The Panthers are entering this upcoming season with high expectations and rightfully so. Last year rookie quarterback Cam Newton shattered rookie passing records as well as single season NFL rushing records for a quarterback. The panthers also signed star receiver Steve Smith to a three-year contract extension, and also have key contributors on defense (Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, Ron Edwards) returning form injuries. However, there is still room for improvement on this Carolina roster and this year’s draft will play a pivotal role in helping the Panthers reach their postseason aspirations. So here is how I think the Panthers should use their 7 draft picks in the upcoming 2012 NFL Draft:
Poe is a huge physical specimen, who at 6-4, 350 lbs, can clog up a hole and allow the linebackers to run free and make plays on the ball carrier. He is a bit of a risk considering before the combine not many people gave him much attention due to his lack of production in college. However, at the combine he broke all kinds of records for strength and conditioning. He pounded out more reps on the 225lb bench press than any other player at the combine and also ran 40-time under 4.9. It’s a bit of a risk, but that’s what everybody said about Cam Newton and looked how he turned out.
2nd Round (#40 overall) – Trumaine Johnson, CB, Montana
Johnson is a big physical corner who is not lacking in speed either. He is great in man-to-man coverage and will be able to hang with the big, physical receivers at the NFL level. This is definitely a position of importance for the Panthers. Chris Gamble is a solid corner but he is coming up on the closing years of his career, and Captain Munnerlyn just doesn’t have the size to guard the #1 and #2 receivers at the NFL level. Johnson should be able to come in right away and challenge for a starting position.
4th Round (#104) – Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma
Broyles probably would go much higher in this years draft, but he sustained a knee injury at the end of last season and that made a lot of scouts and coaches alike a little skeptical of drafting him. However, he held a pro day about a week ago in which he looked very healthy and looked good running routes and making cuts. He said he’s about 90% at this stage in his recovery and should definitely be all systems go by the time mini camp comes rolling around. And there is definitely no doubting Broyles ability he put up big numbers as receiver and did a good job with returning punts as well. He could be just what the Panthers are looking for as the potential replacement for Steve Smith and could certainly help immediately as a slot receiver.
5th Round (#145) – Keenan Robinson, OLB, Texas
Robinson is a good outside linebacker who has the speed to get down hill and into the backfield. His knock in college was that at times he played to soft and got blocked too often or got bulldozed by opposing running backs. However, he definitely put up some impressive numbers and he would steal to grab here in the 5th round. Thomas Davis is coming back, but it’s hard to imagine that he’s going to stay healthy the entire year. Robinson would be good insurance in case Davis suffers another injury.
6th Round (#180) – Luke Nix, OG, Pittsburg
Nix is a big offensive lineman, weighing in at 6-5, 317 lbs. He would be a great depth chart addition for the guard position and might even challenge for a starting job in the next 2 or 3 years. At this spot in the draft you don’t expect to get guys that are going to come in and start right away. Instead, you’re looking for guys who have potential to be starters, but at this point in their careers are still a little bit of a project. However, Nix has tremendous upside and should be a good addition to the offensive line depth.
6th Round (#207, compensatory pick) – Justin Bethel, FS, Wisconsin
Being from Presbyterian College, Bethel really hasn’t received much attention this spring. He is the first player to ever be invited to the combine from Presbyterian, but he did put up some pretty impressive numbers throughout his college career. He was a four-year starter and a special teams standout. I can see Ron Rivera salivating already. We all know Rivera loves guys that are good special teams player and it seems like Bethel fits that mold to a tee. And his tackling ability as well as his vision to take great angles on routes could put him in position to challenge Sherrod Martin for a starting job. This would definitely be a great addition to the Panther secondary.
7th Round (#216) – Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
Wilson is not a big guy; he’s 5-10 and only weighs 210 lbs. However, he’s put up great numbers his entire collegiate career. At NC State he led all ACC quarterbacks in passing yards, passing touchdowns, and rushing yards. And at Wisconsin he was in the Heisman running for most of the season as he threw 33 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions. His speed however, would probably be the most appealing asset to Carolina. They could use someone who could run the read-option plays that the Panthers have introduced to their offense in case Cam Newton were to get hurt (but lets hope that never happens in the next 15 years—fingers crossed). He could also come in right away and compete for a job as the backup quarterback. Derek Anderson is nearing the end of his career and Jimmy Clausen isn’t really blowing anybody away with his talent either. Wilson might not be available in the 7th round, but if he is then the Panthers would be getting an absolute steal.