FanPost

This Is Why The Offense Is Bad: Check The Panthers Draft History

The bulk difference makers on NFL teams are guys 34 and under, let us focus on drafts since 2001. Also, while everyone loves to talk about the 7th round pick who goes on to be All-Pro, the reality is that rounds 1-4 are where guys that are expected to make the team and contribute as starters and key reserves are taken, and everyone taken in rounds after that who becomes anything beyond providing depth, help for special teams or holding a place (by that I mean a starter who really does not make the team better or contribute anything to victories) is considered a bonus, so it will be further narrowed to those rounds.

2001

1 Dan Morgan LB

2 Kris Jenkins DT

3 Steve Smith WR

4 Chris Weinke QB

2002

1 Julius Peppers DE

2 DeShaun Foster RB

3 Will Witherspoon LB

4 Dante Wesley DB

2003

1 Jordan Gross OT

2 Bruce Nelson C

3 Mike Seidman TE

3 Ricky Manning DB

4 Colin Branch DB

2004

1 Chris Gamble DB

2 Keary Colbert WR

3 Travelle Wharton OT

2005

1 Thomas Davis LB

2 Eric Shelton RB

3 Evan Mathis OG

3 Atiyyah Ellison DT

4 Stefan LeFors QB

2006

1 DeAngelo Williams RB

2 Richard Marshall DB

3 James Anderson LB

3 Rashad Butler OT

4 Nate Salley DB

2007

1 Jon Beason LB

2 Dwayne Jarrett WR

2 Ryan Kalil C

3 Charles Johnson DE

4 Ryne Robinson WR

2008

1 Jonathan Stewart RB

1 Jeff Otah OT

3 Charles Godfrey CB

3 Dan Connor LB

2009

2 Everette Brown DE

2 Sherrod Martin DB

3 Corvey Irvin DT

4 Mike Goodson RB

4 Tony Fiammetta FB

2010

2 Jimmy Clausen QB

3 Brandon LaFell WR

3 Armanti Edwards QB/WR

4 Eric Norwood LB

2011

1 Cam Newton QB

3 Terrell McClain DT

3 Sione Fua DT

4 Brandon Hogan DB

2012

1 Luke Kuechly LB

2 Amini Silatolu OG

4 Frank Alexander DE

4 Joe Adams WR

2013

1 Star Lotulelei DT

2 Kawann Short DT

4 Edmund Kugbila OG

Now my main purpose is not necessarily to talk about the hit/miss ratio on draft picks because some of the more successful NFL teams recently have had a lot of "misses" in the draft (i.e. New England, New Orleans) while a lot of teams have somehow managed to draft pretty well without it really reflecting their won/loss records (Seattle, Kansas City, Houston). Still, one cannot ignore that a lot of the failed Panthers draft picks came from programs that are not known for producing successful NFL players at those positions. Case in point: what was it with this franchise and players from UCLA, Stanford and USC, for example? Only 2 such players (Ryan Kalil and Ricky Manning) panned out. The emphases on where the Panthers generally relied on for talent in the draft was strange (to be kind) and any defenders that Marty Hurney might have should look at this list.

But the point is that even if the Panthers had a much better hit/miss ratio, the Panthers would still have a suspect talent base, especially on offense. The reason: just look above. During this era, the Panthers had 55 selections in the region of the draft that really matters. Of those, 28 were defensive players. Not bad, especially considering that Carolina has had defensive head coaches (George Seifert, Dom Capers, John Fox, Ron Rivera) exclusively throughout their history (another issue that needs to change). But here is an issue: 8 of those 28 were LINEBACKERS including FOUR FIRST ROUND PICKS. Even if you account for the fact that the Panthers were running a 3-4 defense during part of that time, it is excessive. At the very least, if you are going to take all those LBs in the 1st round, don't take 3 more guys in round 3. Amazingly, in this time period the Panthers only took 3 LBs outside the 1st 4 rounds, and one of those was A.J. Klein this year.

So we have established that the offense got the short shrift in this era. But that doesn't explain it all. Of the 27 meaningful picks in this era on offense, SIX WERE RUNNINGBACKS. So get this: of the 55 valuable draft picks the past 13 years, 14 WERE LINEBACKERS OR RUNNING BACKS. That is 1/4 of the picks going to two positions. Granted, up to 4 LBs play at a time. But 4 DBs play at a time also. And 5 offensive linemen do. But how many tailbacks play at a time? ONE. It gets better still. Of the 21 offensive picks that were not tailbacks, FIVE WERE QUARTERBACKS. OK, to be fair, 4.5 because Armanti Edwards was "maybe he will be the QB of the future if not he can play WR" pick. But honestly, we might as well call him a QB because the next time he helps the Panthers win a game at WR will be the first.

So where does that leave the Panthers? In 13 years, 16 draft picks on offense that were not QBs or RBs. With all due respect to the fullback position, when you consider the way that the game is actually played now, that is 16 draft picks on the other 9 positions on offense in 13 years.

