The Biggest Questions for the Panthers Heading into 2013 Draft
The NFL draft is less than a month away, and like their fans, the Carolina Panthers still have more questions regarding their draft strategy than answers. These questions include but are not limited to which needs take a bigger priority and exploring possible trade options.
There is no one under more pressure to put together a more complete draft than new general manager Dave Gettleman. It has been stated before that his first draft could define his legacy in Carolina. Of course, that same pressure could be applied to Ron Rivera as he needs to make the most of the incoming talent and lead the Panthers to the playoffs.
However, before OTAs and training camp can take place, there is still the matter of the draft and the burning questions the event presents in the Panthers' war room and the major decisions that need to be made in order to have a great draft weekend.
What's the Biggest Need in Round 1?
Carolina will be in a unique position on day one of the draft. The Panthers hold the 14th overall selection, and there are plenty of glaring needs on their roster that could be immediately improved with their first pick.
The problem they are met with is which position needs to be addressed right off the bat.
The Panthers have needs at defensive tackle, wide receiver, the secondary and offensive line. What seemed like a no-brainer decision following the conclusion of the 2012 season has morphed into an all-out debate amongst fans, writers and analysts on who Carolina will pick in Round 1.
Of the positions mentioned above, defensive tackle and wide receiver appear to be the favorites as either one would benefit the team in the long run. There is no question the Panthers could use some help on the interior of their defensive line, and there is no doubt a replacement for Steve Smith needs to be found sooner rather than later.
One benefit of sitting at No. 14 on the draft board, Carolina will have many options in terms of players available and could be a favorable trade partner for teams looking to trade up, or in the case of the Panthers, find someone they can trade down with in order to gain additional picks.
Speaking of which...
What Is the Possibility of Trading Down?
Trading down is an option that many feel could be in the best interest of the Panthers. They lack a third-round selection, and by trading down they can possibly get into said round while still addressing their biggest needs.
Such a move would allow Carolina to be very creative, and it could ideally set up its first three picks to shore up the most pressing needs. If this were to happen, it is possible the Panthers could draft a wide receiver first and with the depth at defensive tackle, use their second pick to fill that hole.
Additionally, picking up a third-round pick would allow them to grab a quality player for the offensive line or secondary instead of waiting around until the fourth, where the selection pool begins to thin out.
If Carolina is able to get into Round 3, it may be in a position to pick up a player who has fallen down the draft board and could be a valuable asset to the team.
This would seem to be the ideal situation for the Panthers to get another pick, and it removes any chance of sacrificing early picks from next year's draft to get put themselves in that position. Or would it?
How Much Risk Will They Be Willing to Take in Order to Move Up?
This is a play on the previous slide, but it represents a lot of merit. Gettleman cannot afford to gamble away future picks in order to move up into the third round or possibly the first two rounds to land that key player that may or may not help the team's long-term future success.
For starters, the Panthers are not really in a position to trade away 2014's picks, and it would be nice to see them be present in all seven rounds without making any deals to get there. If history has taught the organization anything, it is never to put a lot of stock in players as they may not pan out to their full potential.
Such mistakes have included Jeff Otah (first round, 19th overall, 2008 draft) and Armanti Edwards (third round, 89th overall, 2010 draft). However, Otah did play well in the beginning but lacked discipline to stay healthy and in shape.
On the flip side, there have been some great moves in trading back into a round as the Panthers were able to acquire Ryan Kalil in the second round of the 2007draft. This was after Carolina had taken Dwayne Jarrett in the same round at 45th overall (Kalil was the 59th overall selection).
The moral of the story is simple: If a big risk is to be taken to jump back into a particular round, the Panthers need to ensure their pick is a home run.
Do They Take a Chance on a Player Sliding Down the Draft Board?
Carolina is all too familiar with this aspect of the draft. A similar situation took place in the 2010 NFL draft when the Panthers lacked a first-round selection. They had parted ways with veteran quarterback and fan favorite Jake Delhomme a few weeks earlier and were in need of a quarterback.
Then, something amazing happened.
A young man from Notre Dame by the name of Jimmy Clausen was slipping in the first round. What was more amazing was that he was pegged as a first-round choice, and as the opening round inched closer to the second, there was excitement about the possibility of being able to snatch him up.
Finally, Carolina was on the clock, and Clausen was still available. In the minds of the front office brass, this was an easy decision. With the 48th overall pick, the Panthers drafted Clausen as their future franchise quarterback.
Or so it seemed.
Clausen never developed the way many had hoped he would, and he found himself among a revolving door of quarterbacks for that season. A player with so much upside never lived up to expectations and found himself as the third-string quarterback the following season. He's been there ever since.
How does Carolina avoid making the same mistake again?
Sometimes when a player slips it is warranted. Teams see something that scares them off, whether it occurs at the combine, the player's pro day or in individual interviews. Sometimes such concerns result in missing out on a surefire Hall of Fame player.
Dan Marino is an example of such a player who slid down the board and was eventually taken by the Miami Dolphins. The move was probably one of the best in team history.
Honestly, there is no way of telling which players will step up and rise to the occasion and which ones will fold under pressure. If Carolina finds itself in a position where it can draft a player who should have been taken several picks earlier, it may want to stand back and evaluate the situation.
How Will This Draft Define Dave Gettleman's Legacy?
As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. While Carolina general manager Gettleman has made some small moves in free agency, he hasn't been able to sign any marquee names due to lack of cap room.
But that is through no fault of his own.
With that being said, Gettleman will be tested later this month, and his draft strategy and selections will determine the kind of GM the Panthers hired to rebuild the team and return it to the playoffs.
His job won't be easy. He needs to find the kind of players who can help Carolina win in 2013 and ensure no one loses their job next year.
Adding to the pressure is Gettleman's turn in a history of good general managers. The Carolina Panthers were constructed by Bill Polian, who built them into a winner before departing for Indianapolis. A few years later, Marty Hurney would replace George Seifert as the team's general manager.
While Hurney made some questionable moves in contract signings and with draft selections, there is no denying he was awesome in the first round.
Going back to the 2002 draft, all but two of Hurney's first-round selections are still on the current roster and all are starters. The lone exceptions are Julius Peppers, who left in free agency in 2010, and Chris Gamble, who was released a few weeks ago and later retired.
Gettleman will be tasked with building this team into a contender and to make the moves necessary to get them into the playoffs in his first season. While there are some key pieces already in place, he will have to make the most without the money or cap space to bring in top free agents.
If he drafts well, there will be a feeling of optimism moving forward. If the 2013 Carolina draft class is a bust, his tenure in Charlotte may be shorter than Seifert's.