With multiple needs that cannot be filled with one draft, the Panthers really need to strike gold on their first two choices. They have no third-rounder, and unless Philly falls in love with a particular DT (there are 2 that fit their wide-9 well), the Panthers have little leverage to trade back with. That one simple coin flip they lost with the Dolphins meant all the difference in the world. A team wanting Tannehill would likely trade up for Carolina’s pick had they landed just in FRONT of – not behind – the hapless Dolphins.
I’m pretty sure they’d love to trade back for more choices since the Panthers could use the 2nd or 3rd DT on their board no matter who it is so long as they get another pick or two in the middle rounds, possibly replacing that 3rd rounder they lack.
For now, I’ll just go with what I know – the current draft order: (round – overall selection number) – without prognosticating any trades.
(1 – 9): In my Mock Draft v. 2.0, I have Michael Brockers here. Some say Poe, some say Cox, but it will likely be one of those 3 guys. My money is now on Fletcher Cox because of the unique nature of his game. Let’s face it, all the young DTs have their talents and their weaknesses, but Cox has the ability to play well against the run and is THE premier pass-rush threat on the inside that there is in this draft. Poe is the best overall athlete of the 3, Brockers is the best run-stopper, but Cox is the most disruptive player among them all. Cox is not an ideal 4-3 end, but has the ability to play there if asked but it’s not his best position. He’ll be right at home playing the 3-technique in Rivera’s 4-3. He had 5 sacks as a DT in his final college season playing an SEC schedule. Cox not only brings great upper-body strength to the table, but also has the agility to “get thin” and knife through the line if he gets his opponent off-balance. He’s the most balanced and most polished DT in the draft and has some filling out left to do. He’ll probably play in the 310-315 lb range which is fine for a 4-3 DT. Very difficult, tricky player to defend. With no third-rounder and badly needing DT, a pass rusher, and a CB, the Panthers will get two of those things in one player here.
(2 – 40) Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska. Dennard is a strong, physical corner in the Vontae Davis mold and similar size (5-10, 204). He’s a monster in press coverage, but lacks the height to defend some of the bigger WRs in today’s NFL. Alabama’s ‘Dre Kirkpatrick is really the only CB in the draft with the height and skills to match up well but he’s a mid-late first rounder. Big corners are a difficult find, but Dennard makes up for it in other areas. He does backpedal and transition smoothly when playing off-coverage, and has the agility and vertical jump to play bigger than his size would suggest. That’s key, since CBs often give up 4-5 inches to the man they cover these days. He plays the zone coverages well, jumping routes and has excellent ball skills so he will create some turnovers. He likes to trash-talk and get in opponents’ heads if he can and is above-average in pursuit against the run and in tackling. His main weakness is adjusting to curl or dig routes in man coverage as he stands up too straight in his backpedal to readjust on those routes, meaning he might be somewhat vulnerable to double-moves as well. Plays with a chip on his shoulder but will also draw some flags for contact after the initial 5 yard hit and for pass interference. He can start right away, but will face the cold reality of a corner’s life in the NFL – the rules are not in his favor. Like most rookie corners, he’ll give up his share of big plays but part of that is due to his penchant for jumping routes, so that’ll be a mixed bag until he gets some NFL experience. He is going to get burned probably more than his share, but I wouldn’t be surprised at 4 or 5 INTs as a rookie with a lot more passes defended. He’d do well to make friends with veteran Chris Gamble and be a sponge and his good play vs. the run just adds to his value – especially with this defense.
