As a Carolina Panthers’ fan, I can’t begin to express my dislike for our opponent the New Orleans Saints. I was a first-hand witness to Roman Harper’s late hit on Steve Smith and Jimmy “Golden-boy” Graham’s repeated dives against the 5’7” Captain Munnerlyn. I cannot, however, fault them on their ability to make consistently good decisions in the off season that enable them to continually be a playoff contender.
One such approach that I cannot help but appreciate was their strategy in the 2011 draft. In case you don’t remember, the Saints took DE Cameron Jordan from Cal at #24, then traded up to take Mark Ingram at #28. As I was not in their war room, I can only speculate about their rationale. To me, however, it was brilliant. What New Orleans did was say, “Look, rather than take one elite player with an additional six that we can develop, why don’t we take two guaranteed talents and five that we can develop”. I think this was absolutely brilliant and could be emulated by anyone with any sense.
In the words of Mugatu, “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”.
I have often wondered why people haven’t taken this approach more often. Those who would argue against my logic would point toward Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston who were both taken in the later rounds and have developed into elite talents. But even the Saints, who drafted both of these players, abandoned this philosophy in 2011 and took two guarantees.
The cost of the maneuver can be quite substantial, however, and would likely require a first round pick the following year, maybe a second if you are lucky. But the only way to properly demonstrate the upside of this sacrifice is to share with you my vision for this strategy as it applies to Carolina.
I often play “Fantasy-GM” in my head as I’m sure many who read this article do. So let me share my vision for the 2012 draft…
As I shared in my recently posted mock draft, I think the Panthers should take Michael Brockers at number eight or nine. But, as we all know, the Panthers need more impact players at a variety of other positions. What I propose is that we take a look at these positions to see if there is a player available late in the first round that could fill these holes immediately as rookies.
For the purposes of this exercise, I turn to Alabama Safety Mark Barron. If a player of his caliber slips in the draft (which he very well could), why not trade up to get him? The very same thing could happen with Dre Kirkpatrick (as evidenced by Prince Amukamara’s fall to the Giants last year). Any good Panthers fan realizes that the starting careers of Sherrod Martin and Captain Munnerlyn are in jeopardy.
Rather than bank on a developmental prospect, why not go out and get a guarantee? Of course there are first round busts, but with the huge improvements that have been made in scouting, the risk of that has steadily declined. Barron is a great player who could come in and immediately help out our team. The same applies to Kirkpatrick. Why take the risk of developing a player in two years when a complete player is available to you now?
This logic was recently demonstrated to me in an article examining the Patriots. Take a look at the following players, and tell me how many 2nd and 3rd round prospects are even still on their roster? This suggests what I have been advocating, that guarantees are better than developmental prospects in most cases.
Virginia CB Ras-I Dowling (2011, from CAR)
California RB Shane Vereen (2011, from N.O.)
Arizona TE Rob Gronkowski (2010, from CHI/TB/OAK)
Florida OLB Jermaine Cunningham (2010)
Florida ILB Brandon Spikes (2010, from MIN/HOU)
Oregon SS Patrick Chung (2009, from KC)
Boston College DT Ron Brace (2009, from OAK)
Connecticut CB Darius Butler (2009, from GB)
Houston OL Sebastian Vollmer (2009)
Colorado CB Terrence Wheatley (2008)
LSU RB Stevan Ridley (2011, from HOU)
Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett (2011, from MIN)
Ohio WR Taylor Price (2010, from DAL)
North Carolina WR Brandon Tate (2009, from NYJ/GB)
South Florida OLB Tyrone McKenzie (2009, from NFL)
Michigan OLB Shawn Crable (2008, from N.O.)
San Diego State QB Kevin O’Connell (2008)
The same logic has applied to the Panthers, for the most part. I went online and took a look at our draft history and started to realize how few current starters were drafted in the latter rounds of the draft. I cannot stress to you how unsure this process is. For every name I am about to list below, there are 5-10 others whose names only the most devoted fans will even remember. Here is a list of noteworthy players:
1. 2004- Travelle Wharton, 3rd round pick
2. 2005- Geoff Hangartner, 5th round pick
3. 2006- James Anderson, 3rd round pick
4. 2006- Jeff King, 5th round pick
5. 2007- Charles Johnson, 3rd round pick
6. 2008- Charles Godfrey, 3rd round pick
7. 2008- Dan Conner, 3rd round pick
And…that’s pretty much it (on the fence about Dante Rosario). One need only use basic math to find the average of players that have helped us out in the later rounds of the draft since 2004. I listed seven guys above out of a whopping 49. That means that the Panthers organization has had a 14% success rate in drafting players in the 3rd round or later. This is not a great figure, and I didn’t even count 2010 and 2011 for fear of making that average worse.
I always concede that there are a lot of people who know a lot more about football than I do running the war rooms. But I can’t help but wonder what other business would invest or take any gamble on a 14% rate of success. If it were up to me, I would go get two guys who can make an immediate impact and lessen your 14% chance on the back end.