I'm not sure there's a more scary three-syllable word than "apathy." If someone's elated, upset or angry it shows they're still feeling something, with apathy it's just an overwhelming feeling of "blah." Why talk about the word? Well, that's kind of what's happening to the 2014 draft -- but that doesn't mean it wont be intriguing.
Pushing the draft back a month is genius from a marketing perspective. The longer your brand is in the public eye the better and it's of little consequence whether your fans are angry about it. You're in the headlines, that's all that matters. The problem with the draft is that we all love it so, of course we'll watch no matter what. So when it's pushed back another two weeks a year from now and the process is extended by a day, we'll still be right here talking it up.
Maybe this apathy is particularly pointed in the Carolinas because of how little draft information there's been this year. This is likely due to several things:
- The organization is being more tight-lipped than usual.
- There isn't much to say when you're picking at No. 28.
- Too many dominoes need to fall to say anything meaningful.
Of these three factors it's the third that's most likely. When you're drafting at No. 9 or No. 14 it's relatively easy to map out the early draft. "Reaches" tend to be less pronounced and the surprises are muted, compound that over 20-plus picks and suddenly figuring out the back-end of the draft is like doing a Rubik's Cube, in the dark... with no hands.
In 2013 the early-morning buzz surrounded Star Lotulelei, though there was a feeling of inevitability that he wouldn't be available. The other two names in play were Kenny Vaccaro and DeAndre Hopkins. If you're a Panthers fan this should make you feel really good.
Why? It shows the front office knows their shit. The three players most closely-linked to Carolina wound up being three of the best rookies in the class. For all the worry and hand-wringing we should look to last year's draft for solace, the team knows what it's doing.
Here's what we know
There isn't much information out there at all, but we can make some educated inferences based on visits, late-rumors and possibilities.
- Everything hinges on the quarterbacks: Yes it seems like this gets said every year, but quarterback is the least-predictable position in the draft. Guys who were top-five locks magically tumble, others who were touted as second day player ascend into the top-15. This year more than ever the possible selections in the back part of the round rely on a lot of passers being taken early. Panthers fans should hope for no fewer than four quarterbacks to come off the board before No. 28, with Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr all garnering attention. This gives the team options.
- I'm not buying this whole "blue goose" thing: Yes, I know that it sounds like a total contradiction from me when I decry the use of the term "smokescreen," but the idea of selecting any position at No. 28 just isn't sitting right. Sure it might be an old-school blue-collar football parlance for not getting blinded by need, but charming old guy saying or not, it doesn't sit right. The reason for this is fairly simple, the workouts. If the Panthers were really open to taking anyone in the first round we wouldn't have seen the overwhelming scouting of wide receivers, offensive tackles and cornerbacks in this class. Pair that with an early draft-week visit from Ryan Shazier and it all feels a little too neat and contrived. There's no better way to convince the world you're taking anyone than watching the wheels that have been set in motion, but it's a necessary move given there are two teams right behind Carolina looking to take a wide receiver.
- The back-end of the round is a minefield: This isn't anything new, but boy are the late-round picks scary. Everyone is a boom or bust type prospect, regardless of the position. Pick any player, if you think he's safe then you're wrong. Risks are prevalent in any draft, but it really feels like this year there aren't any solid reliable guys without flaws. Normally we'd see one or two guys with little upside, then a spate of risks -- this year it feels like any player taken at 28 is going to be a project. It's all about having faith in the scouting staff to know who the right guys are and the coaching staff to develop them.
So, who's it going to be?
I've been vacillating on this for the better part of the week and what it comes down to is two things: Who has the team looked at the most and wading through the pre-draft screaming and yelling.
Nothing would make me happier than to see a solid offensive tackle slide down unexpectedly, but I don't see it. Ultimately I think the choice at the position will be between Morgan Moses and Joel Bitonio, neither of whom I'm head over heels in love with.
Then there's the cornerbacks. It always seems like there's a run on these guys when teams freak out in the teens when they're flying off the board. I'm not sold that Kyle Fuller will be there at No. 28, then there's a considerable drop off where value is lost.
This brings us to wide receiver, the position the Panthers have invested the most time in. From there we can narrow it to three names: Marqise Lee, Cody Latimer and Kelvin Benjamin. It's not a dissimilar argument for the first round receivers from a year ago. Lee has a similar skill set on short routes that was lost with Steve Smith, Benjamin is the raw but extremely talented large target Cam Newton has been yearning to have, while Latimer splits the middle of the two -- not offering the staggering potential of Benjamin or quick-twitch of Lee, but good at a little bit of everything.
Is it a cop out to say "I have no clue?" Yep, it sure is... but everything is so fluid. Force me to answer and my gut feeling is Latimer. He's a guy they've spent a ton of time on, will be guaranteed to go before pick No. 60 and doesn't offer quite the same risk Kelvin Benjamin does.
Taking him would likely cause a small but vocal out roar, but like I said last year: "Dave Gettleman doesn't give an eff what we all think."