Carolina Panthers NFL Draft Updates: Latest News, Trade Rumors, Storylines

Clint EvansCorrespondent IApril 17, 2012

Carolina Panthers NFL Draft Updates: Latest News, Trade Rumors, Storylines

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    The Carolina Panthers' march to the playoffs and Super Bowl begins with the 2012 NFL draft.

    The NFL draft is the hallmark event of the entire offseason for the league's 32 organizations. That makes the Carolina Panthers NFL draft updates tracker your one-stop shop for all Panthers draft information.

    The Carolina Panthers will use the upcoming draft as a major turning point for their franchise. The rejuvenated Panthers will be gearing up to make several playoff runs over the following few seasons, including 2012. Every move and selection within this draft could ultimately serve as catalyst or catastrophe as to whether those runs end with Lombardi Trophies or disappointment.

    Here, you'll be able to follow the team's draft news, rumors and speculation, as well as track the latest trade rumors and speculation. For the Panthers to be effective in filling the roster cabinet with the right pieces, several key questions must be answered and several storylines must have resolution.

    Will the Panthers go with an offensive or defensive player with the draft's ninth overall selection? How will the Panthers' draft affect their ability to make a championship run as early as 2012?

    Prepare to examine all of the above and more within the following slides.

Lates Carolina Panthers Draft News, Rumors and Speculation

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    To gain a better idea of what the Carolina Panthers will do with their picks in the NFL draft, we will look something we will refer to as the team's "scouting patterns."

    Scouting patterns are where the team has spent its time with prospects in pro days, private workouts and interviews. Combined with some rumors and speculation by the experts who spend their time covering the sport, we should able to have educated guesses at the likelihood of a player being selected by the Panthers.

    4/23: The Panthers have revealed they will have a defensive focus in the upcoming draft.

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    Pro days team has attended

    March 28: Cat Scratch Reader and NFL Draft Pro note that the Panthers were in attendance to see Fresno State Bulldogs wide receiver Devon Wylie's pro day.

    March 21: The Sporting News reports the Panthers were present for Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright's pro day.

    March 11: Arkansas News reports the Panthers attending Arkansas Razorbacks wide receiver Joe Adams' pro day.

    March 9: ESPN reports that the Panthers (along with 31 other NFL organizations) were in attendance for Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon's pro day.

    March 8: Cat Scratch Reader reports the Panthers attending Clemson defensive tackle Brandon Thompson's pro day.

    March 8: Cat Scratch Reader notes that the Panthers were in attendance for Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick's pro day.

    March 6: The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports the Panthers attended Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill's pro day.

     

    Private workouts team has held

    April 10: Cat Scratch Reader notes the Panthers scheduling private workouts with the following NFL draft prospects: Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones, Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, Arkansas receiver Joe Adams, Baylor receiver Kendall Wright, Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, Midwestern State guard Amini Silatolu, Texas linebacker Keenan Robinson, LSU receiver Rueben Randle, Arkansas State safety Kelcie McCray, Memphis guard Ronald Leary, Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, Montana defensive back Trumaine Johnson, West Virginia linebacker Bruce Irvin, Boise State safety George Iloka, North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples, and LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.  

    April 3: Cat Scratch Reader reports the Panthers scheduled a private visit with Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon.

    April 2: Baltimore Ravens reporter Aaron Wilson tweets Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd visited the Carolina Panthers.

    March 8: Scout.com reports LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers visiting Carolina.

     

    Other rumored Carolina Panthers prospects of interest

     

    Analysis

    After some digestion of the surplus of data compiled above, it seems obvious the organization is looking at one area aside from the defense with its first-round selection in the upcoming NFL draft: the wide receiver position.

    GM Marty Hurney recently gave us a glimpse of the organization's philosophy with the first-round pick in an interview with Pro Football Talk (listen around the 9:40 mark). Hurney said if there are two or three players who are close in value, you make the selection based on need. Hurney stated that if there is a perceived gap in talent, then you take the best player on the board.

    The due diligence that the Panthers have done in spending a lot of time scouting receiver Justin Blackmon likely tells us they believe there is a realistic chance he falls to them at pick nine.

    My personal belief is that Blackmon is gone by the Panthers' selection, leading to many players who are close in value on the Panthers draft board's availability. At that point, look for the Panthers to select a position of greatest need with their pick, and their biggest need is shoring up the defensive line with a tackle like Poe, Worthy or Cox.

Latest Carolina Panthers Trade Rumors and Speculation

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    Any time an NFL franchise has a surplus of talent stockpiled at one position, the idea of a trade usually follows. When that surplus precedes the NFL draft, rumors of a trade get magnified.

    Len Pasquarelli of Yahoo! Sports said the Panthers would "definitely listen to offers on Jonathan Stewart" following the signing of former San Diego Chargers fullback Mike Tolbert.

    ESPN NFC South reporter Pat Yasinkas also added that "Tolbert was definitely brought in to be the number two option behind either DeAngelo Williams or Stewart."

