It's that time of year again, Panthers fans! Skies are blue, the birds are chirping, and unicorns are riding magical rainbows of lollipops and... Look, its mini-camp time. You know, that time of year when we kid ourselves into thinking that Everette Brown is the steal of the draft; that Bruce Nelson is the next Dermontti Dawson; that Ryne Robinson is going to make Devin Hester look like Gilbert Brown; that Mike Wahle is the last piece needed for a successful Super Bowl run. Every player looks awesome without pads on, and this is that magical period before each season begins when the fans of all thirty-two teams believe their team is going to the Super Bowl (except the Browns of course, because come on...)
The point is, this is the time of year for optimism. Possibilities are endless. Rookies are suiting up for the first time, veterans are presumably a year older and wiser, and coaches have definitely learned lessons from the failures of yesteryear, right? It is also and most importantly that time of year when team sites and fan blogs turn into warzones. Eternal optimists face off against objective realists in duels to the death. Pessimists troll the comment threads like Tool fans on a Bieber blog, causing further mayhem. Eventually, someone will mention Arman... Nevermind.
Inevitably, around week two of the preseason a melee breaks out. You know the one. Some wiseguy remarks that so-and-so isn't looking so hot in his third season, and we should have picked (insert diamond-in-the-rough candidate here) instead. It is as if there wasn't a perfectly reasonable explanation for why the aforementioned DITR fell to the seventh round in the first place, or out of the draft altogether. These arguments are the worst. Every time I hear about Tom Brady being drafted in the sixth round I want to shoot myself in the face with a Super-Soaker full of acid. Ok, that's extreme. Substitute water from the Cape Fear River for acid and it'd be more accurate, but I digress...
I am going to attempt to put these arguments to rest once and for all. I have conclusively and exhaustively researched the draft-classes from the Hurney era and built the ultimate Carolina Panthers team that might have been. For some of you (the eternal pessimists), this may be the single most depressing moment of your lives. For others it will be enlightening in a soul-searching sort of way, as it was for me, but more about that later.
That being said, I guess it is time to talk a little about my methodology. For our purposes I assumed that injuries still happened (i.e. Smitty still lost the whole 2004 season, Dan Morgan still endured multiple concussions, etc.). I also did not play around with re-signing guys I feel we should have kept. If they left the team via free-agency or were cut in real life, that did not change in this simulation.
I also understand that many of the unexpected gems in these draft classes could have ended up as huge busts with us due to differences in coaching, scheme, or other circumstances. However, what we are doing is called revisionist history for a reason, and therefore we are assuming those players all reached their same potential with the Panthers.
As far as the draft goes, basically I started off with a clean slate just as Marty Hurney did. I took the same roster we had coming out of 2001, the same draft picks we had going into the 2002 draft, and I put together the best possible draft and UDFA class that I could based on the real-life performances of those players to date. I did not do any cockamamie draft-day trades, so other than the fourth rounder we got for Jay Williams in 2002, every other pick is exactly what we would have been given based on our projected record.
I think we can all agree that Julius Peppers was the right pick at number two overall. Regardless whether you fall into the "love him" or "hate him" camp, Pep was undoubtedly a better selection than David Carr or Joey Harrington would have been. After the first round, however, Hurney's strategy fell apart. Will Witherspoon was a decent hit in the third round, but every other selection could have been better spent elsewhere. Of course, hindsight is 20/20...
|2002 - Actual||2002 - Revised|
|1||Julius Peppers||1||Julius Peppers|
|2||Deshaun Foster||2||Clinton Portis|
|3||Will Witherspoon||3||Will Witherspoon|
|4||Dante Wesley||4||David Garrard|
|5||Randy Fasani||5||Jonathan Goodwin|
|5||Kyle Johnson||5||Aaron Kampman|
|6||Keith Heinrich||6||Justin Hartwig|
|7||Pete Campion||7||Bart Scott|
|7||Brad Franklin||7||Brian Russell|
It would have been better to grab Clinton Portis than Deshaun Foster for obvious reasons, but David Garrard would have solidified our backup QB position for a long time, unlike Randy Fasani. Goodwin, Kampman, Hartwig, Scott, and Russell have all started and played well in the NFL, whereas the guys we chose were basically camp bodies that got to keep their jobs because we had no one better. Add in the UDFA class of James Harrison, Ma'ake Kemoatu, Bret Keisel, Kelly Herndon, and Ryan Clark, and the 2002 Panthers could have gotten very deep, very fast.
