Carolina Panthers Can't Pass Up These 10 Offensive Threats in 2012 NFL Draft
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton silenced all his critics with a tremendous rookie season but if he wants to build upon that success he's going to need an offensive threat from the 2012 NFL draft.
Defensive-minded head coach Ron Rivera will likely push for defensive playmakers and while the Panthers do need to address their defense, the offense does have some holes to fill. News of left guard Travelle Wharton's release has fans thinking Carolina should consider drafting an offensive lineman, especially considering the past two seasons' nagging injuries to right tackle Jeff Otah.
Selecting a polished offensive lineman with the No.9 pick would be a wise decision but with so much depth at that position in the draft, the Panthers could wait until the later rounds to make their move.
When I say Carolina needs to pick up an offensive threat in this year's draft I'm talking about the type of player who can be a weapon for Newton. The one-two-punch of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in the backfield is one of the best in the NFL so I'm assuming running back won't be atop the Panthers' list, but wide receiver and tight end should be.
Playing with an elite receiver like Steve Smith really helped Newton feel comfortable in the Panthers offense and tight ends Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey were a nice security blanket for the young quarterback. All that said, Smith and Shockey have each been playing for more than 10 years and while they can still be productive next season, there's no telling how many years they have left after 2012. Adding a receiver or tight end would help the Panthers next season as well as in the future.
But which offensive threats should Carolina keep on their radar? Here's 10 players the Panthers can't pass up whether its the first or last round.
10. Nick Toon
Wisconsin's Nick Toon doesn't have great speed but the 6-foot-2 215 pound receiver has good size and blocking skills.
Toon probably won't develop into a No.1 receiver in the NFL but he can get the job done as a secondary option. As a possible second round pick, Toon provides the Panthers with value and still gives them the secondary receiver they've been looking for. The Wisconsin senior had the best season of his career in 2011 with 64 receptions and 10 touchdowns and he's bound to carry that momentum to an NFL team.
Toon's 4.54 40-yard dash time doesn't blow scouts away but it's adequate, and its his size that teams are interested in anyway.
9. Michael Egnew
Converted Missouri receiver Michael Egnew hasn't fully developed into the tight end position but he has the athleticism to flourish in the NFL.
Egnew's 4.62 40-yard dash time and 36 inch vertical leap were among the best for tight ends and better than some of his first round caliber competitors. Egnew struggles with blocking only because he lacks experience and hasn't filled out into a tight end's body but he'll be able to develop one at the next level. The 6-foot-5 252 pound senior is a mismatch for linebackers and safeties but until he develops more into his new role he's a possible late second round or third round pick.
If Stanford's Colby Fleener or Clemson's Dwayne Allen aren't available in the second round then Egnew could be a fit for the Panthers at No.40. It may be a reach but his ceiling is high as he continues to learn the position.
8. Ryan Broyles
A torn ACL last season may signal caution toward NFL teams interested in Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles but if his injury does heal successfully, he could be a steal on draft day.
Before his injury, scouts believed Broyles could be a second round pick at the very least and his big touchdown numbers at Oklahoma's prestigious program show he's ready to make the move to an NFL offense. At 5-foot-10 192 pounds, Broyles can play opposite Smith in Carolina's offense or he could fit in as a slot receiver like scouts suggest.
Having a legitimate slot receiver would give Newton another security blanket in addition to his tight ends. Obviously the Panthers will want to wait to see if Broyles works out for teams and how well his injury heals before making a decision on him but I think he projects solidly as a second round pick.
7. Stephen Hill
Scouts are calling Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill a possible sleeper pick given his raw talent for a receiver with 6-foot-4 size.
Hill's 4.36 40-yard dash was tied with two other prospects for the fastest time at the combine and his long lanky frame is just another characteristic scouts are looking at when analyzing him. That combination of speed and height could be developed at the next level and Hill could be a huge pain for smaller defensive backs. Right now, Hill is a possible fourth round pick but his stock is rising and he could go higher if teams believe he can be a future star.
If Hill is available in the fourth round then I don't see why the Panthers would pass him up. He may be a work in progress but he represents an extremely high payoff for a fourth round pick.
6. Chris Givens
Wake Forest receiver Chris Givens isn't topping a lot of experts' mock drafts but after his combine performance there's a possibility he could sneak into the first round.
