Earlier this summer, I asked if the Panther's were failing Cam Newton? I also took a look at how little our offense has improved from the 2010 2-14 disaster season. The Panthers have been one of the poorest teams in the league in surrounding their young QB with new talent, both offensive line and skill positions.
We've had three weeks of Panther football and five weeks worth of college football, so now it's time to scratch my early draft itch. There's no guessing what the Panthers do in April, but at least we can have prospects on our radar as we enjoy the rest of the college season.
After blowing out the Giants and seeing some of our future opponents stumble, I have renewed faith we can go 9-7...that would have had the Panthers picking ~19th last year. And lastly, it's sweet to finally have a 3rd round pick again. Let's get Cam set up for the long term.
1st Round: Mike Evans, WR Texas A&M (6-5, 225)
It's time to make a pick for the offense. With the depth of this year's class matching our needs, this pick should come down to an offensive tackle or a receiver. Ultimately, I think we end up picking too late to snag one of the top 3 OT's. Last year, once the world became acquainted to Johnny Manziel, the next question was, "Who is this big guy he's throwing the ball to?" He may not be as fast as Vincent Jackson, but he does have his Waffle House size, which means he's always open. Evans is the big reliable target Cam could use, and he has the deceptive ability to beat you deep.
He's young, only a redshirt sophomore. And he only started playing football his senior year in high school. Yet he has already shown a surprising amount of potential despite his limited time playing the game. Though some of the juniors shock us every year, I think with Manziel leaving Evans could likely do the same.
Evans is getting so hot, he could be even be gone by our pick. My back-up guy here would still be Antonio Richardson (6-6, 327), the big LT from Tennessee. I could also be very interested in Sammy Watkins, I'm just doubtful he will still be around. (and after seeing Blackmon and Josh Gordon's struggles, I'm becoming leery of taking guys with substance abuse issues early).
2nd Round: La'el Collins, OT LSU (6-5, 315)
If we don't address the offensive tackle position early (either side), I don't know how our offense can be effective in the future. Honestly, we're not that far away from seeing what happened to Eli and the Giants happen to us. We know Gettleman likes his offensive lineman like some guys like their cars (and women)...B-I-G. Edmund Kugbila, Chris Scott, Mike Jasper...all 330 lbs plus. The ultimate pick here IMO would be Gabe Jackson (6-3, 340), the big OG from Mississippi St. I just don't see him lasting that long. I've also been trying to get behind Seantrel Henderson from Miami (6-7,342), but I'm still not fully feeling him yet. He hasn't been consistently dominate, has underachieved, has had injury issues, and seems to have an unlucky cloud following his personal life. Still if he pulls it together the rest of this year, I could certainly see him as a Gettleman pick, and a troubled guy who could bloom under the right coaches like Greg Hardy did.
So right now, Collins is a guy I want to keep an eye on. He's a junior, so we will have to see what he decides to do at the end of the year. After two years at LG, this is his first year playing LT. He was originally recruited to LT at LSU, but had to wait his turn behind two other NFL prospects, Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst. So experience could be his biggest flaw. His strength? Run blocking. He has been devastating, and is the master of knockdown (pancake) blocks. He has over 70 on his career, just 5 games into his 3rd season. He started the year at LT well, winning SEC Lineman of the Week in week 1 against TCU. Keep an eye on him the rest of the season. I think we could bring him into camp to work at LTor RT, depending on what Gross does at the end of the year.
I could also see us going with a nice defensive back, CB or safety here. One guy I really like is Marcus Roberson (6-0, 195) CB, Florida.
3rd Round: Kyle Fuller, CB (6-0,190) Virginia Tech
His Alabama game is going to stay heavy in GM's minds as the draft season unfolds. He was fast, he was physical, he was instinctive, and he has the size our new GM would love. Add in a great game against Georgia Tech, and he becomes a steal here since he may go earlier. Still the CB class is somewhat deep this year, so we may be able to get a solid one at a bargain pick. If we can find a DB who can regularly hinder one-side of the opposing offense's passing game, Luke Kuechly's defense will be all but elite.
This was a tough call between another guy I really like here as well, so I'll talk about him too:
Devante Parker, WR Louisville (6-3,204)
Taking Parker here would be the "I love my QB" draft pick, a page from what the Colts and Bengals have done lately. Parker and Mike Evans opposite each other would form a harmonious balance to complement each others strengths and weaknesses. Cam would really have a big, young, and potentially devastating receiving corps he can grow with. Parker is a lanky deep threat, who reminds me some of Justin Hunter last year. He's a redzone threat as well, catching fades and high pointing balls from Teddy Bridgewater (Here's a bonus one for you). His knock would be his lack of physicality, but I believe that is offset by his big play potential. Plus Smitty has a year to toughen him up, while the veteran wideout may finally be able to move inside to the slot.
4th Round: Kenny Ladler, FS, Vanderbilt (6-1, 205)
Ladler is the big defensive back Gettleman would love. The experienced senior is instinctive, yet makes his share of splash plays: the biggest two things you would want from a safety. Vanderbilt is starting to manufacture some solid defensive backs lately, and Ladler could be the next in line. Godfrey is likely a cap-casualty next year, so certainly our roster leaves serious questions about the future of the free safety position. I think Ladler is solid and experienced enough to compete for a starting job Week 1.
5th Round: Billy Turner, OT, North Dakota St. (6-6, 314)
What's the Panthers without drafting a small school offensive lineman? But NDSU is not your ordinary small school. They are the reigning two time defending FCS champions and have beaten FBS opponents 4 years in a row. I actually think they could beat most of the teams ranked outside of the APs top 20, especially if they were home at the Fargodome. He's active, aggressive, has some power, and plays the position with a quick twitch. Check out his work at LT against an FBS opponent. An under the radar guy to keep tabs on going forward, initially he could at least provide developmental depth for us.
6th Round: Cassius Marsh, DE, UCLA (6-4, 268)
Here you just want to get any value prospect that's sliding. I would say a DB, OG, DE, or even a power RB or blocking TE is fair game here. I would prefer a guard, but it's just pretty tough to project a specific one here at this point of the season. So until then, since our pass rush is our strength, let's make attempts to keep it as such. We do continue to see our pass rush fade in games, and Greg Hardy's future is uncertain. Honestly, it wouldn't shock me to see Gettleman take a DE early. Marsh shows some strength and versatility on the line by playing a few different techniques along UCLA's line. He plays like a load for competing offensive lineman to handle, stays busy, and collapses his area of the pocket.
I also like another guy guy here from North Dakota State:
Marcus Williams, CB NDSU (5-11, 197)
Call him Mr. Pick 6 (has six of those on his career) and Mr. INT (he has TWENTY of those on his career). He's got some size, quickness, and obvious ball skills. He could be better at wrapping up (like most CBs). He also is a pretty good punt returner. Could be a nice upside pick here.
Bonus UDFA: Keith McGill, CB/S Utah (6-3, 205)
Our history of success with former Utah Utes run deep (Smitty, Gross, Lotulelei). McGill was a heralded prospect out of high school and junior college, but never made a big impact due to injury. He is healthy this year, so we'll see how his season plays out. He is another guy with the size to get Gettleman interested, as every GM wants to find the next Richard Sherman.
Recap: We got definitely got bigger. I would prefer getting an elite guard or well-rounded tight end too, but do like the improvement to the offense via the line and the skill positions.