"… If there’s a blue goose pass rusher or a blue goose defensive tackle sitting there, I’m not going to be afraid."
- Panthers GM Dave Gettleman
The Carolina Panthers have shown the most interest in three defensive end prospects so far in this pre-draft process: Kony Ealy of Missouri, Scott Crichton of Oregon State, and Kareem Martin of North Carolina, who are projected to go in the first, second and third rounds respectively. It’s interesting that the one common "strength" or valuable trait all three of these prospects share is their versatility.
Versatility is something Panthers GM Dave Gettleman seems to really value from his defensive line prospects. Last year, rookie first round pick Star Lotulelei played the majority of his snaps at the under-tackle position, despite being a 3-4 nose tackle in college at Utah. Kawann Short, the Panthers second round pick, also thrived at both the under tackle and nose tackle positions, even though he mostly lined up at nose tackle in his final year at Purdue.
Similarly, all three of these defensive end prospects showed the ability to line up and thrive at different positions on the defensive line in college. Kony Ealy wrecked havoc at the under tackle position in pass rushing situations at Missouri. Scott Crichton lined up all over the defensive line at Oregon State, including at nose tackle, despite weighing 273 pounds. And Kareem Martin showed excellent power on the edge and inside, and some analysts think he might even be able to play as a 3-4 defensive end in sub-packages, in addition to his regular 4-3 defensive end role.
A defensive end early in the draft might not be a popular pick, but it's one that makes a lot of sense. Gettleman clearly believes in strong defensive play that starts by winning in the trenches, and you can never have too many pass rushers. It also makes sense to have a potential Hardy replacement in the wings if the Panthers are unable to agree to a long-term contract beyond 2014.