The 5-foot-11 Givens' 4.41 40-yard dash time and excellent footwork off the ball make him a prototypical deep threat receiver. He might remind teams of Philadelphia Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson with his blazing speed and middle of the road size. The skills are there already even though he's just a junior and it's possible he could play right away on an NFL team.
I don't think the Panthers should use their No.9 pick for Givens but if he's available at No.40 then he's a no-brainer.
5. Alshon Jeffery
Homegrown South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery may not have the blazing speed that scouts look for but his ball skills make him a cant-miss target for any quarterback.
While Jeffery opted not to run the 40-yard dash at the combine, his speed won't necessarily hold him back from being a productive player at the next level. The 6-foot-3 216 pound Jeffery commands a lot of space with his big body and above average strength, which makes him a challenge to bring down in the open field. Just like Notre Dames' Floyd, the addition of a bigger receiver to complement Smith in the Panthers offense would help Newton a lot. Jeffery may not possess the same type of speed that Floyd has but he may develop into a better possession receiver with coaching.
Alshon Jeffery has first round qualities but until he records a 40-yard dash time his projected draft slot is anywhere from late first round to mid second round. Using a first round pick on Jeffery isn't necessary for the Panthers unless they feel like big play receivers won't be available in the second round, and getting him in the second round would be nice but teams could go for him before then. If Jeffery has a good workout on his pro day and shows he's a lot faster than scouts think then I say the Panthers use that first round pick after all.
4. Kendall Wright
Robert Griffin's primary receiver at Baylor was without question Kendall Wright, and his deep threat capabilities make him a solid No.2 receiver in Carolina.
Wright's 4.61 40-yard dash time was a bit of a letdown considering how fast he looked on the field last season but it shouldn't stop him from going in the first round of the draft. While he may be undersized at 5-foot-10 196 pounds, Wright's quickness off the line is something teams look for in a first-round receiver. Blocking definitely won't be a strong point of Wright's game but his value in the passing game is what the Panthers should be paying more attention to.
Having two small receivers doesn't allow Newton very much leniency with his accuracy but their speed gives him multiple deep threats.
3. Dwayne Allen
Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen is a rare talent according to scouts combining size, speed and athleticism all into his 6-foot-3 255 pound frame.
Allen isn't your traditional tight end with good hands and even stronger blocking skills but that doesn't mean he can't play the position. In fact, Allen fits in more along the lines of the NFL's more modern tight ends like New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham and New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski. The evolution of the tight end position has led to players with exceptional receiving skills becoming go-to targets in the passing game. At 6-foot-3 255 pounds, Allen has the size to play the position but his athleticism is what really raises his stock in the draft and makes him a suitable addition to the Panthers offense.
Allen had 50 receptions and eight touchdowns for Clemson in 2011 and earned himself the John Mackey award as a junior. There's some skepticism about his blocking on the line but that can be refined by coaches at the next level.
As far as his draft position is concerned, Allen could be a late first-rounder but if he does drop to the second round the Panthers could get him for a real bargain with the No.40 pick.
2. Coby Fleener
Some scouts question whether Stanford tight end Coby Fleener can be effective without Andrew Luck throwing him the ball but the senior has great size and fits the mold of a prototypical NFL tight end.
Playing in Stanford's pass happy offense, Fleener had plenty of opportunities to showcase his athleticism with Luck at the helm and his 6-foot-6 247 pound frame gives him the advantage over most defenders in coverage. Given his size, Fleener is a big target and typically wins jump balls, making him a red zone threat. The senior is probably the most NFL-ready tight end available and that's a plus for a Panthers team looking to eventually replace Shockey.
Fleener isn't listed on the first round of most mock drafts which could mean he falls to the second. Like Clemson's Allen, Fleener could be a bargain at the No.40 pick.
1. Michael Floyd
Notre Dame product Michael Floyd surprised scouts with a 4.47 40-yard dash time and excellent drilling at the combine but questions remain about his readiness to be a professional.
A drunk driving citation in March of 2011 earned Floyd a five-month suspension from the Notre Dame football team and his attitude has been a big concern for scouts and general managers hoping to add him to their roster. Floyd is the second best receiver in the draft next to Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon and he's projected to go midway in the first round. The 6-foot-3 220 pound Floyd would make for a nice complement to the small speedy Smith.
Nabbing Floyd at the No.9 pick would be a bit of a reach but if he can stay out of trouble he could develop into quite the target for Newton.