(4 – 104) Chris Givens, WR, Wake Forest. Givens is similar to Kendall Wright of Baylor in size and ability although he doesn’t have the excellent hands Wright does. Givens tends to body catch at times and didn’t stand out against top competition which is why he might still be available here. However, with Steve Smith’s new contract, Givens will be an excellent complimentary receiver on slants or curls with his agility and quickness and has the talent to make people miss after the catch. His intangibles are very good and overall was a very productive player in college who should ultimately translate well as a #2 receiver. He ran a 4.36-40 at the Combine and showed very good strength for his size with 19 reps at 5-11 195 lbs. If Givens lasts this long, the Panthers should look hard at taking him here. With his strength, he won’t be relegated to the slot only. He’ll flat-out drop some easy passes but is the type of player who will somehow grab that difficult throw at times too. Could be a streaky as opposed to consistent player early, but if Steve Smith will help mentor him he should show improvement throughout his rookie season. As a rookie, I see him in the 45 rec 600 yds 5 TD area with ability to reach 1000 yards during his first three seasons.
(5 – 143) Lucas Nix, G, Pittsburgh. Nix is known to be a good team-player who gives it his all, but lacks in some key areas. As with most guards, he’s a better run-blocker than pass-blocker and he lacks lateral agility in space to connect and pick up the pass rush. He’s much more effective when he can engage early and ride the defender than he is having to pick up a blitzing LB and will struggle early in his career against zone-blitzing schemes. He tends to bend his waist and lean rather than having a good base and bending his knees, allowing NFL-level defenders several ways of defeating him. With his good intangibles and team-first attitude, he would add depth to the Panthers’ line and would make a good situational sub on short yardage and goal line sets as a rookie so he can play to his strength while he learns how to protect the pocket.
(6 – 207) DaJohn Harris DT, USC. Harris has the size (6-3, 306) you like in a young prospect at the position and has the physical gifts to be an effective player in the NFL, but used his raw physicality in college and never developed his toolbox (as opposed to a Fletcher Cox) of moves. He’s quick-footed, has great upper body strength and has a very good burst for a man his size. Has good instincts, agility, and has a nice knack for swatting down passes with his tall frame. He’s the poster boy of the raw college kid with a great skill set but without much technique at all. He’s a guy who at first would probably be a spot sub to give the regulars a moment to catch their breath, but is a nice high-ceiling guy that probably should begin the 2012 season on the scout team, then as he gets more fundamentally sound and develops his technique a little more, he should start getting game reps. He’s a “Project-player” with a very good upside down the road. The high ceiling/low floor types tend to slide into the last couple of rounds for a reason.
(7 – 216) Jerry Franklin, ILB, Arkansas. Here we have the somewhat opposite situation from the 6th rounder Harris. Franklin is a big, thick, sturdy MLB who can really bring some big hits in between the tackles, but he lacks the athletic ability to pursue to the outside. He has the ability to find the runner quickly and he’s got 50 SEC college starts under his belt, so the things he CAN do, he knows and does quite well. He would be a very good reserve LB in short yardage/goal line/run defense sets but doesn’t have the skill set to do much more than stop the run between, say, the Tight Ends. He lacks great instincts as he goes for too many fakes and is a very below-average coverage LB. In the 7th round, he’s a nice situational player with a decent enough floor under him that he’d probably make the team, but his ceiling appears to be quite limited. In today’s surprise no-huddle offenses, if he’s caught on the field without the ability to sub him out, that would be a problem. Taken as a situational/depth/Special Teams MLB, he can really help a squad that struggled greatly against the run in ’11.
Once the draft ends, immediate attention should be turned to the “local free agent” rules and areas involved to pick up one last hidden gem. Ever hear of a WR the Giants have named Victor Cruz? That’s how the GEEEEEeeee-Men found him, and he was injured in 2010. 2011 and over 1400 receiving yards later, he was a key cog in their Super Bowl run last season.
Other famous recent undrafted NFL names include Wes Welker, Arian Foster, Antonio Gates, Tony Romo, and James Harrison. There’s also Jeff Saturday, Miles Austin, Jason Peters and Brian Waters.
Same with Kurt Warner, as well as more historical names like Marion Motley, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Willie Wood and Lou Groza, so it’s obviously a very important aspect of the personnel development process and is no less important than any other phase like the draft itself or Free Agency. It’s just a lot more difficult to find those gems, but season after season it seems at least one team finds one.
The draft may seem to be “the end” for many fans, but NFL franchises know it’s only the end of the beginning.