So the list of players at positions other than QB and RB in 13 years:

2001

3 Steve Smith WR

2003

1 Jordan Gross OT

2 Bruce Nelson C

3 Mike Seidman TE

2004

2 Keary Colbert WR

3 Travelle Wharton OT

2005

3 Evan Mathis OG

2006

3 Rashad Butler OT

2007

2 Dwayne Jarrett WR

2 Ryan Kalil C

4 Ryne Robinson WR

2008

1 Jeff Otah OT

2010

3 Brandon LaFell WR

2012

2 Amini Silatolu OG

4 Joe Adams WR

2013

4 Edmund Kugbila OG

Again, while I could make the point that far too many of these players came from college programs that haven't produced a lot of quality NFL talent - especially at those positions - the main issue is that there were too few such players to produce a competitive NFL offense. It takes more than 6 WRs in 13 years, for instance. It particularly takes more than 2 such players in the 1st 2 rounds. It especially takes more than ZERO wide receivers in the first 2 rounds since 2005. Tight end? More of the same: only one guy in the first 4 rounds in 13 years. So ponder that the next time someone criticizes Cam Newton's completion percentage.

Now offensive line is an area where one can at least argue that the Panthers have not given short shrift: 9 guys in 13 years. But even there, only 4 of those 9 are still in Carolina, and 2 of those (Silatolu and Kugbila) were drafted the past 2 seasons. So yes, that all of the Panthers' higher draft picks on the OL between 2002-2011 except Kalil and Gross either failed outright or were no better than mediocre is one area where the hit/miss ratio truly hurt the team. But even there, when it was obvious that OL was a coming problem for the Panthers, the front office continued to load up on LBs, RBs and QBs instead of OL in the draft, and award big contracts to its veterans that prevented the team from getting even adequate help on the OL in free agency.

This is why while earnest pleas to quit making negative posts about guys like Brandon LaFell, David Gettis, and Armanti Edwards are well meaning, the fact is that the Panthers do not have the talent that other teams have at WR because they haven't made similar investment. Compare them to the previous team of Gettleman. The Giants took a WR in the 2nd round in 2012, 3rd in 2011, 1st and 3rd in 2009, 3rd in 2008, 2nd in 2007 and 2nd in 2006, and 2nd in 2002. And that is just WR. The Giants took TEs in the 1st in 2002, 3rd in 2003, 3rd in 2009, and 4th in 2012. And the Giants are not some air-it-out team. They're a running the football/playing defense franchise whose coaches have been the likes of Bill Parcells, Dan Reeves and Tom Coughlin. Yet they have taken 6 WRs and TEs in the first 2 rounds since 2001 as compared to 2 for the Panthers. And please note that the Giants have never exactly been loaded at that position during this time, just average-above average.

But that really is about the size of it. Too many LBs + too many RBs + too many QBs + not enough OLs panning out + horrible salary cap situation = terrible offense. It really is that simple, and it is not going to change until there is a major talent infusion that (thanks to the salary cap situation) will take at least 2-3 years. This is because the Panthers cannot simply ignore their needs on defense in an attempt to try to get the offense up to speed. They need to re-sign Greg Hardy and acquire long term solutions at SS and LCB at minimum, and even that minimum presumes that Josh Norman is the answer at RCB and/or paying Charles Godfrey $5 million a year starting in 2014 is a good idea (everyone who wouldn't prefer to see that $5 million a year be spent on a right tackle in free agency raise your hands).

Another thing: because of age and salary cap issues, the Panthers will have to dedicate as much effort to replacing good players as adding to their talent base. So their personnel moves will be as much or more about replacing guys from among the crop of good players like Steve Smith, Jordan Gross, Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Charles Godfrey etc. to maintain current talent levels as it will be to find contributors to replace problem areas/place holders like Byron Bell, Brandon LaFell, Armanti Edwards, Ben Hartsock, Drayton Florence, Mike Mitchell etc. to actually make the team better.

The good news: sometimes it takes just one or two players to really transform a side of the football or even a franchise. Maybe all it would take is for a WR or RT to arrive in the draft or free agency and have the sort of impact for the offense that Luke Kuechly is having for the defense. Good news part II: Gettleman actually did do a good job this offseason. It was more than just making the salary cap manageable and getting 2 good players at a position where good players are difficult to come by - DT - in the draft. Instead, Gettleman also improved the secondary and special teams and the depth at LB and WR, and did so mostly with cheap acquisitions. This is a better team now than it was in 2012, and the same could not have been said the past 2 years apart from the effects of adding Newton and Kuechly as high first round draft picks. This provides real hope down the line when Gettleman will have more salary cap room and draft picks to work with.

But make no mistake: this is how we got here, which is why blaming the coaching is off base. While we can point out some of the things that the coaches are doing that aren't working, the reality is that there isn't a head coach or offensive coordinator out there that can make this into a consistently well-performing offense that puts points on the board and avoids turnovers. The talent just isn't there because the investment isn't there (or hasn't panned out). The good news is that the defense and special teams are now good enough to where the offense won't have to score 20+ points to give them a chance from week to week, and for now that is going to have to be good enough, and yes maintaining it is going to have to be a priority because staying good - and getting better - on defense is going to be much more attainable than plugging all those holes on the offense.

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