    GM Hurney said in a recent interview with Pro Football Talk that Stewart will be a member of team in 2012. Hurney said the rumors of Stewart being moved began with the Panthers signing of Tolbert, but Hurney sees Tolbert as a "versatile fullback who can also play running back." Hurney also stated the Panthers feel Stewart is a valuable commodity to the team at halfback and they'll do whatever they can to extend his contract and keep him in Carolina.

    With Jonathan Stewart staying put, the question becomes what potential picks could the Panthers focus on acquiring? And whom could the Panthers move to acquire those picks?

    Panthers beat writer Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer said the "Panthers will explore opportunities to trade down and try to get back the third-round pick they traded to Chicago last summer for tight end Greg Olsen." Person also notes that the New York Jets have an interest in trading up to select South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram. This Ingram rumor was confirmed by Tony Pauline of Draft Insider.

    The elements are in place that could make this marriage between the Panthers and Jets work if the Panthers feel that they could select a receiver like Notre Dame's Michael Floyd with the Jets' 16th overall spot. This would allow for the Panthers to fill a position of need while picking up a third-round pick vacated by the Olsen trade a year ago. 

    While purely speculation, I would gauge this as a very real possibility on the draft's opening night.

    There's one more forgotten man in Carolina who could find a new home by way of trade on draft weekend.

    For over a year now, third-string quarterback Jimmy Clausen has had just one remaining supporter in Carolina: Hurney. After being selected in the second round of the 2011 draft, Clausen disappointed on the field and fell behind Derek Anderson last summer in the Carolina quarterback derby.

    It's possible Hurney's support in Clausen is simply to recoup some value for what Carolina gave up to originally acquire him. If Carolina could find a team that sees Clausen as a No. 2 quarterback option with some upside, it may look to recover a sixth- or seventh-round pick for the Notre Dame standout.

    I'll speculate that any pick acquired for Clausen could be used to either select a quarterback that better mimic Cam Newton's style or a project defensive back who can help out Chris Gamble and Captain Munnerlyn in passing-down packages.

Will the Panthers Select an Offensive or Defensive Player in the First Round?

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    The Carolina Panthers enter the 2012 NFL draft looking for two things: a primary offensive weapon for Cam Newton and a cornerstone who can anchor the defense for the better part of a decade.

    With that announcement there's good news and bad news.

    I'll deliver the good news to you first. It's a certainty that the Panthers are going to get an impact player ninth overall. The bad news is the Panthers have only one first-round pick and will need to carefully consider which side of the ball they add that impact player.

    The Panthers' first-round pick of 2012 will be one with heightened importance. After the franchise hit the jackpot in 2011 by finding a superstar quarterback with its first-round pick, it will be equally as important to surround that young player with as much talent as possible. The Panthers really need to get this pick right.

    My belief is that the Panthers will select a defensive lineman with their first pick. However, there are a couple scenarios with an outside chance of occurring that could cause the Panthers to deviate from my prediction.

     

    Scenario No. 1: Justin Blackmon falls several spots and is available when the Panthers select.

    If the Oklahoma State receiver somehow makes it past the first eight picks in the draft, I believe the Panthers will select Blackmon instead of a defensive player. Interest in Blackmon has been obvious by the Panthers with the team attending his pro day, inviting him for a private workout and conducting a combine interview. Being the top receiver in the draft, the Panthers would not allow this player to slip past them and would be happy with the tandem Blackmon with Newton in Charlotte for the next decade.

     

    Scenario No. 2: The Panthers feel they can select a receiver like Michael Floyd or Kendall Wright later in the first round and trade down to acquire more picks.

    This scenario would allow the Panthers to add an elite receiving weapon who could serve as the No. 1 target for Newton when Steve Smith is ready to retire or sooner while also adding a late-round pick. Purely speculation, but with a quick glance at the NFL draft value chart it would be acceptable for the Panthers to ask for a third-round pick to allow a team in the teens to trade into their ninth overall slot.  

    In the end, I see the Panthers staying in the nine spot and choosing a defensive player, likely one of three defensive tackles sprinkled throughout this piece: Dontari Poe, Fletcher Cox,or Michael Brockers. The desire for the Panthers to add a target for Cam Newton is obvious, but they will look to fill this need later in the draft and with receivers already on the roster.

    If you're a Panthers fan who wants the team to add an offensive weapon, don't discount the importance a great defense has on developing a young quarterback. More stops equal more scoring opportunities, more time of possession and fewer points your offense needs to score. Newton will not be unhappy if the Panthers hit a home run with a dominating defensive player with their first-round selection.

How Will Panthers' Draft Impact Their Ability to Compete for a 2012 Championship?

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    We've covered the most important Carolina Panthers storyline in the 2012 NFL draft, but that's hardly the only question the Panthers will need to answer in the three-day draft period. The next few slides will deal with several minor storylines with importance to the franchise.

     

    How will the Panthers' draft impact their ability to compete for a 2012 championship?

    I believe the Carolina Panthers can compete to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in 2012.

