The NFL Draft is FINALLY, MERCIFULLY over with.
I always like the time between the start of free agency and the end of the NFL draft, as it is the time when all the major roster moves are made and your favorite team gets their “new look” – whatever that look may be.
Some teams like the Miami Dolphins really changed over their rosters in a big way. Same with the Baltimore Ravens, albeit in the other direction when their Super Bowl-winning roster was raided like a pantry in a soup kitchen, but each team did what they could, within the rules (you hearing that, Bill Belichick?), and the Carolina Panthers are no exception.
Here are the picks they made, in order:
Round 1 (14 overall): Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Round 2 (44 overall): Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
Round 4 (108 overall):Edmund Kugbila, OG, Valdosta St.
Round 5 (148 overall):A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa St.
Round 6 (188 overall):Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No trading up nor down, despite talking with the San Francisco 49′ers leading up to the draft, and other teams undoubtedly as well.
However, when top-five talent Star Lotulelei fell into Gettleman and Rivera’s lap at #14 overall, they probably clasped their hands, looked in thanks to the heavens, and put his name on the draft card to run it up to Roger Goodell. No Minnesota Vikings draft-day SNAFUs for the Panthers!
As a bit of an aside, I thought it was interesting how so many draft and football sites magically “change” their grade on certain players in the 4-6 weeks leading up to the draft. Just after the NFL Combine, NFL.com had Alabama guard Chance Warmack ranked #1 overall in the entire draft with a 96.3 overall draft grade. Now, he’s listed at 4th overall with a 93.9 draft grade.
Kinda makes you wonder about all the so-called “experts” and if group psychology doesn’t factor into it and they go back in and change grades to better match up with the consensus talk before the draft.
That would make sense, seeing as how Florida DT Sharrif Floyd is ranked #2 there still, with a 94.2 grade; yet, he fell to #24 overall on draft day. Lotulelei went from 2nd to 10th, so I don’t really pay any attention to their “grades” anymore.
The fact is that 2 months ago, Star Lotulelei was being talked about as the top choice in the NFL draft in part due to his talent and in part due to his “fit” into Kansas City’s 3-4 defensive scheme – as an end.
All that’s in the past now and Star looks to be a day-one starter beside Dwan Edwards as the run-stopping defensive tackle, and both he and Kawann Short would be a huge upgrade over anyone else they have on the roster at that spot. Ron Edwards was serviceable but couldn’t stay healthy so the Panthers drafted a pair of kids who hopefully can stay healthy and plug up the middle, much like during the days of Kris Jenkins, when NOBODY could run up the middle against the Carolina Panthers’ defense.
Some are saying Edmund Kugbila “could have been there” in the 5th round. Yes, he COULD have, but there are no guarantees and frankly right now I’m going to defer to David Gettleman’s judgement. He helped construct the rosters of two Super Bowl Champions to my zero, and the fact remained that the Panthers desperately needed another guard – even more so than a right tackle, given the situation late last season.
Klein’s selection affirms what I had been saying all along, and that few NFL or other Panthers bloggers mentioned as a “need” position – outside linebacker. Remember, James Anderson was let go and that leaves Jon Beason and Thomas Davis as the 2 starting OLBs. Both have a history of injuries over the recent past and there’s not much depth behind them.
Klein has the ability to play “any in the stack” – that is, any of the 3 linebacker positions. He’s built like a MLB, but has better range than he looks like at first glance. While he’s not a guy who can cover the elite NFL tight ends, he can cover some of them and plays well in zone coverage, so he’s a valuable piece to securing that run defense without being a liability against the pass.
Lastly, Kenjon Barner’s selection tells me Gettleman is really thinking about the future and trying to give the team some semblance of depth and competition behind DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Stewart has injury issues himself, and those two plus FB Mike Tolbert take up quite a chunk of salary cap space. It looks like Mr. Gettleman is making moves now to develop young talent behind one of the most talented backfields in the NFL already so that when the time comes to part ways with one or more of the high-salary backs, the team won’t be completely bereft of talent at the position.
With only 5 total draft picks this year, there were GOING to be spots he couldn’t address without trading back, and having a guy like a Star Lotulelei fall in your lap in the middle of the first round nay-says any trading anyway, given the fact DT was probably the biggest need area on the team. How fortunate for the Panthers and their fans that such a rookie slipped through to Carolina.
It’s a good omen moving forward and I’m excited to see how these rookies get employed and how the Panthers can start the season with the toughest schedule in the NFL.
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