Even with Hurney's weaker draft, the Panthers reached the Super Bowl in 2003 as the "Cardiac Cats". Hate on George Seifert all you want, but the man gave us the nucleus of Steve Smith, Mike Minter, Mike Rucker, Dan Morgan, and Kris Jenkins to build around. I would have made the same move Hurney did in signing Jake Delhomme as a free-agent; it was a low-risk, high-reward maneuver. I redrafted 2003 accordingly:
|2003 - Actual||2003 - Revised|
|1||Jordan Gross||1||Jordan Gross|
|2||Bruce Nelson||2||Anquan Boldin|
|3||Mike Seidman||3||Asante Samuel|
|3||Ricky Manning||4||Ike Taylor|
|4||Colin Branch||4||David Diehl|
|5||Kindal Moorehead||5||Antonio Gates|
|7||Walter Young||6||Kris Dielman|
|7||Casey Moore||7||Brandon Moore|
As you can see, I kept Gross as the first pick. Hurney was admittedly good at first round selections, but his methodology fell apart in the later rounds on a regular basis. Had we not gotten involved in stupid trade-backs in '02 and '03, we could have landed Anquan Boldin to pair with Moose, which would have allowed us to use Smitty in the slot, taking full advantage of his elusiveness and play-making ability. Asante Samuel and Ike Taylor would be eventual upgrades at the corner position; David Diehl is one of the most versatile and underrated linemen of the last two decades; Kris Dielman is a multiple time Pro-Bowler at LG; and Antonio Gates would have provided the most timely and capable replacement for Wesley Walls that we could hope for. Finally, had we snatched up UDFA Tony Romo and stashed him on the practice squad, the Panthers roster could look very different today.
|2004 - Actual||2004 - Revised|
|1||Chris Gamble||1||Karlos Dansby|
|2||Keary Colbert||2||Darnell Dockett|
|3||Travelle Wharton||3||Jared Allen|
|5||Drew Carter||4||Jason Peters|
|6||Sean Tufts||5||Andy Lee|
|7||Michael Gaines||6||Cullen Jenkins|
Having picked up Ike Taylor and Asante Samuel in the previous draft, the trade up to pick Chris Gamble becomes unnecessary. This saves us our fourth round pick in 2004. Instead, we pick Karlos Dansby who will learn for a year behind Dan Morgan and Bart Scott before taking over the Sam LB spot when we refuse to match Will Witherspoon's RFA offer in 2005. Instead of Colbert, we take Darnell Dockett to mold behind Brentson Buckner. Jared Allen is a steal in the third round; Jason Peters gets drafted as he should have; we snatch up Andy Lee to replace the troubled Sauerbrun; Cullen Jenkins joins his brother on the D-line and Wes Welker comes in to replace Smitty at punt returner and spell him in the slot. When we grab UDFAs Willie Parker, Vonta Leach, and Jordan Babineaux, the new-and-improved Panthers are shaping up as a force to be reckoned with.
|2005 - Actual||2005 - Revised|
|1||Thomas Davis||1||Aaron Rodgers|
|2||Eric Shelton||2||Vincent Jackson|
|3||Evan Mathis||3||David Stewart|
|3||Atiyyah Ellison||4||Darren Sproles|
|4||Stefan Lefors||5||Michael Boley|
|5||Adam Seward||5||Chris Harris|
|5||Geoff Hangartner||5||Bo Scaife|
|5||Ben Emanuel||6||Jay Ratliff|
|6||Jovan Haye||6||Reynaldo Hill|
|6||Joe Berger||7||Brandon Browner|
With our vastly improved roster I assume we wouldn't have had as significant a drop-off in record as we did due to the infamous injury bug of '04. Therefore, I simulated a lower draft position. With our two outside LB positions locked down by James Harrison and Karlos Dansby and Thomas Davis being gone by the time our pick comes up, we take the freefalling Aaron Rodgers instead to groom behind Jake Delhomme. In the second round we lock down the future of the WR position with V-Jax, especially in light of Smitty coming off his devastating broken leg. David Stewart will solidify the RT position for years to come and Darren Sproles is a value pick at the "Swiss-Army Knife" position. Boley, Harris, Scaife, Ratliff, and Hill provide valuable depth and will push for starting roles in the future.