    The New Orleans Saints are very vulnerable right now. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are rebuilding with new head coach Greg Schiano at the helm. The Atlanta Falcons can't seem to solve the riddle to winning a game in the NFL playoffs. These factors say the door to the NFC South is ready to be kicked down by Carolina. Pat Kirwan agreed with me recently on NFL.com by calling the Panthers a "darkhorse candidate." 

    No one can deny the Panthers are a young team loaded with potential, but the 'P-word' often only serves to create high expectations and the high annual turnover rate of NFL head coaches. If the Panthers are going to become a heavyweight in this league, they need to become a more complete team by building depth with their picks.

    The Panthers want to build a team that can take the fight to any team on any Sunday no matter what brand of football their opponent wants to play. High-scoring shootout? Good, we'll throw for 400 on you. Defensive struggle where physicality and a running game are necessary? No problem, we'll pound on you for four quarters.

    It comes down to roster personnel to be able to do these things. More often than not in 2011, the Panthers lacked the personnel to be able to dictate the pace of the fight. On a championship-caliber team there's no such thing as a "wasted pick"—just ask Bill Walsh.

    The Panthers don't need to draft a superstar in every round to make their Super Bowl dream a reality. They need to concentrate on finding players who can play at the next level and contribute within their role, whether it be a key special-teams player, a nickelback or a situational pass-rusher. Consistently successful franchises watch their late-round picks flourish on the field while floundering franchises cut their late selections in training camp.

    The New York Giants won titles in 2007 and 2011 because they found several late-round players who were able to contribute to those runs. These same late round 2012 selections will impact their immediate and future fate in the same fashion.

Will the Panthers Find a Long-Term Replacement for Steve Smith in the Draft?

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    Last season, Steve Smith compiled 79 catches for 1394 yards and seven touchdowns in making the Pro Bowl. Smith was a major reason Cam Newton was selected as the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year, and he earned a three-year contract extension for his troubles. Smith will be 33 when the season begins, and the Panthers should start their search for a replacement for the greatest receiver in their franchise history in this year's draft.

    With the Panthers likely to select a defensive player in the first round, a replacement for Smith will need to be found in the later rounds. Smith is living proof that this can happen, as he was selected out of Utah with the 74th overall pick in the third round in 2001.

    The Panthers will be fortunate in their hunt because this draft is particularly deep at the receiver position. Walter Football projects 16 wide receiver prospects considered to be at least fourth-round talent or better.

    The man whom I believe could serve as Smith's understudy and eventual replacement is someone I have written about extensively before, Oklahoma standout Ryan Broyles.

    From my earlier report on Broyles:

    I see Broyles as a lethal weapon in the slot in the NFL with the potential to become a No. 1 receiver. Broyles also has a lot of ability as a return man, which could allow him to contribute on special teams if needed.

    In 2009, Broyles hauled in 76 passes for 964 yards and 12 touchdowns. He followed that up with 131 catches for 1622 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2010. With 349 career NCAA FBS receptions, Broyles is the record-holder in that department.

    If Broyles had entered in the NFL draft a year earlier, he would have been a likely first-round pick. The reason will fall several rounds in this year's draft is due to a torn ACL that he suffered against Texas A&M this past November.

    Broyles is listed at 5'10" and 192 pounds. If you own a No. 89 jersey it should sound familiar.

    Steve Smith's incumbent will be available in the later rounds of this draft, and his name is Ryan Broyles.

Which Quarterback Draft Project Should the Panthers Develop Behind Cam Newton?

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    It would be nice to think that Cam Newton will go through his entire NFL career without missing a single snap. The reality of life in the NFL is that quarterbacks are likely to miss time, and if a team loses its starting quarterback without a viable option who can run the offense while filling in for the starter, a team is dead on arrival (see: 2011 Chicago Bears).

    The Panthers know they need to find a project quarterback that fits the mold of their offense better than the statues currently on the roster, Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen. The Panthers need a mobile quarterback with decent arm strength who can execute the option runs and vertical throws that offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski's offense so often calls for.

    What quarterback with these talents would be available late in the draft? University of Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, that's who.

    NFLDraftScout.com has him the seventh-highest QB prospect in the draft. Walter Football has him pegged ninth overall at the position. I believe Wilson will slide down many teams' draft boards due to his lack of size—he's listed at just 5'11" and 205 pounds.

    Wilson was the Big Ten QB of the Year in 2011. Don't expect a superstar's ceiling with Wilson, but a serviceable backup who can compare with Newton's athleticism. With Anderson on the roster in 2012, the Panthers would have the luxury of bringing Wilson along slowly. Carefully grooming this young player for the backup role in 2013 and beyond would be a wise decision. Wilson would also allow the Panthers to trade Clausen for a late-round pick without any reservations, assuming any exist.

    Kellen Moore, Jordan Jefferson and Jacory Harris are other notable players whom the Panthers could consider to fill this role. In my opinion, none of them would fit quite as well in blue and black as the former Wisconsin Badger who set an NCAA record with a touchdown pass in 38 straight contests.