When Michael Brockers, a defensive tackle from Louisiana State, chose to enter the 2012 NFL draft, the possibility of Carolina drafting an interior lineman with their first pick—eighth or ninth, pending a coin-toss tiebreaker—became much more real.
Brockers is only a sophomore, but he's quickly developed into a disruptive force in the SEC. He has a good frame at 6'6" and room to add muscle at just over 305 lbs. Don't let that number fool you, however; he's plenty big enough to play defensive tackle in the NFL.
Brockers' announcement to leave LSU following his redshirt sophomore season has already shaken up the draft. Previously, it was believed that the Panthers would have to reach for a defensive tackle with their first pick if they want to address that position in the first round.
Brockers could potentially be the solution that Carolina needed to that conundrum. He's a well-rounded player and has as much upside as you'll find in a defensive player in this draft. He lacks experience, which will prevent him from going as high as we saw Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy and Marcell Dareus go in recent years, but he has just as much talent.
Brockers is a well-balanced player and his low sack total this season—two sacks in 14 games—can be misleading. When watching LSU play, he was a player who showed up consistently. He was relentless with his pass rush and almost always demanded a double-team, which lays further credence to my previous claim. You don't put two of your best blockers on a player that is not a disruptive pass-rusher, and we saw that throughout the season.
When facing double-teams in the run game, Brockers excelled even more so than he did at pressuring the quarterback. He maintained great balance and held up well, even splitting the double-team at times—something we saw occur on multiple occasions in the SEC Championship.
Completing this defensive tackle are his athleticism and versatility. Brockers has quick feet and long arms that help him close passing lanes in a hurry. His quickness also allows him to penetrate as well as any prospect in this draft.
It's difficult to put a label on Brockers because he can be seen as a developmental prospect, but he's already incredibly skilled. That makes him a low-risk and possibly very high-reward player for the Panthers if they do take a chance on him early.
In Carolina, Brockers would make an immediate impact as a tackle in the 4-3 and at the 5-technique when the Panthers go to the 3-4. That added versatility makes him attractive for a team that likes to give different defensive looks, but his main allure is that he's a three-down lineman that is already as good as any interior lineman that the Panthers currently have on the roster.
It's almost a guarantee that Brockers will be available when the Panthers make their first pick and Ron Rivera will likely take pride in his ability to develop a defensive player in the way that Rob Chudzinski and Mike Shula developed Cam Newton last season.
Brockers has an elite mix of strength, relentless effort and size that could prove too tempting for Carolina. His stock will likely see a rise as he gets his chance to prove his talent at the combine and at his pro day, and this could prove to be the smart pick once the draft rolls around.
Even if the Panthers elect to head a different direction, Brockers has given the franchise a great backup plan in case the man that they're eyeing isn't left on the board when they take the clock.