After three full days of the NFL draft and an overabundance of opinions regarding the event and the results, you have probably had enough of the NFL draft. And I don't blame you. But right now, as football fans, that's really all we have. Unfortunately, there are at least 3 more months until pre-season football begins.
Additionally, with a flood of individuals grading the draft, you have probably read enough to gouge your eyes out. And since most have praised the Panthers draft, you'd probably fall in line and agree. But I don't. I like to follow a different line.
I'm not going to sugarcoat my opinions of the draft, or the Carolina Panthers draft. The grades that I give the Panthers are, as objectively and as fairly as possible, based on value and need. The praise that I give I think is warranted, as is the criticism. I'm almost certain that many will vehemently disagree, but I'm also sure that some of the criticism will be subjective and fan-based. Looking through rose-colored glasses is nice, but it distorts reality. What follows are my judgments on the results.
Before beginning though, let me first preface by explaining my grading scale. After the draft, most every team typically receives a ‘B.' The ‘B' has become the standard. But, in my opinion, not everyone deserves a ‘B.' Rather, I subscribe to the Bell curve because I have found it to be true. In life, on a science test, or in grading the draft, not everyone is going to get a good grade. It's just nature-some fail while others succeed, while most just do okay. In my book, a ‘C'-not a ‘B' is standard. As such, here is how I grade:
B- Above Average
D- Below Average
And let me first say, that a ‘C' is not a bad grade. Without any further delay, here are my grades for the Carolina Panthers 2013 Draft Class:
ROUND 1, PICK 14: STARLITE LOTULELEI, NT, UTAH
The only way that this pick could have been better for the Panthers is if the Panthers nabbed Eric Fisher or Luke Joeckel. However, being at 14, that is not very realistic. Getting the 3rd best player on our board at 14 is such a success, it is a coup! This pick was simply an incredible value and I don't think I need to elaborate any more on that point. It was simply unthinkable prior to the draft.
Shutting down the run was also the Panthers biggest deficiency. Starlite Lotulelei, a once-in-a-while type Nose Tackle, remedies this. He can also rush the passer. I'm not going to elaborate too much on Star, because we all know who he is and what he brings. I will say though, that the Panthers Defense should be much improved simply with this addition.
ROUND 2, PICK 44: KAWANN ‘K.K.' SHORT, DT, PURDUE
At the 44th pick, I can honestly say that Kawann Short was the best player on the board. A year ago, I fell in love with this guy, and wrote a piece predicting that he would be the Panthers first round pick. (You can read that piece HERE) To get such a great player, who was rated as a first round guy, in the second round was incredible value like the previous pick.
While Lotulelei is known for his run stopping, Short is known for his pass rushing abilities. He has been one of the most productive DTs in college football in the last two years. In his career, he has amassed nearly 200 tackles, nearly 50 TFL, and approximately 19.5 sacks. Some say he has a hot and cold motor, but I think it is more of a reflection of Purdue asking him to play at a very heavy weight and anchor down the defensive line for an absurd number of snaps.
Next to Starlite, he should be able to flourish, getting to the QB and RB often. Although the Panthers have D'wan Edwards, he is an aging rental that is a liability in the run game. Short is not only an upgrade, but will be a good piece on this defense for years to come.
ROUND 3, PICK 74: FRANK ALEXANDER, DE, OKLAHOMA
I include Frank Alexander in this draft class because it was paid for by this year's third rounder (and last year's sixth). Although we picked him last year, I consider him a part of this draft class because the price we paid came at the expense of this draft class. Plain and simple, we spent our third rounder this year on Frank Alexander, and as such, he is a part of this draft class as well.
You may be sick of hearing this, or do not want to hear it, but this trade and pick was pretty poor. With this pick, we could have added Keenan Allen to our roster and upgraded the passing game. However, we chose to trade the pick and take Frank Alexander a year early. As I have demonstrated with scouting reports, Alexander was rated as a fifth-round rated DE by most. Taking him in the 4th-with the 3rd round pick-was a definite reach. This is especially bad when you consider that Alexander's ceiling is Al Wallace, and Alex Okafor, a first round DE with a much higher ceiling, was available.
Now, don't get me wrong. I like Alexander as much as anyone. But looking at it objectively, this was a piss poor choice. This one does fall on Marty rather than Gettleman, but Ron was still complicit in this trade.
ROUND 4, PICK 108: EDMUND KUGBILA
Most would give this pick a ‘B', or a C+ at worst. But grading this pick as such is seeing the draft through rose-colored glasses.
I give this pick a fringe C/C- because it was decent value. Kugbila was slated to go in the fourth and fifth round. As such, there is nothing above average about this pick. It was an average pick.
Additionally, I put it at the fringe C/C- level because we passed on a greater value---a much greater value in Ryan Nassib. Although many do not think backup QB is a need, I think people will think differently in a year, when both Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen are outta here. When that time comes, we'll be desperately looking for a steady backup QB, and likely won't be able to find one as promising as Nassib. The Giants very prudently nipped this very same situation in the bud by taking Nassib. It's no coincidence that the Giants have won two Super Bowls and been in three playoffs in the past six years-they draft very wisely.
This pick was standard because it filled a need. Perhaps not an immediate need, but a longer term need. Geoff Hangartner will command nearly $2.5 Million next year, which is far too much to pay an aging underachieving player like Hangartner.
