Carolina Panthers' 2012 Mock Draft: Round-by-Round Predictions
I've already received some criticisms based on some of the players I think the Panthers should take in the upcoming NFL Draft, but I still want to get my thoughts out there.
These following picks are the players I would take to try and fit the needs the Panthers have to address this offseason. I tried to stay as realistic as possible, not imagining Justin Blackmon or Matt Kalil falling to us at 8/9.
Again, I welcome all ideas and criticisms and would love to hear what you have to think. Enjoy!
Round 1: CB Dre' Kirkpatrick
6'2" 192 lbs, 4.49 40-yard dash
Draft Projections: Top-15 Pick
Many mock drafts have the Panthers going for defensive tackle help in the first, taking either LSU product Michael Brockers or Devon Still out of Penn State. However, I don't think they should go this route.
Give Ron Rivera a chance to develop last year's third round picks Sione Fua and Terrell McClain a little more, and give Ron Edwards a chance to see how much he can improve the interior defensive line. To me, there is a much larger hole opposite Chris Gamble in the Panthers secondary.
Dre' Kirkpatrick would greatly improve a defense that was 24th in passing yards allowed per game, and 25th in passing touchdowns allowed. He's a strong man-to-man corner with enough size and speed to make up for the occasional gambles he takes. But when you consider the teams Carolina is matched up with in the NFC South, the Panthers need a strong secondary to compete with Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and their plethora of talented receivers.
He needs to improve at the line of scrimmage, often being caught off guard when trying to jam too hard, and he does need to play smarter in the NFL then he did in college. But those things all come with experience, and Kirkpatrick certainly has the physical tools to become an excellent corner int he NFL.
He'd take over the starting job from Captain Munnerlyn, who isn't really anything more than a nickel-package player at best and will likely be gone after the 2012 season. Kirkpatrick isn't going to ever be a shutdown corner like Revis or Joseph, but he's physical and has exception size and athleticism to be a force in the Panthers' secondary.
There is the question of the marijuana charge brought against him back in January. While the charges were ultimately dropped, Jerry Richardson usually thinks twice before taking a guy with a history of off-the-field issues. However, Kirkpatrick is an excellent "need" player for the Panthers and should be given a look.
Round 2: OT Mitchell Schwartz
6'5" 324 lbs, 82" wingspan
Draft Projections: 2-3
Right now this pick looks like a reach, but come draft day you might think otherwise.
Schwartz is currently skyrocketing up draft boards. Outshined by fellow Pac-10 linemen Matt Kalil and Jonathan Martin, he was originally considered a 4th round pick. But after finishing Cal's season strong and dominating top ten pick Quinton Couples in the Senior Bowl (as well as the likes of Virginia's Cam Johnson and Penn's Jack Crawford in drills) his stock is certainly on the rise. He could possibly even impress further, as the California kid has the physical tools to perform really well at the combine.
Without a third round pick, I'd love for the Jerry Richardson to select Schwartz here. There's no question he'd feel right at home in Carolina. His older brother Geoff was taken by the Panthers in the seventh round of the 2008 Draft, and had worked his way into a starting role in 2010 before missing all last year with a hip injury.
With all the questions facing the Panthers in regards to the health of Geoff, Otah and Williams, the Panthers might be looking to draft someone who can come in an be an immediate starter. Schwartz is that player, and might allow the Panthers to cut ties with the diminishing Travelle Wharton, which would clear $7.7 million in cap space.
Like I said, some might consider this pick a reach, and maybe it is. But he fills a key need for the Panthers and isn't that what the draft is supposed to do? Of course the whole landscape for their second pick changes depending on who they go after in the first, but assuming they look at Kirkpatrick this is the next step I would take.
Round 4: OLB Keenan Robinson
6'3" 235 lbs, 4.55 40-yard dash
Draft Projections: Round 3-4
Here's where it starts to get tricky. Keenan Robinson has been taken all over the board in mock drafts. The former Longhorn considers himself a first or second round pick, others have him dropping to the middle of the fourth and others still consider him to be an overrated prospect who might not go until the fifth round.
The Panthers don't have a third round pick (traded to Chicago for Greg Olsen) and this draft is loaded with some mid-round linebacker depth. Whether Keenan is there or not I would try and take the best available OLB with this selection, but I would feel like a little kid on Christmas if he does happen to slip to pick 104.
The Panthers need depth at linebacker, the 2011 season showed us that. There's no telling if Davis will ever be healthy, and his tale should prove a cautionary one before we expect Beason to fully return to form.
Robinson, like Kirkpatrick, is a physical freak and has the capability to play all over the field. Frankly, the Panthers need more speed on their defense and taking Robinson would certainly help them out in that regard. He plays better in coverage schemes than most other outside linebackers in this class, and does so with a tremendous amount of aggression.
