Faintly, you can hear it – the gnashing of teeth over the lack of a first round draft pick. Fans are upset that the Carolina Panthers won’t have one this year.
Is anyone happy having a mauler like Jeff Otah? Let’s hope so. First, who is to say that the team could have hit on a pick so solidly this year had they not made that draft-day trade with Philadelphia last year? They gave up a lot, sure. But solid tackles don’t grow on trees. If they did, every NFL franchise would plant one in their back yard.
We’ll all be watching while the Eagles use what would have been our pick at number 28. It may hurt a little bit but that’s still nine spots below where the team selected Otah last year. Whether the deal was good or bad will be answered over the coming seasons and in how Otah performs but so far it is looking pretty good.
Of course, all of this means that we’ll be waiting all the way to round two and pick 59 before the Panthers go on the clock. That is provided, of course, that a deal isn’t reached to send the disgruntled Julius Peppers somewhere that he can “reach his full potential.”
Time to break it down, position by position, in order to determine the areas of greatest need in April’s draft.
QB - Jake Delhomme is not getting any younger. He turned 33 last month and that’s hardly young for an NFL signal caller. The backups are Matt Moore, an unproven youngster and Josh McCown. Could it be time to think about trying to locate at least a sleeper pick to groom behind Delhomme? You might think so.
Draft Day Decision – It’s not completely unlikely that the team would pass up a solid pick if he is still on the board but don’t count on it. The Panthers aren’t known for drafting quarterbacks in any round under this regime.
RB - No reason to waste time here. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are both solid runners. Williams is a superstar in the making. The only question is whether Nick Goings is retained as the backup. But it would be nice to have a young fullback on the roster who could assume the role of heir apparent to Brad Hoover.
Draft Day Decision – The shock last year was seeing the team take Stewart at number 13 overall after having taken Williams only two years before in the first round. Two times in three years? Wow! Maybe a fullback draws their attention in the middle to late rounds.
WR - No matter how they do it, Carolina needs to relieve some pressure from Steve Smith considering that Muhsin Muhammad is in his mid-thirties and won’t be able to play forever. Does Dwayne Jarrett step up his game? It’s a foregone conclusion that DJ Hackett is a goner this offseason.
Draft Day Decision – Jarrett was taken in the second round only two years ago. It’s doubtful they would attempt that again. Still, there would be no harm in taking a shot at a kid in the late rounds but it would be completely out of character for this organization.
TE - Jeff King came into last season looking like he was developing into the answer but the numbers in ’08 weren’t so good. Dante Rosario started the season in San Diego looking great and then disappeared. King is a good blocker but a pass catching tight end is a must for this team. Not since Wesley Walls have the Panthers had a legitimate threat at the position.
Draft Day Decision – If there is a surpsise in this draft, it’ll be at tight end. There might be other needs but it would be hard to give away a chance to pick up a tight end if the right opportunity presents itself. Only good news from the training room on Gary Barnidge could prevent a hard look at some prospects.
Tackle - If Jordan Gross is re-signed or franchised, the team is set with bookends that are the envy of at least 90% of the league. The team of Gross and Otah is as solid as any in the NFL.
Draft Day Decision – In the event that Gross is lost to free agency, something will have to be done. Would the team use a second-rounder on a tackle if Gross leaves? If he is retained, don’t expect a lot of attention at tackle in this draft.
Guard - Keydrick Vincent and Travelle Wharton held down the two guard spots last year in a big way. Sure injuries occurred but they are solid players. Vincent was possibly the surprise of the season.
Draft Day Decision – Only if a player takes a major tumble down the board on draft day would we see a pick here.
Center - Two words – Ryan Kalil. The youngester looks like the answer at center for a long time to come. Need I say more?
Draft Day Decision – Unless the team is looking for depth, it probably won’t happen. Sure, there could be a late-round pick used here but all bets are off.
DE - This could very well be the weakest position on the team and will be if Julius Peppers leaves. Tyler Brayton would likely be teamed with Charles Johnson in the starting lineup should that occur.
Draft Day Decision – The smart money says that Peppers leaves (not exactly a reach, I know) and the Panthers draft a defensive end no later than…forget it, they’ll take a DE first. That means using their second rounder unless a first is acquired in a deal for Peppers. Oh, this is too confusing. They’ll draft somebody or suffer the wrath of the fans.
DT - Kemo and Damione Lewis hold down the middle fairly well but when injuries struck these two late in the season, the defense looked horrible. Anybody remember Derrick Ward putting up career numbers in the Meadowlands?
Draft Day Decision – This may be another near certainty. At some point, the team has to address the lack of depth at the DT spot.
LB - This one is tricky. The middle linebacker spot is set. Maybe you’ve heard of Jon Beason. I’m sure you have. He’s a rising star who just made the Pro Bowl in his second year in the league and for good reason. Na’il Diggs and Thomas Davis are the other starters. The question is how comfortable Fox and Company are with their outside backers.
Draft Day Decision – Fox is all about some defense. It would be no surprise to see a LB taken even though Dan Connor was taken in ’08. His injury might be a motivator.
CB - One spot is solid with Chris Gamble but Ken Lucas had a terrible time down the stretch. Lucas is probably gone. Richard Marshall could be a decent player but might not be the answer to replace Lucas while CJ Wilson is a youngster the team really likes.
Draft Day Decision – Probably won’t happen until late if it happens at all. Fox likes Wilson enough to think of him as no less than a project worth investing some time in.
Safety - Fans who don’t follow the Panthers routinely may not know much about Chris Harris. It’s hard not to love how he plays. Plus, Charles Godfrey looks like a pretty darned good complement.
Draft Day Decision – Another spot where only depth will be added and that will happen only because someone falls into their laps.
PK - John Kasay is not getting any younger. He is the only remaining original Panther, after all. But he just signed a contract extension while Rhys Lloyd is a weapon on kickoffs.
Draft Day Decision – Don’t count on it.
Punter - Jason Baker can be very up and down. One minute he’s pinned the opposition deep and the next, he’s shanking one.
Draft Day Decision – If Baker was a lost cause, sure. Just not going to happen unless somebody inside the war room thinks Baker needs competition.