|2006 - Actual||2006 - Revised|
|1||DeAngelo Williams||1||Nick Mangold|
|2||Richard Marshall||2||Owen Daniels|
|3||James Anderson||3||Jahri Evans|
|3||Rashad Butler||4||Kyle Williams|
|4||Nate Salley||5||Omar Gaither|
|5||Jeff King||6||Courtland Finnegan|
|7||Will Montgomery||7||Marques Colston|
Looking over the revised 2006 roster I came to the conclusion that at this point we truly would have been able to adopt a BPA draft strategy. We just have no glaring holes at this point. Once again, I have taken our increased depth into account and simulated a better record and lower draft position than we had in real-life. Therefore, instead of DeAngelo we take Nick Mangold to be the general of the O-line. Owen Daniels gives us quality depth behind Antonio Gates; Jahri Evans holds down the RG position for years; Kyle Williams is a beast at DT; Finnegan is an upgrade at CB and we all know what Colston can do.
As much as it pains me to say it, in my simulation we do not pick high enough to select Jon Beason. That is because barring some kind of malevolent intervention by a higher power I just assume we would at least be in the Super Bowl every year going forward. Therefore, all of my picks from this point on could be had with the final selection in their respective rounds.
|2007 - Actual||2007 - Revised|
|1||Jon Beason||1||Eric Weddle|
|2||Dwayne Jarrett||2||Charles Johnson|
|2||Ryan Kalil||3||Dashon Goldson|
|3||Charles Johnson||4||Desmond Bishop|
|4||Ryne Robinson||5||Brent Grimes|
|5||Dante Rosario||6||Tramon Williams|
|5||Tim Shaw||7||Matt Prater|
We take future All-Pro Eric Weddle at the end of the first. We no longer need Kalil due to having Mangold on the roster, so in the end we take Charles Johnson and Desmond Bishop and follow by beefing up the secondary. Dashon Goldson, Brent Grimes and Tramon Williams provide an immediate boost in quality depth and we take Matt Prater in the seventh to push John Kasay.
|2008 - Actual||2008 - Revised|
|1||Jonathan Stewart||1||Curtis Lofton|
|1||Jeff Otah||2||Jamaal Charles|
|3||Charles Godfrey||3||Carl Nicks|
|3||Dan Connor||4||Brandon Carr|
|5||Gary Barnidge||5||Matt Flynn|
|6||Nick Hayden||6||Peyton Hillis|
|7||Hilee Taylor||7||Mike Tolbert|
|7||Geoff Schwartz||7||David Hawthorne|
|7||Mackenzy Bernadeau||7||Jameel McClain|
We missed out on Jon Beason in '07 but hit a home run with Lofton in '08. Jamaal Charles replaces an aging Willie Parker, Nicks is a multiple-time Pro-Bowler, and everyone else is just gravy.
|2009 - Actual||2009 - Revised|
|2||Everette Brown||1||James Laurinaitis|
|2||Sherrod Martin||2||Mike Wallace|
|3||Corvey Irvin||3||Henry Melton|
|4||Mike Goodson||4||Arian Foster|
|4||Tony Fiametta||5||Matt Slauson|
|5||Duke Robinson||6||Danell Ellerbe|
|7||Captain Munnerlyn||7||Michael Bennett|
When you are able to draft these players and none of them even get to see the field, you've got problems everyone else wishes they had.
|2010 - Actual||2010 - Revised|
|2||Jimmy Clausen||1||Rob Gronkowski|
|3||Brandon Lafell||2||Navorro Bowman|
|3||Armanti Edwards||3||Geno Atkins|
|4||Eric Norwood||4||Kam Chancellor|
|6||Greg Hardy||5||Greg Hardy|
|6||David Gettis||6||Stevie Brown|
|6||Jordan Pugh||7||Victor Cruz|
It is all smooth-sailing now. Gronk replaces the aging Gates at TE immediately, the "We could have had Geno Atkins and Victor Cruz!" debate is put to rest, and we get to keep the Kraken. All is well.
