Carolina Panthers: Looking at First Round NFL Draft Projections from the Experts
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
At least that seems to be the consensus among NFL Draft experts leading up to this month's draft.
Where the experts differ is on who the Panthers should select with their top pick.
LSU's Michael Brockers, Memphis' Dontari Poe and Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox are each represented in NFL Draft experts' latest mock drafts.
The final call, however, lies with Panthers' GM Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera.
Here's hoping they can find a player they can agree on.
ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr.
Mel Kiper on the set of the NFL Draft with Chris Mortensen and Keyshawn Johnson
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
With the ninth overall selection in the Mel Kiper 2012 NFL Mock Draft, ESPN's preeminent NFL Draft guru has the Carolina Panthers selecting Dontari Poe, the defensive tackle out of Memphis.
In Kiper's Mock Draft 4.0 (available on ESPN's insider page), Kiper mentions Poe's versatility—he can play nose tackle in a 3-4 set and the 3-technique in the Panthers' base 4-3 front—and his "freakish athleticism."
I agree with Kiper that the Panthers' first priority in this draft has to be on defense, and as I've written repeatedly, shoring up the middle is the first step for a defense that could not stop the run in 2011 with rookies Simone Fua, Terrell McClain and Frank Kearse rotating at defensive tackle with second-year player Andre Neblett.
Scouts Inc.'s Todd McShay
Todd McShay. Photo via ESPN MediaZone
Todd McShay of ESPN and Scouts Inc. also projects defensive tackle Dontari Poe to be the Panthers' first round selection with the No. 9 overall pick.
McShay points to Poe's outstanding performance at the NFL Combine, along with his size (6-foot-3½, 346 pounds) and speed as the deciding factors.
The Panthers need to shore up their interior defensive line in 2012, and with veteran tackle Ron Edwards returning to the field this season, McShay is a fan of Dontari's Poe-tential to disrupt things in the middle and provide Carolina with a dominating presence up front.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller
The Bleacher Report's very own Senior NFL Draft Lead Writer, Matt Miller, has the Carolina Panthers selecting LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers with their first round pick.
Miller believes that Brockers is "an absolute beast" who will thrive in the Panthers' 4-3 defense under defensive-minded head coach Ron Rivera.
Miller, who has six defensive tackles from Brockers to Penn State's Devon Still rated as first rounders, notes in his 2012 NFL Draft Big Board that this year's crop of DTs lacks the proven productivity of recent elite players such as Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, though it is high on potential and there is a lot of value to be had beyond the first round.
Photo via DraftTek.com
Defensive tackle is the Panthers' greatest need in this draft, and Fletcher Cox may be the most polished of the Big Three defensive tackles on this year's draft board.
DraftTek likes Cox's pass rush ability from the interior line and has the former Bulldog lining up next to Charles Johnson on the right side of the line where he will face fewer guard-tackle combo blocks with opposing offensive tackles focused on blunting Johnson's pass rush.
Bleacher Report's Jimmy Grappone: A Fan's Perspective
Bleacher Report's Jimmy Grappone taking in a Spring Training game between the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees in Tampa, Fla.
As a die-hard football fan and a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist covering the Carolina Panthers, I do not necessarily consider myself an NFL Draft expert on the level of Kiper, McShay or Miller.
However, I have read, watched and written enough to be a very interested and opinionated participant in the 2012 NFL Draft debate, at the least.
After having written and reviewed a handful of 2012 NFL Mock Drafts and analyzing potential draft selections for the Carolina Panthers this offseason, and I am firm in my belief that the Panthers need to select a defensive tackle with their first pick.
One thing I have learned from my readers, though, is that there is no consensus among fans or experts on who will or should be the Panthers' first-round draft choice with the No. 9 selection on April 26.
In my initial mock draft, I projected LSU's defensive tackle, Michael Brockers, to be selected with the Panthers' first pick.
However, I later suggested that Carolina trade up in the draft by shipping contract-year running back Jonathan Stewart and the No. 9 overall pick to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for the fourth overall pick and a third-round pick so the Panthers could select another Bayou Bengal, cornerback Morris Claiborne.
That trade does not look likely though, so I am sticking with my initial call that defensive tackle is the Panthers' greatest need in the 2012 NFL Draft. I am however changing my choice for the Panthers' first pick at the nine-slot to Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox.
In the film and highlight reels I have seen, Cox appears to be the most physically dominant player in the group and he is the only player who does not get pushed around and washed out of plays.
Cox will make the most immediate impact on Carolina's defensive line and if the Panthers make him their number one pick, I will be the first in line at Bank of America Stadium's team store to buy his jersey.
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