Now to wrap-up the Panthers’ needs overall:
Doing the math from the first 3 posts, that’s 6 major needs with 5 picks in the draft. Trading back would be ideal, but might not be possible – again, depending on how the board breaks. David Gettleman shrewdly added some inexpensive pieces that I’ve mentioned, as well as DT Colin Cole, but all are guys that come with untapped ability and can’t be counted on as solid starters yet with the possible exception of Ted Ginn, Jr. and even he has some big question marks with dropped passes.
Trying to get a little bit into Ron Rivera’s head, I would think his own urgency dictates plugging up the middle of that defense. Kuechly can’t do it all, and even sometimes has difficulty shedding blockers. He’ll improve, no doubt, but that may be the one minor weakness he had coming into the league. Shedding NFL blockers is no easy task, but part of the job description of any linebacker. If he’d ever get a good pair of tackles in front of him on a consistent basis, the Panthers should have a top-ten rush defense. I’m almost certain they’ll take a DT with one of their top 2 picks and likely in the first round.
But what about the other pick?
That’s the big question. Trying to get into Gettleman’s head now, I’m thinking he’s got at least 2 major scenarios set up, with offshoots of those depending on who is available at #14. If OT Lane Johnson is still around for some strange reason, I think he’s the guy they’ll take. Protect the franchise first.
Same thing with OGs Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper – protection for Cam from the inside pass rush and help with the inside running game. At least one of the two, if not both, could be around at 14 due to the lower positional value. Otherwise the pick is the DT of choice, whoever it may be at the time – even if Warmack and Coop are BOTH there. Knowing Gettleman comes from the Giants does skew my opinion a bit in favor of taking the defensive tackle. Rivera’s a defensive coach, remember.
I just don’t see a WR being taken at #14, although Cam would be happy with any of the top-tier guys…and at least one of those SHOULD be around at #14, presenting an interesting problem for Gettleman. Conventional wisdom is that you build a team from the inside-out, and Gettleman has a good track record with building the aforementioned New York Giants. He also has been known to take that first-round WR, and still may be a bit tempted to do so, but there’s just too much work to be done in the trenches at the outset for that until 2014, and once more, Ginn’s presence probably took a first-round WR pick off the radar.
It shouldn’t take long for everyone to see what sort of job David Gettleman does in the draft later this month. If the moves he has already made can work out to a realistic degree and he hits on say 3 or 4 out of the 5 picks he has, the Panthers could well improve just enough to fight for a wild card spot this season.
Their goal should be not so much to win the division, but to just make the playoffs. Once in, a hot team has a real chance to go on a run. In the playoffs, anything can happen. It’s getting there that will be the hard part with Atlanta and New Orleans in the way.
That said, keep one thing in mind. For all the poor cap management by former GM Marty Hurney, the guy struck gold twice in a row with the team’s top pick the last 2 seasons. He got 2011′s OROY in Cam Newton, then turned around in last year’s draft and got the DROY in Luke Kuechly.
That’s a tough track record to improve upon, and I think Gettleman is going to make his mark in prudent drafting….AFTER the first round. That’s where a good GM earns his money…doing things like nabbing a Victor Cruz as an undrafted free agent. Don’t forget, when the draft is over, the “hunt” has only just begun….