The NFL off-season is a troublesome time. There is somewhat of a lackadaisical approach in the consideration of how fans appreciate this awkward time typically resulting in a multitude of mock drafts, trade rumors, and exponential hypothetical situations. The very essential truth of the NFL off-season is that it cultivates both excitement and fear, joy and frustration, and ultimately the deviation of the borderline sane fan to culminated madness and predictions to just get a slight glimpse of the genuine NFL drama and excitement.
The past few days I have been skimming around the fanpost section of CSR hoping to find predictions with the slightest bit of realism to them...I digress the only realistic clauses I can find are buried deep with the arguments of the comments section.
The purpose of this mock draft is twofold; 1. I wanted to create a mock draft that fell with in the confines and had continuity with Dave Gettlemen's style while also filling in the gaping needs we have (a lot less than last year this time mind you!). 2. I want an aspect of realism that does not work on harnessing fan's raw emotions or the "flavor of the week" prospects, but rather put thoughtful considerations into young men who can contribute on this Carolina Panthers squad for years to come.
With these two things in mind here is my first 2014 Panthers mock:
Round 1 Pick 28: Taylor Lewan OT, University of Michigan
This pick is the anchor and foundation of this draft. Mr. Lewan has had his struggles on and off the field this past year and that is why this once top-10 prospect will drop to the late-twenties. When I evaluate this draft class I see a numerous amount of skill players that will be in high demand in the earlier part of the first round. Couple the depth of highly touted skills players with the fact that Lewan is the third ranked OT out of this group (some would argue the fourth with the current rise of Martin out of ND) and the fact that he has had off the field altercations (fighting both times) Lewan's chances of being on the board when we pick are highly likely.
As far as his production Lewan has been extremely productive at Michigan, constantly competing and excelling at the OT position. He will get frowned upon due to his performance in Michigan's Outback bowl verses South Carolina in 2013, but film shows Lewan was productive all day minus the infamous Clowney hit.
In my watching of film and draft analysis Lewan is a sizable OT, converted from a D-lineman his senior year of high school, whom is stout in the measurable's. Standing at 6' 7" and weighing 315 lbs. Lewan has the coveted size to match his determination and work ethic. If he struggles at anything it is definitely not utilizing his feet. Lewan will struggle a bit when it comes to speed-rushers and quick OLB's on a 3-4 defense. Lewan has to get better at jab-steps and initiating blocks on counter runs.The natural ability is there and I believe Lewan can develop in time. The positives about Lewan is he excels at pass-protection and one-on-one battles typically using his size to stifle protestant defenders. Lewan has a very strong initial step that allows him to initiate his block and stay ahead of the blitz.
Lewan would be an instant starter for us at RT and would probably be able to seamlessly move over to LT when Gross decides to retire.
Round 2 Pick 60: Stanley Jean-Baptiste CB, University of Nebraska
Allow me to preface this pick with three ideals: 1. I utterly hate the constant cry in the wilderness for us to become like Seattle. We are not Seattle we have a completely different identity and system. 2. For the constant moaning of getting Cam Newton weapons; weapons do not have to come from the first two rounds if you have a good GM and draft team like we do. The past is the past, the days of picking Armani Edwards are over, whatever players Gettleman pick later in the draft will contribute in some capacity as we saw this year. I'd much rather us be elite in one area (in this case defense) and average in an other (in this case offense) than just being average in both areas (i.e. having a lopsided draft strategy tailored to offensive picks while losing defensive talent in free agency and not keeping the unit elite). 3. This is not a gimmick pick this is a calculated strategy of taking the best player available in lines with what your scheme and needs are.
With all that being said Stanley Jean-Baptiste is a stud. All of the receivers that would be compatible to take in this position will be gone (sorry Jordan Mathews is too good to last till 60). Jean-Baptiste is known as a physical freak. Playing receiver in his past he looks the part; Jean-Baptiste stands at 6'3" and weighs in at 215 lbs. Jean-Baptiste is not Richard Sherman and I think it is unfair to classify him as such. I think Jean-Baptiste in the right scheme has the opportunity to be better. The tape shows Jean-Baptiste being an excellent physical press-man corner with a knack for pass deflections and break-ups. Jean-Baptiste is not a burner in the speed department (he is projected to run a mid-4.5 40) but he has the skills and size to jam receivers off the line of scrimmage and knocking them off their routes. His big body and athleticism allows him to shadow the receivers and prevent them from being open on quick slants or streak routes. Jean-Baptiste excels in the tackling department with sure wrap-ups; on occasion he can even be credited with body slams.
The downside of Jean-Baptiste is that there is a narrow amount of tape on him. After he graduated from high school in Miami, Florida he spent 2008 as a receiver at North Carolina Tech Prep. In 2009 he redshirted at Fort Scott Community College. He arrived at Nebraska in 2010 as a receiver still but was converted to a corner. Jean-Baptiste started 5 of the 14 games in 2012 and in 2013 he became a full-time starter. As far as his weaknesses on the field Jean-Baptiste is not a huge hitter. Typically he will wrap-up extremely well but isn't known as a punisher who will jar the ball lose with a hit. Jean-Baptiste struggles somewhat with his initial burst and as mentioned before has only moderate straight-line speed.
I believe Jean-Baptiste will be a steal in the second who will also be an instant contributor, with a high possibility of becoming a starter day one. The potential lose of Captain Munnerlyn will cause an excellent opportunity to upgrade the position with a big, physical corner like Jean-Baptiste.
