As all bloggers have done over the weekend, no matter which team they favor, I’ve been pouring over last weekend’s NFL draft and of course, paid special attention to that of the Carolina Panthers.
You can find a summary of my thoughts about the individual picks in an article I posted here on catcrave.com just yesterday or the day before along with a number of other staff writers’ analyses of it, but the more I went over things, the more I see both the short-range AND long-range strategies involved.
I’m sure I’m missing some of the more nuanced things since I’m not exactly an insider to the inner workings of the organization, but it would appear that General Manager David Gettleman and Head Coach Ron Rivera were on the same page throughout. Oh, I’m sure Rivera may have liked one guy over another somewhere, but that’s what the scouting department is for. Suffice it to say that Rivera got some much-needed help.
First of all, the shorter-range plans are obvious: the interior defensive line was a wreck going into the draft and one of the top need positions on the entire team – if not THE top need.
The near-term issues were taken well care of when Gettleman spent the team’s first TWO picks on defensive tackles. Star Lotulelei of Utah was a gift, frankly, and even if some other players were there – like say Tavon Austin – my bet is Gettleman would still have taken Lotulelei.
But it was the Kawann Short pick that told me he’s trying to turn the DT position from one of weakness to one of strength. With Dwan Edwards being the incumbent slasher/penetrater-type of tackle, and with Ron Edwards’ departure, the team really needed a run-stuffing tackle. A space-eater who commands double-teams.
What they got was that and a lot more. Star can handle the double-team and even beat it at times to make a play despite the double-team, but NFL games are long grinding slogs for linemen.
Therefore, Gettleman chose to add DT Kawann Short of Purdue with the 2nd-round choice. Short is a bit of both….he’s a run-stuffer who actually can play either spot, as can Star. Star’s talent level may be a fair amount higher, but Kawann is someone that might battle Dwan Edwards for a starting spot and should raise the level of play among ALL defensive tackles with the competition. Adding Colin Cole, an inexpensive high-upside player for the cost, could really mean the Panthers have both strong starters and little drop-off when rotating fresh bodies in when Star is tired and needs a blow.
It should also help in another area the defense had issues at last year – short-yardage and goal-line sets.
By drafting Short, Gettleman has built-in competition in perpetuity at least between Short and Lotulelei as they come in the same draft class.
The more long-range planning became apparent when I thought about the situation in the backfield when they drafted Kenjon Barner in the 6th round.
When a player is drafted in the 6th or 7th round, they’re unlikely to be thought of as starters going in, and with the talent in Carolina’s backfield, he won’t be starting anytime soon unless there’s a rash of injuries.
Oddly enough, RB Jonathan Stewart has had issues staying healthy and spent most of 2012 riding the pine with leg injuries. Since it’s the strength of the team, the Panthers didn’t miss him all THAT much, having added FB Mike Tolbert in the offseason last year.
I think Gettleman’s setting up the organization to be more salary cap-friendly in coming years. Since Barner IS a 6th-round pick and not expected to be a big contributor early on, the team can develop him and maximize his coaching for his skill-set so when one of these huge contracts can be shed, look for Gettleman to act upon it. Who knows, Barner could be a special teams hero before the 2013 season is over with, and it leaves last year’s WR Joe Adams’ future with the Panthers in limbo.
Addin A.J. Klein gives them a linebacker who can also play special teams and play any of the 3 LB spots so he will be an important addition to the corps there from day one. As we know, probable starters Jon Beason and Thomas Davis have a lot of history of injuries and other than Jordan Senn, there’s not much depth behind them.
Klein may wind up being the first off the bench and used in different positions, depending on the plan there, but he also represents some long-term value with multiple talents he brings to the table.
It’s nice to see guys being drafted who can play multiple positions. Star Lotulelei can play DT or DE, although tackle is his best position in the 4-3. He’s added both starting talent and depth to the front-seven with several different players, giving Ron Rivera and the defense a maximum of flexibility in the sets they can use, which in turn opens up the defensive playbook as well.
By adding a young late-round running back, we’re seeing the beginning of setting up for the post-Williams and Stewart days for the Carolina Panthers, and at quite a large discount I’m sure.
THAT will help free up money next year for perhaps a good free-agent wide receiver they couldn’t land this year and possibly another one or two.
We’ve seen the worst of the cap situation and now have a GM who plans for both the long and the short term.
It took some peeling back of the onion skin, but I’m certainly not crying about what I see. Gettleman is well on his way to healing the sickly kitty that is the Carolina Panthers.
The offense has Cam. The defense just added their set of claws.
It should be an interesting 2013 NFL season for Carolina indeed!