2012 NFL Draft: Possible Carolina Panthers First-Rounders Who Can Play on Day 1
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The Carolina Panthers have the No. 9 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft next week, but head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney have not agreed publicly on who they will take with the Panthers first selection just yet.
Rivera wants a player who can play from day one, and he has not yet said which position the Panthers will fill with their first pick. Rivera said, "We're not taking a guy early to have him develop. We're taking a guy early to put him on the field and have him help us right away. That's what the expectation is."
Hurney, on the other hand, has indicated that the Panthers are willing to talk to other NFL teams with picks in the middle of the first-round who may want to trade up to get a particular player with the ninth selection.
Said Hurney, “You want to make sure that if you’re sitting at No. 9, there is a player you’re comfortable with if you decide to use the pick.”
Or if you decide to trade down.
The jury is still out on who the Carolina Panthers will select with their first pick, and we may not know until Roger Goodell walks to the podium with the Panthers' selection card.
Here is a look at four defensive players the Panthers could select with their first pick on Thursday, April 26, complete with video highlights.
Luke Kuechly: LB, Boston College
Luke Kuechly (6'3" and 242 pounds) was described by Panthers' beat writer Joe Person as a faster, bigger and more athletic version of Dan Connor on Brett Jensen's morning talk show on Charlotte's WFNZ The Fan.
Kuechly, the 2011 Butkus Award winner as the nation's most outstanding college linebacker, is a tackling machine with the two highest tackling totals in ACC history.
Kuechly led the nation with 14.0 tackles per game last season, and he is ready to fit right into the Panthers' linebacker corps and on special teams.
If the Panthers select Kuechly with their first pick, they could be sending a message that they are not confident in Thomas Davis' ability to fully recover from his third ACL surgery.
Kuechly can also defend against the pass, and his addition to the Panthers would give Carolina one of the strongest linebacker units in the NFL.
Fletcher Cox: DT, Mississippi State
Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox is the top defensive tackle prospect in the 2012 NFL draft and the player who can make the most immediate impact on the Carolina Panthers defense.
Cox is also the safest pick the Carolina Panthers can take with the ninth overall selection.
The Panthers' greatest needs are at defensive tackle, defensive end and cornerback, and Cox helps fill two of those needs.
Cox can stop the run and plug up the middle at the 3-technique position, playing next to Ron Edwards in the Carolina Panthers' 4-3 defense. He is versatile enough to take reps away from Greg Hardy at defensive end.
I predicted the Carolina Panthers would select Fletcher Cox in my latest 2012 NFL draft review, and I am sticking to my guns as long as they keep the ninth pick instead of trading down.
Quinton Coples: DE, North Carolina
Quinton Coples is a physical specimen, the likes of which the Carolina Panthers have not had on their roster since they traded Julius Peppers to the Chicago Bears in 2010.
At 6'6" and 284 pounds, Coples has elite size and speed to play the defensive end position at a high level in the NFL.
He also played defensive tackle at the University of North Carolina, but is better suited as a pass rusher off the edge.
Coples is a top-10 talent in the 2012 NFL draft, though there is wide-spread concern about the effort he gives on every play, as reported recently by Joe Person in the Charlotte Observer. Coples said:
There’s definitely those times that even if I did hustle, it’s hard and I had no chance of making the play. It’s all about the opportunity. They wanted to see that. And I didn’t do that (last) year. That’s one of the main focuses that I’m going to continue to do going forward.
Coples may be gone when it is the Panthers' turn to pick, or he could slide to the middle of the first round if Caroilna passes on the opportunity to select him.
Potential Pick: Stephon Gilmore
Stephon Gilmore: CB, South Carolina
South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore has surpassed Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick as the No. 2 ranked cornerback in the 2012 NFL draft, thanks to an outstanding combine, elite speed and no known off-the-field issues.
Gilmore can come in immediately at the cornerback position opposite Chris Gamble, or at the nickle back position if second-year Panther Brandon Hogan—a 2011 fourth-round pick who spent most of last season injured—claims the starting position.
Gilmore also adds versatility to the Panthers as a potential punt returner. He would be a solid pick either at the No. 9 spot or in the mid-first round if Carolina trades down with their first pick.
Gilmore will be an impact player and a solid cornerback in the NFL for the next eight to 10 years. He would be a good, if not surprising selection with the ninth pick, and the former Gamecock would be an immediate fan favorite.
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