Round 3 Pick 92: Donte Moncrief WR, Ole Miss
This selection provides Cam Newton with a lanky receiver that has the speed and the body to come up big when called upon. Moncrief is an interesting prospect because of his size and ability, yet having a moderate dip in production from 2012. Moncrief's dip in production can be attributed to Ole Miss' team scheme change with the incoming of freshmen personal, specifically Laquon Treadwell being targeted almost 20 times more than Moncrief this season. Moncrief has a 6'2" 226 lb. frame while running a high 4.4 40-time. Moncrief's greatest attribute is his ability to separate himself from tight man-to-man coverage. Moncrief's deceptive speed allows him to move quickly in and out of cuts or in some cases even blow the top off of coverage. Moncrief is an excellent redzone target who will usually win the jump ball or corner situations.
Moncrief's biggest weakness is his drop-off in production which is already noted. While this can be explained it still causes some means for concern and shows why an athlete of his stature is in the late third round. Other considerations that Moncrief causes is his lack of elite straight line speed and his use of his body to make catches on occasion rather than his hands.
Moncrief would be an immediate starter for the Panthers at WR #3, but I would not be surprised if he was able to work his way up to WR #2 and Steve Smith moved to the slot.
Round 4 Pick 124: Brandon Coleman WR, Rutgers
And the weapons keep coming! Let me first state that I like this receiver combo better than any that has been talked about in this coming draft because they are later round prospects with huge upside and minimum weaknesses. Brandon Coleman standing at 6'5" and 225 lbs. is a man. Coleman has been the heartbeat of an otherwise unexciting Rutgers offense. Coleman is projected to have a mid-4.5 40 time which is not the absolute best. What Coleman lacks in speed he makes up for in physicality and determination. Coleman has the body to contribute effectively at Rutgers while the rest of the offense struggled. Coleman, however, was not isolated from the struggles of the Rutgers offense as he never topped 800 yards in a season. Coleman's somewhat mediocre numbers can be mainly attributed to the lack of quarterback play rather than Coleman's lack of abilities. Coleman is extremely talented as a route-runner; he is able to stick his foot in the ground on cutback routes and elude defenders while creating space for himself. Coleman has deceptive straight-line speed with a slight resemblance to the great Jerry Rice. Coleman wins jump ball situations and corner situations in the back of the endzone. Coleman is a master of getting separation from defenders.
Coleman's weaknesses are the lack of production, especially the drop off this past season. This can be accounted to the lack of satisfactory quarterback play but still causes a sediment of consideration and concern. Coleman isn't quite as physical as his body seems. Coleman has a good amount of body catches and will have to work on softening his hands if he wants to be a major player in the NFL.
Coleman will be able to start at WR #3 depending on what our roster looks like and how quickly Moncrief develops. Coleman has the ability to be our #1 WR he just has to learn how to use his body and hands to his advantage. This will be an excellent pick and provide a nice big target for Cam Newton for years to come.
Round 5 Pick 156: Seantrel Henderson OT, University of Miami
This pick is a simple boom or bust pick. Since we have already got our future franchise LT in Lewan Henderson will be a low risk high reward. Henderson has excellent size and strength. Standing at 6'7" and weighing 331 lbs. Henderson leaves nothing to be desired in the size department. His play on the field and off the field issues, however, leave much to be desired. Henderson is big and with the right coaching will be determined, however, if he doesn't pan out it would not be a huge loss and he would make good depth.
Henderson could be anywhere from a rotational starter to a bench warmer on the Panthers team. He would most likely battle Byron Bell to backup Taylor Lewan at RT. Henderson could become the solidified starter at RT once Lewan moves to LT if he applies himself.
Round 6 Pick Pick 188: Walt Aikens CB, Liberty
Aikens is another boom or bust prospect, I however know that he is more solidified than Henderson and will be a contributor at some point for the Panthers. Aikens is from Charlotte and has excellent size. Standing at 6'1" and weighing 205 lbs. he would pair nicely with Jean-Baptiste. Aikens was originally at the University of Illinois but got dismissed from the program after stealing a laptop from the dorms. Since then Aikens has had a clean record and has shown an amazing amount of talent for the Liberty football team. Aikens talent exceeds his draft ranking but his "character issues" and small school program allow him to be available when the Panthers pick.
In the future the pairing of Aikens and Jean-Baptiste will be an amazing display of a sizable secondary that compliments the front 7 very well. As for what Aikens can do to contribute in 2014 is a question of who is on the roster and how quick he can develop. If Munerlyn is gone I would anticipate Aikens could slide into the dimeback position and fit quite nicely. If Munnerlyn is retained Aikens will at least have one year to learn the system and develop well. As I stated before Aikens and Jean-Baptiste in combonation with our front 7 in 2 to 3 years will be incredible to watch.
Round 7 Pick 207 (from the Beason Giants trade): Jalen Saunders WR, Oklahoma
Saunders lacks prototypical size but has incredible play making ability and speed. Saunders would be god for the return game and also would excel at quick routes and slants. Saunders was productive at OU and the Sooner has a lot to prove out of his 5'9" 164 lbs. frame. Saunders would be a good depth chart filler and also a good prospect to develop as a slot guy. This may not be the most popular pick but seeing the success that fellow Sooner Kenny Stills had last year (6'0" 190 lbs.) I do not believe it is too far of a stretch to think that Saunders could contribute a decent amount in his first year.
Saunders would be at most a return man or #4 or #5 WR. He will most likely take time to develop but is also an amazing amount of talent in a small package. He would be well worth this pick.