For those that follow me on Twitter (which should be all of you, for shame! It's @salmingoCSR.), you may have noticed that I did not always feel great about the Panthers 2013 draft picks. My glowing confidence in the Dave Gettleman era on Days 1 and 2 came to a screeching halt on Day 3. Pure bliss turned to complete confusion, as valuable prospects still on the board stayed on the board while no-name, out of left field picks like Edmund Kugbila were announced.
But you'll be surprised what nights of sleep and true Panthers analysis (like those found on Cat Scratch Reader!) can do to clear and focus a mind. Not only have I gotten a better understanding of the reasoning for the picks, but I also dare say that they have won the draft. They may not have come away with the greatest haul, but they came with the best for the Panthers organization, this year and beyond. Here are the 5 reasons why:
1) They Fixed the Primary Reason They Lost Games
As I wrote in an earlier CSR article, the Panthers lost close games in 2011 and 2012 not because "Cam has no weapons" or "the secondary sux." It came down to losing in the trenches; they couldn't run out the clock when they had the lead, and they couldn't stop the run when everyone knew it was coming.
Enter the new defensive tackles: Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. Both 1st round talents, but with different abilities. Lotulelei is the run stuffing, space eater Panthers fans have been demanding for years. Short has natural, instinctive pass rush ability, but has also shown to stop the run, a deficiency in Dwan Edwards' game.
In the 4th round, the Panthers addressed their offensive line, selecting guard Edmund Kugbila. While he still has to transition from Division II competition to the NFL, he has the measurables to possibly be the stalwart at right guard and provide the muscle needed to successfully run the ball during endgame.
With these three massive men in the trenches, the Panthers should be able to finish games when they have the early lead, and win the close ones.
2) They Created an Area of Strength, Rather than Being Average Everywhere
As I had been tweeting up until draft day, I would rather see the Panthers be strong in one area and deficient in another, as opposed to bring average everywhere. Examine the great franchises: they all have a dominant phase of the game at the expense of another. Prior to this draft the Packers had an incredible pass offense and a meek run offense. The Giants had a prolific defensive line but a secondary with much to be desired. That seems to be the approach Gettleman has made.
Look, do I want the Panthers to have a Pro Bowl player at every position? Sure. Is it realistic? No. Being dominant somewhere should be the goal. Heck, even the Kansas City Chiefs had the most Pro Bowlers last year and look where that got them. Filling every need to win is a myth.
3) They Drafted Players That Can Make An Impact Now
Different than the last 2 years, Gettleman drafted developed, ready to contribute players rather than projects (save for Kugbila). Lotulelei and Short are not only highly productive college players from big time conferences, but they also play a position that does not need much time to develop young talent.
LB AJ Klein and RB Kenjon Barner were also accomplished college players, but may take some time to develop because of the positions they play. However, they also were special teams players, and are expected to contribute immediately.
Contrast this cast to the 2011 draft, where the Panthers loaded up on projects that either weren't college stars, played in weaker college conference, needed time to develop, or played a position that takes a year or so to learn. (They drafted Cam Newton, Terrell McClain, Sione Fua, Brandon Hogan, and Kealoha Pilares. Yikes.)
On that note, it also makes sense why they didn't draft a OT, WR, CB, or safety. These positions traditionally take longer to learn to become established. Take last year's pick Josh Norman and Amini Silatolu as cases in point. As bad as they were at the beginning of last year, they still have the ability and talent to turn it around. It just takes time. (For a good read on Silatolu's improvement, I highly recommend James Dator's recent article.)
4) They Drafted High Character Players
If there's anything Panthers fans have come to expect, it's the drafting and signing of free agents that are of high character. They do not traditionally draft high risk players or those with a history of criminal activity. This year was no exception.
One does not need to look far to find the embodiment of high character; look no further than the Panthers top pick, Star Lotulelei. His journey and humble beginning have been mentioned online here and here, so I won't dwell on it. But I will mention that on Jordan Gross' podcast on Panthers.com, he and Steve Smith fawn over the fact that he spent the draft day with his family, and was overcome with emotion. As Gross said, "I knew we got the right guy."
While not as heralded as Lotulelei, Short, Kugbila, Klein, and Barner have similar high character traits, such as humility and leadership. As also mentioned before, Lotulelei, Short, and Klein were all captains of their college defenses, so they are not afraid to take leadership roles.
5) They Created Contingency Plans for the Years to Come
I'll be the first to admit that I was stunned when the Panthers selected Klein and Barner in the 5th and 6th rounds. If any position was of strength and hardly need more depth, it would be the LB and RB positions. But thinking as GM or cap specialist, the moves made all the sense in the world.
The cap nightmare has been covered in CSR before. But to summarize, to avoid being in cap hell, highly paid players such as DeAngelo Williams and Jon Beason will eventually have to go, barring the willing to take significant pay cuts. Look, I'm a big fan of these two more than many other on the roster, but realistically, their days are numbered. Quite simply, Williams' and Jonathan Stewart's cap numbers cannot co-exist.
With this in mind, it made perfect sense to nab the value in Klein and Barner. Both were highly touted in college, and expected to be drafted much higher. Klein was a tackling machine and played all LB positions at Iowa State. Barner is a speedy scatback, who ran a sub 4.4 40-yard dash on his Pro Day.
Now that you can see the problem with the cap, it makes sense why the Panthers did not go after a WR or secondary position player.
While it would've been nice to also get a replacement for Jordan Gross as well, the Panthers can't have it all. They felt the value in the late rounds were at these positions, rather than average talent at offensive tackle or secondary. But for having only five picks and multiple needs, the Panthers appear to have as good a draft class as they have had in a while.