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Panthers #124 Draft Pick Analysis: LB Eric Norwood

The Panthers were originally slated to choose at #112 in the 4th round, but Marty Hurney and John Fox made a deal with the Jets that gave the Panthers an additional 6th round pick to move down 12 spots to #124. The rumors at the time were that the Panthers had lost the player they wanted to draft prior to their selection and saw no problem with trading down, but it was later revealed that they had no intended target and just decided that moving down 12 spots was worth the additional pick in the 6th round. 

Prior to the 4th round the Panthers had picked all offensive players, despite the numerous fans and analysts conclusions that the front office would shore up the defensive line in the beginning rounds of the draft and focus on the BPA (Best Player Available) strategy in the later rounds.

But, as we all know, there is no formula to understand what is going on in the mind of John Fox, other than "it is what it is" and "we'll take it day by day and go from there" - after that it's practically impossible to figure out what he's thinking. Say what you will about Fox, but just because he acts coy with the media and doesn't give out a lot of information doesn't mean the man never goes into a draft without a plan to make the Panthers a better football team. Fox and Hurney are notorious for going after the best player available on the draft board, regardless of need or the fact that the draft choice makes absolutely no sense to anyone but Hurney and Fox (see Kalil, Ryan and Stewart, Jonathan).

This year's draft was no different, and per their usual style, the Panthers decided to go with the best player available on the board when pick #124 came due.

More after the jump...

Eric Norwood played college football at the University of South Carolina, where he was the team's starting linebacker for each of his four seasons. During his tenure with the Gamecocks, Norwood set two school records (sacks and tackles for loss), was named first-team All-SEC 3 of 4 years, and was a 2009 first-team All-American.

Norwood is one of the surest tacklers to come out of the SEC and should be an asset in 3rd and long situations when he can rush the quarterback. He could see action on the field as a linebacker or at defensive end, and his durability will allow Defensive Coordinator Ron Meeks to be creative with how he uses Norwood in different situations.

One of our fellow SBN bloggers over at Garnet & Black Attack had this to say about Norwood's strengths:

Pro scouts correctly note Norwood's draws as his pass rushing, tackling, special teams abilities, and durability. His closing speed, instincts and ability as a tackler, and ability to block kicks are well documented, and he has the skills to translate these attributes to the next level. Norwood is exceptionally durable, having played in every game over the course of his career and started 32 consecutive games. The pros do and should love that.

Based on the positives that Norwood brings to the table, I believe he will compete for the starting SLB job in training camp and preseason, and he could very possibly take the job away from Connor and Anderson. At the very least he will be an effective backup and special teams player for his rookie campaign until he adjusts to the speed of the NFL game.

But every player has weaknesses, including Norwood. Garnet & Black Attack's assessment tells us:

As far as weaknesses go, pro scouts judge that Norwood will likely only be effective as an outside linebacker in 3-4 schemes. This is probably a correct assessment. While Norwood has great instincts in coverage, his height allows bigger tight ends to pick on him underneath, and faster receivers and backs can get a step on him. These weaknesses would be exposed in 4-3 schemes. In essence, Norwood will be at his best in a limited, pass-rush specialist role in the NFL.

Based on this analysis, you're probably wondering why we drafted him. The answer is simple. Norwood is a good tackler who can rush the quarterback, and the pressure that he can put on the backfield will help out the corners and safeties in coverage. Norwood is a great fit to Ron Meeks' system, and his size is nearly identical to Thomas Davis' (Davis is 6-0, 240; and Norwood is 6-1, 245).

What we have with Norwood is a 4th round pick who should be able to contribute right away on special teams and should see quality action on the field in specific situations (e.g. - 3rd and long). But was he worth the pick? The blogger at Garnet & Black Attack predicted that he would be drafted in the 2nd-3rd rounds, stating:

Most mocks I've looked at project Norwood in the second to third rounds. I think this is about right. Norwood provides incredible potential as a pass rusher and special teams player, and his durability suggests that he will have a long, productive career. He's also a very positive force in the locker room and a player that teams rally around on the field.

Considering that he should have been picked in the 2nd-3rd rounds and we got him in the 4th round, he already classifies as a minor steal. Norwood was rated as the 10th best linebacker according to CBS Sports, and he was the 15th linebacker taken in the draft. He was rated as the 79th overall player, and was taken 124th. Based on these numbers, I can't help but think that we made another quality selection and took the best player available at the time, regardless of his position (because we do have quite a few linebackers on the roster already, and Norwood adds yet another body to the competition of starting SLB).

I know I'm a bit of a homer with my belief in Norwood because of my ties to USC, but I really believe that the Panthers have made a heck of a draft pick and we will see the benefits of this selection on the football field for years to come.