based solely on needs. We'll tally up how many roster moves plugged up a problem and tally those as successes, while automatically failing those roster moves that did not address an immediate problem.
The Panthers have weaknesses and some outright holes. When we drafted Star Lotulelei, we arguably addressed the biggest of those holes, and our front seven looks downright incredible if everything pans out. We're not done drafting, nor done with the off season, but we're still going to have weaknesses and maybe a hole, and quite probably we'll have passed on an opportunity to correct a weakness in favor of bolstering a strength.
Given the choice between a well-rounded, balanced situation and a more jagged situation defined by poignant strengths and significant weaknesses, a skilled strategist will almost always choose the jagged situation.
Because good strategists can leverage their advantages to protect their weaknesses, and in effect gain a greater total range of abilities at his or her disposal compared to balance.
There are always exceptions: maybe the advantages offered don't appeal to the strategist, or the weaknesses seem too grave or too numerous to ignore, and these are vital considerations. However I think it's important to understand that there's no such thing as the perfect team, and that the Panthers will always have some issues to address. As we progress towards a more completed roster, we're going to see more and more moves that look and feel redundant.
Knowing this, we can interpret some of the more confusing draft choices that took place Thursday and at least understand why, even if we don't agree.
Take the Jets for example:
They drafted Dee Milliner (CB) and Sheldon Richardson (DT), two players that receive praise for their abilities/potential, but a big giant "WTF?" went up into the air when they were taken by the Jets.
From the standpoint of need it makes zero sense. They already have Cromartie, Coples, and Wilkerson in comparable positions, and these are considered good players that give the Jets a strength to work with. So why would they draft Milliner and Richardson?
Because that's the advantage Rex Ryan likes.
Presume the group of Milliner, Cromartie, Richardson, Coples, and Wilkerson post pro bowl quality seasons and provide the dominant results at those positions that Rex/Idzik expect. The Jets would have a potent CB tandem once again and a pass rush: two major components of their AFC championship seasons. Rex Ryan's on a do-or-die year, and there are just way, way too many holes on the Jets to address. In such a situation, where there is not proper time to rebuild so many weaknesses, many strategists would simply prefer to bolster their most favored advantages and cope with the weaknesses, and in this instance I believe that's what Rex Ryan is doing: maxing out his favorite advantages in his corners and forward pass rush.
I believe someone other than Richardson would have better suited the Jets (Works for us Panthers! :D), but I'm not the one drawing up game plans for sixteen different games. It'll be interesting to see if Rex Ryan's gamble pays off, because there have been instances of a single advantage toppling superior teams.
The best example are the New York Giants. The 2007 Patriots were considered superior to the Giants in every regard except pass rush, but that one advantage won the Lombardi plus another. The Giants have invested heavily in their front four so they can apply pressure without blitzing, and it's paid off. Focusing their resources may very well cause their seasonal inconsistencies, but it also gives the Giants a chance no matter how outmatched they appear to be.
The Panthers have already exercised this philosophy of stacking the advantage when we drafted Luke Kuechly. The Panthers didn't need a linebacker, and there was strong justification to take Fletcher Cox or another DT. The Panthers formed an incredible line-backing core, and combined with our awesome Defensive Ends we managed to overcome a woeful secondary.
And that brings me back to this draft, or what's left of it:
We may not address that woeful secondary, nor the wide receiver position or other areas of notable weakness. Rivera's not sitting on a volcano like Rex Ryan, but much like the Jets' situation our coach has a new GM sitting over his shoulder and an owner expecting success sooner rather than later. Rivera does need to at least compete for the playoffs if he wants to maintain job security, and we have too many problems left to address with the remainder of this draft.
Star Lotulelei turned a hole into a major strength, but we may still take Jesse Williams or another DT with our 2nd pick if Ron Rivera wants to stack depth and insurance into our front four. I can't say I know Rivera's strategic preferences when it comes time to game-planning, but if he does have a specific advantage he likes to press, then I think we'll see continual additions to that advantage through this draft and future drafts and should make our predictions and judgments accordingly.
So, discuss your thoughts on the Panthers exercising a "Jagged" philosophy!
Do you prefer balanced or skewed advantages?
Do you want to plug a hole with our 2nd draft pick, or bolster a strength?