There is a lot to like about Kugbila. He is very athletic and has great size to go along with a great attitude and motor. He is incredibly raw, but should be a starter in a year or two down the road.
I like this pick. Could be a Geno James type, that really comes on and earns a starting spot. Although they passed on Nassib, it was a decent value and filled a long term need, and for that the Panthers get a fringe ‘C' here.
ROUND 5, PICK 148: AJ KLEIN, LB, IOWA STATE
Most wanted Baccari Rambo here or Jordan Poyer. But AJ Klein is a decent value, as he was rated as a fifth round guy. Rambo and Poyer also went later-much later.
There is a BIG misperception with this pick. A lot of people look at this and say that he will fill in when Jon Beason is released next year. Certainly, it is an easy way to justify this pick. But, I highly doubt the Panthers selected him as a replacement for Beason.
Down in these lower rounds, I think the Panthers typically look for either developmental offensive lineman, special teamers, or depth guys. Klein is both a special teamer and a depth guy.
Some say that is a ‘poor man's Luke Kuechly,' but I think that title is misleading. Rather than Luke Kuechly I see shades of Jordan Senn and Chase Blackburn-an overachieving, physical, instinctive, try-hard LB who is a leader and a bit limited athletically. Klein, like Senn and Blackburn, will not only be a depth guy and quality locker room leader, but also a strength on special teams.
Despite not having the best athleticism, Klein has good size. And his resume is incredible. This is the one area where he mimicks Luke Kuechly. Last year alone, Klein had 117 Tackles, 6 TFL, 1Sack, and 1Interception. But that wasn't his only good year-his junior and sophomore seasons look identical. It is fair to say that he was the leader and centerpiece of the Iowa St Defense. Klein even shared the title of the Defensive Playmaker of the Big Ten.
For a depth guy and STer who was a fine value here, this is a decent pick. Nothing great, nothing terrible.
ROUND 6, PICK 182: KENJON BARNER, RB, OREGON
Again, most were screaming for a DB here, but Barner actually was a pretty decent pick. The Offensive Coaches probably bemoaned the lack of new playmakers in the first two days, but the Panthers got a good one here at a good value. Barner was slated as a 3rd-4th round value by most. So, to get him in the 6th is a good value.
And like Klein, I think there is also a BIG misperception about Barner. Seeing as the Panthers are stacked at RB, most justify this as DeAngello's replacement. But Barner is in no way suited to take over for DeAngello. The only arena where Barner is going to have decent size is the Pop-Warner league. He is strictly a scatback at the next level, and is a big liability in pass protection. He also cannot assume even a partial load at RB. Barner is not so much a replacement for DeAngello as he is an upgrade from Armond Smith. Barner is everything the Panthers were hoping to get in the UDFA Armond Smith.
With that said, Barner is a game-breaker. His diminutive size belies incredible athleticism-nearly on par with Tavon Austin. He has the elusiveness, speed, and agility to break it for a touchdown anytime he touches the ball.
As for a fit with the Panthers, he will probably make his chops by competing at KR. The Panthers will likely integrate him and his special abilities into the offense every so often. But I wouldn't think he would get more than a handful of touches per game.
It is a slightly better than average pick. Upgrades a very niche position.
ROUND 7, PICK 219: LOUIS MURPHY, WR, FLORIDA
Like Frank Alexander, I include Murphy in this draft class, because it was paid for at the expense of this year's 7th rounder.
Murphy did offer some upside as a WR, and there was some possibility that he simply got lost in the shuffle in Oakland. Although you don't expect much from a 7th round WR, 336 Yards and 1 Touchdown is decent production. However, he was only a one-year rental and is already on the Giant's roster. As such, this was a very near-sighted pick, like the Alexander trade. If they had kept this pick, the Panthers could have selected Marquess Wilson, who also has loads of upside, or Zeke Motta, who they brought in for a visit.
UNDRAFTED FREE AGENCY: ROBERT LESTER, S, ALABAMA
I have included Robert Lester in this class because he has the best-and only legitimate shot at making the roster out of everyone in the UDFA class.
There is a reason Lester did not get drafted. In comparison to the glut of talented safeties, Lester is a bit limited in coverage and speed. But he has very good size, great instincts, a good motor, and good ball skills.
He should land on the depth chart behind Mike Mitchell at Strong Safety seeing as we have little talent there. This is a quality pickup, who like Byron Bell, has a legitimate chance to make this roster.
This Panthers draft will forever be marked by getting Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, who will likely transform this defense and take it over the hump. However, there were some poor moves that the Panthers made in the mid and later rounds-trading for Alexander and Murphy. There were also some decent moves in those rounds though. Altogether, it was a better than average draft, though it is marred by the Alexander trade and by passing on Nassib.
In the short term, the Panthers have gained two legitimate starters, some depth at OG and LB, and a few special teamers. The defense and special teams should be much improved by these additions. Kugbila also will likely push Hangartner, at least towards the end of the season.
In the long term, I think this pick will be regarded as one of the overall better Panther draft classes in the five year period from 2008-2013 years. Star and Kawann will likely be entrenched at the DT position for a long time to come. One of the two, probably will emerge as a stud. Kugbila will also likely start at RG sooner than later. And there is a good likelihood that Klein will stick as a backup. Barner may not get another contract, but should be a nice toy to play with in the meantime. Lester likely will stick around, at least for a season, and at worst on the practice squad.
I know we've talked about the draft ad nauseum, but I'd happily give a penny for your thoughts.