|2011 - Actual||2011 - Revised|
|1||Cam Newton||1||Orlando Franklin|
|3||Terrell McClain||2||Justin Houston|
|3||Sione Fua||3||K.J. Wright|
|4||Brandon Hogan||4||Richard Sherman|
|5||Kealoha Pilares||5||Tyrod Taylor|
|6||Lawrence Wilson||6||Bruce Miller|
|6||Zachary Williams||7||M.D. Jennings|
Justin Houston comes in as our new pass-rushing specialist from the weakside ‘backer position, Bruce Miller replaces Leach at FB and Richard Sherman is a steal. As an aside, I am not getting lazy here. There just really isn't much to say about these picks because there is no longer any real thought-process needed for making them.
|2012 - Actual||2012 - Revised|
|1||Luke Kuechly||1||Mitchell Schwartz|
|2||Amini Silatolu||2||Russell Wilson|
|4||Frank Alexander||3||T.Y. Hilton|
|4||Joe Adams||4||Miles Burris|
|5||Josh Norman||5||Alfred Morris|
|6||Brad Nortman||6||Bryce Brown|
|7||D.J. Campbell||7||Alphonso Dennard|
By Hurney's final draft the roster looks so drastically different that it isn't even comparable. It is too early to tell how good many of these players will turn out to be, but I threw the results in for posterity's sake.
Final Roster and Conclusions
|QB||Aaron Rodgers||29||LE||Charles Johnson||26|
|Tony Romo||32||Aaron Kampman||32|
|Russell Wilson||23||RE||Jared Allen||29|
|RB||Arian Foster||26||Greg Hardy||24|
|Jamaal Charles||25||DT||Geno Atkins||24|
|Darren Sproles||29||Kyle Williams||29|
|FB||Bruce Miller||25||Henry Melton||27|
|Alfred Morris||24||Jay Ratliff||31|
|WR||Vincent Jackson||29||LOLB||Navorro Bowman||24|
|Steve Smith||33||K.J. Wright||23|
|Marques Colston||29||MLB||Curtis Lofton||26|
|Mike Wallace||26||James Lauranaitis||25|
|Victor Cruz||26||Michael Boley||30|
|T.Y. Hilton||23||ROLB||Justin Houston||23|
|TE||Rob Gronkowski||23||Miles Burris||24|
|Antonio Gates||32||CB||Brandon Browner||28|
|Owen Daniels||29||Richard Sherman||24|
|LT||Jason Peters||29||Asante Samuel||31|
|David Diehl||31||Courtland Finnegan||29|
|LG||Kris Dielman||30||Tramon Williams||29|
|Carl Nicks||27||FS||Eric Weddle||27|
|C||Nick Mangold||28||M.D. Jennings||24|
|Dan Koppen||33||SS||Dashon Goldson||28|
|RG||Jahri Evans||29||Kam Chancellor||24|
|David Stewart||30||K||Matt Prater||28|
|RT||Orlando Franklin||25||P||Andy Lee||29|
|Mitchell Schwartz||23||KR||Darren Sproles||29|
I must say, this was truly an exhaustive exercise. I have been researching it all week and my eyes will probably be crossed for days from looking at so many tables, charts, and articles. Late yesterday afternoon when I sat down to begin writing the actual article to go along with the research, I discovered something. I love my team. I don't mean in the abstract way that we all love our team no matter what, but more that I love our players.
I was looking over this roster that would surely take the Panthers to multiple Super Bowls and that is loaded with probable Hall of Famers and I realized that too many names weren't on the list. There is no Cam, no Luke, no D-Will, Stewart, Tolbert, Olsen, Kalil, Beason, or Davis. Star and KK wouldn't have ended up here in all likelihood either. I sat here looking at this roster that I would gleefully take for a Madden franchise any day of the week, and realized that I wouldn't trade our Carolina Panthers for it. I love our guys, and Super Bowls be damned. This revisionist history manifesto was fun to ponder but I for one will take the team we have now. Now if Gettleman turns out to be this decade's Nostradamus?
Well, I won't complain too much I suppose...