After several months of constant rumors, speculation and debate, I am glad that the 2013 NFL Draft is finally over. The Panthers only had five picks in this year’s draft, but that didn't stop them from getting some very talented players. Below are my individual grades for each draft pick the Panthers selected.
Round 1, Pick 14
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
A dream come true - the Panthers got the Draft’s biggest steal at their greatest position of need. Lotulelei is expected to immediately start at the nose tackle position for the Panthers, and his addition should significantly improve the run defense and pass rush. Lotulelei was a dominant player in college, and with a bit of work, he can potentially become an elite defensive tackle in the NFL.
Round 2, Pick 12
Kawaan Short, DT, Purdue
Double-dipping at the defensive tackle spot was definitely a surprise, but it makes a lot of sense. When Marty Hurney was GM, the Panthers ignored investing at the defensive tackle position for several years. As a result, they fielded some of the worst defenses in the league. This pick isn’t about addressing an immediate need – it’s to build for the future. Yes, the Panthers have Dwan Edwards, but he’s a 32 year old on a two year contract. Drafting Short could potentially solidify the Panthers interior defensive line for the next ten years.
Round 4, Pick 11
Edmund Kugbila, G, Valdosta State
This was a shocking pick to many fans, including myself, because I had never heard of Kugbila. To tell you the honest truth, I didn’t even know where Valdosta State was. My initial reaction was ‘who?’ and ‘REACH!’, but after thinking about it for a while, it made some sense. The Panthers desperately needed an upgrade at the right guard spot on their offensive line, and Kugbila definitely has the athletic ability to succeed as a power right guard in the NFL. Although there were better known offensive linemen available such as Alvin Bailey and David Quessenberry, the Panthers passed on them in favor of Kugbila. Although I am still not high on the pick, I’ll trust the Panthers scouting department and Dave Gettleman’s experience on this one.
Round 5, Pick 15
A.J Klein, LB, Iowa State
Klein is a solid player who will bring much needed depth to the Panthers linebacking corps. He is also excellent value, as he was projected to go in the third or fourth round of the Draft. I had previously scouted Klein when I was looking at some mid-round linebackers for the Panthers, and I liked what I saw from him on tape. Although he lacks the ideal size and athleticism, he has the ability to quickly diagnose plays and closes in on ball carriers very quickly. He’s also a solid tackler with good form and technique. However, I don’t think Klein will be a three down linebacker in the NFL, because he has stiff hips, which limited his change in direction ability in pass coverage. Klein won’t start in his rookie year, but he has the potential to play either the weakside or strongside linebacker position beside Luke Kuechly in a few years. For now, he is a solid depth player with the versatility to play any of the three linebacker positions if needed.
Round 6, Pick 14
Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
I was shocked when I found out that the Panthers took Barner over a safety or cornerback, both positions of need. However, this is another pick that makes a lot of sense for the Panthers. Due to his contract, DeAngelo Williams is most likely gone after this season, so it doesn’t hurt to groom his potential replacement a year early. Furthermore, Barner has special teams ability, as he returned punts at Oregon. In the sixth round, it’s hard to argue the value of getting a running back that ran for 1767 yards and 21 touchdowns at Oregon last season. Once again, Barner isn’t necessarily a pick that will help the Panthers win now, but he could potentially be a valuable part of the Panthers offense in a few years.
To me, this wasn’t exactly a home-run draft, but it was still very solid. Outside of Lotulelei, none of the prospects really excited me, but I understood the reasoning behind all their selections. I would have loved to address the wide receiver and defensive back positions at some point in the Draft as well, but c'est la vie. The Panthers ended up getting a potentially elite nose tackle, and several key depth players who could become valuable contributors in the future.
Overall Draft Grade: B+
So, Panthers fans, what are your Draft grades for the Panthers? Feel free to vote and comment below!