2012 NFL Mock Draft: Evaluating DraftTek's Mock Draft for Carolina Panthers
Both teams finished tied with similar 6-10 regular season finishes in 2011, though the Fins won the rights to the eighth overall pick.
Countless pundits, experts, analysts and guys like me around the internet are scrambling to put their pre-draft boards in order, only to have their predictions marred on draft day.
So, why not let a computer make the picks, like Draft Tek has done on its website?
Here's a look at Draft Tek's computer-generated 2012 NFL mock draft for the Carolina Panthers with a bit of analysis for good measure.
Round 1 / No. 9: Fletcher Cox, Defensive Tackle, Mississippi State
Fletcher Cox (94) raised his draft status with an impressive showing at the NFL combine.
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With the ninth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Mock Draft, the Draft Tek Carolina Panthers select...Fletcher Cox out of Mississippi State?
The Carolina Panthers finished 25th against the run in 2011 and there is no question they need help on the defensive line.
Early season-ending injuries to linebackers Thomas Davis and Jon Beason hurt tremendously, but so did the lack of experience in the middle of the defensive line where they started rookies Terrell McClain and Simone Fua until injuries derailed their seasons in Week 12.
DraftTek.com has Cox rated ahead Brockers and Memphis' Dontari Poe—a stud at the NFL's Pre-Draft Combine—at the DT position, though Brockers was a more productive college lineman on a stouter defense and Poe is a raw combine talent whose career could either be a boon or a bust.
At 6'4", 298 pounds, Cox has the size and athleticism to play on the inside of coach Ron Rivera's 4-3 defense, though I prefer the known commodity of LSU's Michael Brockers at the DT position.
The Panthers also need help at the cornerback position and if Rivera feels his team is solid on the defensive line with the late season play of Andre Neblett and Frank Kearse, they could take a shot at Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick with their first overall selection.
Round 2 / No. 40: Juron Criner, Wide Receiver, Arizona
Some say Juron Criner has the best hands of any receiver in the draft.
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As an East Coaster who does not stay up late to watch Pac-12 football games not involving the Oregon Ducks or Southern Cal, I must admit I did not know much about the Arizona Wildcats' Juron Criner heading into the combine.
Criner is not a burner in the mold of Steve Smith or David Gettis, but he could be the big, physical receiver who can go up in the air and come down with the ball and become a reliable possession receiver if South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery is already off the board.
Interestingly enough, Draft Tek has Jeffery remaining on the board until the 67th overall pick.
If a big receiver with soft hands is what the Panthers are after, I think they will be alright with Alshon.
However, Marty Hurney and Ron Rivera will also have their eyes on cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina and Virginia's Chase Minnifield if they do not draft that position in the first round.
Round 4 / No. 103: Lucas Nix, Offensive Guard, Pittsburgh
Lucas Nix (52) celebrates a Pitt Panthers rushing touchdown.
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Ryan Kalil, Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah help form one of the top offensive lines in the entire NFL when they are all healthy.
However, the Carolina Panthers have had their share of trouble with key injuries on the offensive line the past two years.
At 6'6", 310 pounds, Pitt's Luke Nix is a tough and physical guard who can protect Cam Newton from the inside rush and clear holes in the middle of the line for Panthers running backs, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.
Nix also has the footwork and athleticism to get out on the edge to block as a pulling guard when either running back, or Cam Newton, bounces a play to the outside.
Though the Panthers just re-signed Geoff Hangartner and cut Travelle Wharton to make room for Otah's return this season, they need more depth on the offensive line.
Nix, or a similar player, would actually have a chance to start for the Panthers as a rookie and allow undrafted second-year lineman Byron Bell to serve as a dependable backup at several offensive line positions that will likely need backing up as the season goes on.
Round 5 / No. 136: Ronnie Hillman, Running Back, San Diego State
Ronnie Hillman was a third-team All-America at San Diego State in 2011.
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Ron Rivera must miss the warm weather and ocean breeze in San Diego because has a knack for bringing former Chargers players across the country to suit up for the Panthers.
With their fourth pick in the 2012 NFL Mock Draft, Draft Tek has the Panthers selecting another player with San Diego roots: Ronnie Hillman, a third-team All-American running back out of San Diego State.
However, the Panthers' stable of running backs is already getting very deep with the recent addition of former Chargers running Mike Tolbert, who could end up being used for trade bait or as a pass-catching fullback by the Panthers.
The last great running back to come out of San Diego State was Marshall Faulk and his Hall of Fame career turned out pretty well.
Hillman is no Marshall Faulk, but he is a fast and powerful runner who could also see the field as Armanti Edwards' replacement as punt returner.
Also, it never hurts to have a stable of good, healthy running backs these days.
Round 6 / No. 167: Coty Sensabaugh, Cornerback, Clemson
Coty Sensabaugh is a gritty competitor with 4.42 speed and a 37" vertical at the cornerback position.
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Coty Sensabaugh is a fighter, and the Carolina Panthers need to deliver a knockout blow at the cornerback position in this year's draft.
The Clemson corner had to earn his keep on the Tigers' squad after being lightly recruited out of high school and emerging as the team's top cover cornerback in 2011.
The Carolina Panthers desperately need a solid cover corner to play opposite Chris Gamble in 2012 and Panthers' GM Marty Hurney does not appear to be taking the free agency route as he continues to look to build his team through the draft.
Carolina could, and perhaps should, address the cornerback position earlier in the draft to find a player like South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore or Virginia's Chase Minnifield in the second or third rounds who can start immediately and push Captain Munnerlyn back into the nickel back position.
However, Sensabaugh is a sensible pick if he is still available in the fifth round and the Panthers are still looking to fill their coverage needs in the secondary.
Round 7 / No. 200: T.J. Graham, Wide Receiver, North Carolina State
T.J. Graham catches a pass against Louisville in the Belk Bowl played on the Carolina Panthers' home field.
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WIth their final pick of the 2012 NFL Mock Draft, Draft Tek's Carolina Panthers select—drumroll, please—N.C. State wideout T.J. Graham.
Graham is a speedster who competed on the Wolfpack's track team and would likely have a difficult time cracking the Panthers' roster as a wide receiver as he only had one truly productive collegiate season.
Steve Smith is coming off a Pro Bowl season, David Gettis is returning from an injury that kept him out of the 2012 season, Brandon LaFell finished the 2011 season with several productive games, and the Panthers will likely pick another receiver much earlier in the draft.
However, Graham returned four kicks for touchdowns in his N.C. State career—kickoffs in 2008 and 2009 and punts in 2010 and 2011—and, if selected, he will certainly have an opportunity to make the roster on special teams.