Just when everyone thought they had the Carolina Panthers' draft strategy figured out, general manager Dave Gettleman reportedly throws us a draft day curveball. Earlier reports today have suggested the Panthers are interested in Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert.
Per Joe Person and Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer; the Panthers' interest in the talented tight end is "very strong." The duo basically sum up Carolina's interest in Eifert based on the success of the 2011 season.
The thinking is Carolina could pair Eifert with Greg Olsen in the two-tight end sets that were so effective for the Panthers in 2011 with Olsen and Jeremy Shockey.
Wait, a tight end? Really?
With all the needs on defense, especially at defensive tackle and at safety, why in the name of Sam Mills would the Panthers consider a tight end?
Before the Carolina fans begin gathering up pitchforks and storm the Panthers' draft day war room, let's take a minute to consider the reason for their interest. While the bewilderment of drafting a player who was so far off of everyone's radar seems like an epic blunder on the part of Carolina's new general manager, there could be some method to his madness.
The Panthers are well-stocked at wide receiver, and the idea here could be to make the passing game as varied as possible. While Greg Olsen held his own as the featured tight end in the offense last season, he also had success when paired with the veteran Jeremy Shockey.
Olsen had a great season in 2012, as he set career marks in receptions and receiving yards. His first season in Carolina wasn't disappointing either, as he caught 45 passes for 540 yards. He has a combined 10 touchdowns in two seasons with the Panthers.
Consider Shockey's lone year with the Panthers and how instrumental in the offense he was as he caught 37 passes for 455 yards and four touchdowns. Together, Shockey and Olsen tallied 82 receptions for 995 yards and nine scores.
Their efforts allowed Cam Newton to spread the ball around as Steve Smith recorded 79 catches for 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns. Brandon LaFell and Legedu Naanee had 613 and 467 receiving yards respectively, combining for four touchdowns.
Aside from Eifert being the best player available, Gettleman's line of thinking could be to make the most out of what could be an improved receiving corps with the addition of Ted Ginn, Jr. and Domenik Hixon.
It's no wonder why Gettleman would like to have a tight end of Eifert's caliber in a Panthers uniform. He is 6'6", 250-pounder that can be a pass catcher and a blocker when called upon. His physicality would be a welcomed addition to an offense that will be going up against some of the league's best in 2013.
However, Eifert has appeared on the radar of other teams as well. Various mock drafts have the Notre Dame product going to teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys. With that in mind, it could be a deceptive move on Gettleman's part to get other teams to trade up and allow another prospect like a stud defensive tackle or safety to fall to them.
There is no telling what the Carolina brass is thinking right now. A few weeks ago, it seemed as if they had tipped their hand when Gettleman gushed over the depth at defensive tackle, the offensive line and safety. In the game of misdirection, this could be an attempt to throw off the competition in order to gain more value when they are on the clock.
Strange things have happened on draft day involving the Panthers. Remember last season? That pick seemed to work out pretty well for everyone involved.