Any fan even remotely familiar with the NFL Draft probably recognizes the term "best player available". This phrase tends to be a little bit murky, as every team thinks when they draft a prospect that they are getting the best player on the board. But the basic philosophy is drafting for the best talent available when you pick without taking into consideration your team needs. No team drafts true BPA, as the Patriots will not be drafting Teddy Bridgewater should he take a tumble this May, and the Carolina Panthers will probably not be selecting a running back. But a lot of draft experts believe in BPA as the best strategy for the draft. I want to test that out.
In this exercise, I will be using Fanspeak's On the Clock draft simulator in order to give a series of scenarios for one of the Panther's picks. Each scenario will focus at looking at a player who would fill a big need on the roster versus one who is more talented, but plays a less critical position. I'm hoping to make this a series, depending on how it goes.
For this first one, I will be looking at the first round pick, contrasting Zack Martin and Justin Gilbert. Martin's stock has soared since the Senior Bowl. The 6'4, 305 pound offensive tackle from Notre Dame was initially projected as a guard at the NFL level, however after a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, he's being mentioned as a possible left tackle. Martin won most of his matchups during practice, including those against Aaron Donald who also had a stellar week. Martin played the left side in college, however he was viewed as lacking the elite physical measurements to continue to do so professionally. He plays with great physicality, awareness, technique and strength. While he may not ever be a stud left tackle, he should be a very solid starter at either right tackle or guard.
Many think Justin Gilbert is the best cornerback in this draft. The 6'0, 200 pound former Oklahoma State defensive back has great size and blazing speed. He is a confident, aggressive corner; he doesn't avoid contact and comes flying up in run support. He's a physical corner and has the strength to get receivers off their route. His footwork can get sloppy at times, but he has the athleticism and length to recover. He's a big time playmaker and a threat to score whenever he touches the ball. Gilbert had seven interceptions this season, two for touchdowns. He also recorded five kickoff returns for touchdowns. At the next level, Gilbert could easily develop into a top corner, especially with the defensive coaching the Panthers have available.
Although Carolina has big needs in both the secondary and offensive line, the stellar performance of the defense with the so called "Legion of Whom" means that the offensive line is viewed as a greater need. Martin is probably only a right tackle, especially at first if Jordan Gross remains with the team. Even so, he would immediately surpass Byron Bell and add a nasty edge to our run game. He would also provide more time for Cam Newton to look for targets downfield. The Panthers almost certainly would improve their offensive production with the addition of Martin. However, Gilbert would add to an already terrifying defense that is missing that shutdown element in the back end. While he may not fill a bigger need, he has the potential to develop into a top corner that would allow the pass rush more time to reach the quarterback, or allow for more blitzing to compensate the possible loss of Greg Hardy.
What do you think?