He'll need to bulk up more if he wants to be an effective pass-rusher, but as stands he can be a solid player in a nickel-package. If given the opportunity to develop on the weak-side, where he can be more of a rover, he'll put a lick on more than a few weary receivers looking for an easy pass over the middle.
His work ethic has never been questioned, and the Texas product has endeared himself to fans wherever he's played. He'd fit in well behind Thomas Davis or James Anderson on the depth chart, and could even earn a few spot starts if they let Davis go.
Round 5: FS Eddie Whitley
6'1" 200 lbs, 4.42 40-yard dash
College: Virginia Tech
Draft Projections: Round 4-5
Before you go an call me biased hear me out on Whitley.
Virginia Tech has a history of churning out solid secondary players like DeAngelo Hall, Brandon Flowers and most recently Kam Chancellor. When the Seahawks took Chancellor in the fifth round of the 2010 draft, they had no idea the gem they'd stumbled upon. Chancellor has developed into one of the leagues top safeties, and while Whitley doesn't have quite the same physical set as Chancellor he does come from the same coaching tree and has several skills in his own right.
He's set to transition as a free safety, but he can really play all over the secondary and the Panthers could use the depth there after suffering through some injuries to Godfrey and Martin, along with some questionable play at the position. He's a strong tackler who has tremendous smarts and leadership on the field.
He could benefit from some added bulk, as he doesn't quite have the speed or range to be relied on in open space, but he plays very well around the line of scrimmage and at times against the run. Whitley will accumulate some interceptions due to his ability to read and anticipate routes, but he's no ball hawk. He'd be a solid pick in the fifth round and can help out in certain packages and on special teams. After a season or two in the NFL and some more muscle, we very well could see him develop into a starter. If there's even a chance Whitely can develop into a player similar to Chancellor, we have to take him.
Round 6: WR Marvin Jones
6'2" 198 lbs, 4.49 40-yard dash
Draft Projections: 5-7
Jones' draft stock is skyrocketing thanks to promising performances in the Senior Bowl and Senior Bowl workouts, so he might not still be around in the sixth. If he is though, the Panthers should gobble him up.
I think the Panthers might part ways with Armani Edwards and Legedu Naanee this offseason, so we might need a receiver or two to fill out the depth chart. Personally, I'd love to see more than just special teams duty of of Kealoha Pilares, and there's a chance he could get some looks in the slot this season. But the Panthers really need someone else who can stretch the field, and Jones can do just that.
He has exceptional burst out of the break, and gains separation off the line very well. With phenomenal hands, the Cal alum caught nearly everything thrown his way. His underwhelming line of 846 yards on 62 receptions and three scores is a bit misleading, considering stud sophomore Keenan Allen hogged much of quarterback Zach Maynard's attention.
IF Jones is already off the board, they might look at a Derek Moye out of Penn State, or ECU's Lance Lewis to address their receiver needs. But bear in mind, this is only if the team parts ways with Naanee and one or two other wide outs on their roster. If they decide to hold on to what they have the Panthers might look to add on another linebacker or DT here, but I'm trying to envision what the Panthers might do in free agency and read the draft that way.
Round 7: DT Akiem Hicks
6'5" 324 lbs, 84" wingspan
College: University of Regina
Draft Projections: 5-FA
I know waiting this long to address the defensive line might be confusing to some, but not to me. I think Ron Rivera wants to give it another go with Fua and McClain, and see how Ron Edwards responds coming off injury. Those three are decent enough, and could make Jerry Richardson a little more comfortable addressing other needs early in the draft.
So I'm okay with waiting until the later rounds to select a nose/defensive tackle, especially if Akiem Hicks is still on the board.
He very well might not be, as his recent play in Canada's East-West All Star game has his stock heading north and more teams are starting to take notice of the big fella. He's been projected to go as early as in the fifth round to the Washington Redskins to going undrafted. If the Panthers manage to land him in the seventh, they could end up with the steal of the draft.
Hicks was originally recruited by LSU, but recruiting controversy sent him packing up north to play in Canada for two seasons. Slipping into obscurity he has fallen out of the hearts and minds of NFL scouts, but is starting to play his way back in.
The big man dominated his senior season with the Rams, tallying six sacks, two fumbles and 42 tackles in just eight games.
He has tons of raw potential, and the size that the Panthers desperately need to clog up the holes in the defensive front. Edwards is the bigg at 6'3" 315, and might have slimmed down to come back from his triceps injury. The other two, Fua and McClain, are relatively small at 6'2" 308 and 6'2" 297 respectively. If the Panthers want to run more of a 3-4 like the rumors indicate, they'll need to bulk up the middle of that line and Hicks is a perfect fit for it.
While he's not necessarily NFL-ready yet, a year or two to develop behind a veteran like Edwards could turn him into a very good player for the Panthers. I wouldn't even be opposed to taking him in the sixth if they don't feel like he'll fall to them.