Reflecting on the Carolina Panthers' draft on Sunday morning I'm still stunned. Awestruck that somehow Star Lotuelei was still available at the 14th overall pick, but more surprised that despite putting together a class that addressed the team's biggest needs, the majority of the fanbase still feel that this was a 'B'.
Care to know who don't think the Panthers deserve a B? Writers and fans of other organizations. Sitting in the SB Nation writer's room last night as the 7th round came to a close I had to opportunity to share opinions with the lead bloggers from several other teams, as well as the talent evaluators from Mocking the Draft. I shared that the mood from fans seemed to be that Dave Gettleman wasted the third day, and I was met with several replies echoing my thoughts, but one simple reply caught my eye:
"That's ridiculous. You now have Star and Short. The team's biggest weakness is a strength. That alone makes it an A"
The Marty Hurney era has conditioned us for failure. Assuming every mid-round pick that doesn't match some ethereal, universal 'big board' is automatically a crazy reach, and that despite everyone wanting a true BPA draft on Monday, when it happened on Saturday it became a failure. If the New England Patriots select a guard from Valdosta State in the forth round, they're the geniuses who see something nobody else does. When the Carolina Panthers do it, it's a 'crazy reach'.
Instead of giving you my grades (CanadianPanther did that so well), I'll break down how I felt as the draft progressed though each day.
As the draft began I didn't know what to think. The buzz all week was that the team was in love with Star Lotulelei. So much so that they had some preliminary trade discussions with the Arizona Cardinals about moving up if he was available at #7. This talk cooled on Wednesday, and on Thursday it seemed that trading up was dead.
Attention turned towards prospects the team hadn't met with. The buzz on draft day surrounded three people: Tyler Eifert, Xavier Rhodes, and Matt Elam. It felt too early for all three, but it truly felt like the team planned for Star, or bust at defensive tackle.
With the 14th overall pick in the NFL Draft, the Carolina Pathers select: Star Lotuelei, defensive tackle, Utah
Mouth agape, I found myself unable to cheer. Simply awestruck that the process allowed the best defensive tackle in the draft, and my favorite defensive player to be available at #14. Big, versatile, hard-working -- I don't pretend to know how teams decided to pass on him, but their loss was Carolina's gain.
Ron Rivera's smile beamed wide, while Dave Gettleman looked a little more shocked than overjoyed. Carolina got their man, and they didn't need to move up. Need met BPA, and it was a perfect scenario.
The fanbase was united for the first time I can imagine. Nobody hated the selection of Star, and by filling the team's biggest need they could do anything they wanted on Friday night. Excellent defensive backs were on the board, a glut of wide receivers, and some to the top talent at DT remained. All day I hoped Jonathan Cyprien would be available, but as it drew closer to draft time it was clear the Jaguars (who quietly had an amazing draft) planned to select him,
Wide receivers were still out there, but I couldn't shake the idea of the Panthers taking another defensive tackle or getting a linebacker.
With the 44th overall pick in the NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers select: Kawann Short, defensive tackle, Purdue
Less shocked that the selection of Lotulelei, all I could think about was Matt Ryan teeing off on the Panthers with play action passes, Luke Kuechly frozen in the middle by Doug Martin -- unable to move around because of the run defense liabilities. Those ghosts of Panthers' past were exorcised, and it happened in 24 hrs. Run defense has been a weakness for this organization for ten years, and it no longer would be.
At worst the middle was plugged, at best the defensive line would be better than it has every been -- and yes, that includes 2003-04.
Dave Gettleman said there would be no trading into the third round, and the night ended.
By now it was clear the Panthers were playing this draft as pure BPA. Forget team needs, forget who you liked -- they had a board and were sticking to it. Gettleman wasn't lying when he said there were no glaring holes, and if you look at how those dominant New York Giants teams were built, it was less about the secondary, and more about an overwhelming defensive line.
With the 108th pick, the Carolina Panthers select: Edmund Kugbila, guard, Valdosta State
I audibly laughed, not because I thought the pick was bad -- but because a user on CSR called this pick the night before. I tip my hat to Smokewagon, who came on our radio show after party telling us not to sleep on 'The guard from Valdosta State'. Carolina were one of four teams who worked Kugbila out (along with the Falcons, Chiefs and Colts) -- and the initial feedback I got on the pick from people I trust fell into three basic categories:
1. If his SAT score was a little higher, and he had better coaching in college he could have been Chance Warmack
2. He has all the tools, but he needs some work
3. Scouts didn't like him too much, coaches loved him. Seems like a hard worker
I don't have an opinion other than that. It's interesting to hear that Kugbila was highly coveted by Alabama, Georgia, and Florida -- but couldn't go because of a low SAT score. Getting a raw prospect is fine, if they're coachable. It seems like the Panthers found a third starter in as many days -- not that it's difficult to be better than Geoff Hangartner at this point.
With the 148th overall pick, the Carolina Panthers select: A.J. Klein, linebacker, Iowa State
DAVE GETTLEMAN JUST DOESN'T GIVE AN EFF ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS!
Taking a linebacker here was hilarious, and met with another audible laugh. I really liked Klein as a prospect. He's big, moved better than I expected, and had the same kind of natural instincts that the phrase "Poor man's Luke Kuechly" isn't completely out of place.
Instead of taking a developmental receiver on a team with too many developmental receivers, they took a near-finished product at linebacker. He can play some special teams, and when (not if) someone inevitably gets injured, he can fill in and be okay.
The long-term plan could see him play in some 3-4 schemes, and maybe in time he can be the Panthers' strong-side linebacker. Plus, he has arguably the best hair on the team now -- rookie dress-up day should be fun.
With the 182nd overall pick, the Carolina Panthers select: Kenjon Barner, running back, Oregon
LET THE WORLD BURN... LET IT BURN! RUNNING BACK— James Dator (@James_Dator) April 27, 2013
I was prepared for the incoming freak-out. With Bacarri Rambo still on the board, and all sorts of need positions -- I said on the radio prior to the pick that it wouldn't be who we expected, and boy oh boy it wasn't.
Admittedly, I barely watched anything on running backs this year. I mean, why would I? It was so far removed from the team's needs that the idea seemed silly. When the pick came through I knew there was going to be backlash, but the more you analyze the pick, the more it makes sense.
DeAngelo is on a short-term deal at this point, and Carolina lack a true burner. Using D-Will on option plays has worked to some success, but who better in those scenarios than a guy who has been asked to do it in Chip Kelly's offense? Furthermore, he brings some much-needed competition at the punt return position.
In a perfect world every need is met in one draft. The myriad holes the Panthers have would all be plugged with quality players, ready to start immediately. This is a fool's errand. Some of these players will be busts -- that's just the nature of the business. Find me any team's draft in the last ten years that found 6-7 starters, then maybe we can talk.
Just as you don't build a puzzle by working one row at a time, so too you can't build a perfect 53 man roster in one year. It takes time, and means grabbing the pieces you can while they're there, with the expectation you'll find more complementary jigsaw pieces later.
Want a grade? Okay then, it's an A. Getting Star alone was a case of dumb luck, but that doesn't deflate what they did. Sure, everyone's top-rated cornerback didn't come in the late rounds, and they didn't get the flawed developmental receiver we all swooned over -- but the 2013 draft showed how big the chasm is between independent talent evaluation and what NFL teams look for. Like reading WebMD and assuming you're a cardiac surgeon, so too we learned that for all the studying, time, and emotion invested in the draft none of us have a clue what we're doing.
Need further proof? E.J. Manuel went 16th overall.