5 Creative Moves the Carolina Panthers Can Pull on Draft Day
The draft history of the Carolina Panthers has never been one to make waves or really border along the lines of creative. Draft-day trades have been more of a setback than benefit and a few of the classes landed by the Panthers have been absolutely terrible.
That is not to say things can't change.
Carolina became especially creative in the 2012 NFL draft by selecting middle linebacker Luke Kuechly instead of a defensive tackle like many had predicted. However, that kind of creative thinking led to the Panthers owning one of the most dominant players on the gridiron today. Two years after his selection, Kuechly has helped turned the Carolina defense into a top-tier unit.
What moves could the Panthers possibly make that are later deemed creative this season?
Keep in mind this is all hypothetical and does not represent the strategy of the Carolina Panthers draft-day decisions.
Trade out of the 1st Round
This is an interesting thought because if it were happen, Carolina fans would probably lose their collective minds. Trading down is possible. The Washington Redskins and Indianapolis Colts each do not have a first-round pick and working a trade with the Panthers could be an option.
However, the Colts won't be on the board until late in the second and right before the Panthers are on the clock. It's doubtful the Carolina front office will wait that long to address their needs.
General manager Dave Gettleman has stated he will draft the best player available. Well, if the player the team needs is not the best player available, he could opt to trade out and pick up a few extra picks. Owning the 28th overall selection is not all it's cracked up to be, but for a team like Washington who won't see the board until the 34th pick, it's a huge leap.
The Redskins may value a player who might not drop to them if they stay put at No. 34 overall, and a swap of picks with added incentive could be an option. Aside from not having a pick in the draft's opening round, Washington still owns the second pick in Rounds 2 through 7.
If this were to happen, Carolina would have a pick early and late in the second round. The upside to this? Gettleman could still get the player he wants and at a cheaper price than the cost of a first-round selection.
One does have to consider the Panthers' trade history on draft day. It's not pretty.
Draft a Cornerback First
This move could be either brilliant or terrible.
Ultimately, it comes down to the particular perception of each fan.
Carolina could abstain from addressing its most pressing needs at wide receiver and offensive tackle, draft a cornerback and shore up the weakest link of a strong defense. It would be a bold move to say the least, but if the right lineman or receiver is not there at the 28th overall pick, taking a solid defensive back would not be a bad idea.
Kyle Fuller, Jason Verrett and Bradley Roby are all projected as late first-round to early second-round picks. Based on CBSSports.com, those three round out the top five at their position and given the Panthers' needs, only offensive tackle offers anything inside the top five that late in the first round (Cyrus Kouandjio and Morgan Moses).
Of course, the other argument is the depth at both offensive tackle and wide receiver is good enough to address other needs first. Although the counterargument suggests Carolina grabs either the playmaking receiver or the stout, pass-protecting offensive tackle early.
Adding a top-five defensive back would not be a disaster. The offense may not look impressive, but remember, defense wins championships.
Draft a Position That Is Already Strong
Carolina fans saw this in 2012 with Luke Kuechly's selection in the first round. The Panthers appeared to be set at linebacker with Jon Beason leading the way, but that did not deter then-Carolina general manager Marty Hurney from taking a big gamble and drafting the tackle machine from Boston College.
Could history repeat itself?
In fact, what if the front office entertained the idea of drafting an outside linebacker? Granted, Thomas Davis has bounced back extremely well from his many knee injuries. He was very effective on the strong side last year. Chase Blackburn and A.J. Klein rotated with each other and both did a solid job at "Will" linebacker.
Would it be so terrible to upgrade the outside of one of the best units in the league?
The immediate benefit is how disruptive the pass rush will become. It already wreaks havoc as it is, but what if Anthony Barr or Ryan Shazier drop in the first round? Imagine how scary the defense would be. Shazier is a more likely candidate to fall, especially if a couple of teams reach for a quarterback early.
On the other side of the ball, tight end is a position that is not a need for Carolina, but that does not rule them out from taking one. The best tight end in this year's draft is North Carolina's Eric Ebron. The most likely player to fall to the Panthers would be Jace Amaro of Texas Tech.
Since head coach Ron Rivera is focusing on replacing catches rather than drafting a number one receiver, adding a tight end would make sense. The field behind incumbent TE Greg Olsen is already crowded, but Amaro could become the second-string to Olsen by default.
This would likely suggest that the Panthers will deploy a lot of big sets on the field and try to replicate the success with two-tight end formations that the New England Patriots had a couple of seasons ago.
This scenario should make any Carolina fan cringe. After all, this has never been the Panthers' strong suit, and the cost (depending on how far up the team wants to go) could be extremely high.
GM Dave Gettleman will have to consider the pros and cons of such a risk, but it may come down to how confident he feels about Carolina's roster and chances to succeed in 2014.
The last thing the Panthers want to do is work a trade similar to what the Washington Redskins did with the St. Louis Rams. As a result, the Rams get to enjoy the fruits of a top pick without having a poor season.
Considering that Gettleman has almost brought Carolina out of salary-cap hell, it may be foolish to part with future picks when the team is reestablishing its identity. The only way trading up works is if the Panthers land a home run pick and reach the playoffs.
Evans' size and talent could do for Cam Newton what a scout said he did for Johnny Manziel. Evans can catch nearly anything, and with Newton's tendency to throw high to his receivers, it may not be a bad thing to give up a lot to bring in a top-rated, physically imposing wide receiver like the 6'5" Evans.
Cooks lacks size, but he is fast. His ability offers the Panthers the deep threat that the team desperately needs. There is still a chance that Cooks falls late in the first round, but his stock has been steadily rising and he could be gone well before Carolina is on the board.
Focus on One Side of the Ball
Last year, Carolina used three of its five picks on defensive players. All three of them made significant contributions during the 2013 season. The same strategy could be implemented again in 2014 for the offense.
The Panthers have seven picks (one in each round) and could choose to focus on the offense for much of the draft. There is reason to believe a defensive back will be taken within the first three rounds, but after that, it would not be surprising to see the last four rounds composed of offensive linemen and receivers.
Carolina needs a lot of both, and a late-round haul at those two positions would create a very competitive training camp to say the least. Center Ryan Kalil may have confidence in the current group, but health is an issue. The Panthers cannot afford another season where injuries wipe out one position. Plus, Byron Bell and Nate Chandler are both scheduled to become free agents in 2015.
As for wide receivers, five of nine of them will be free agents in 2015. The only ones who seem to have some kind of job security are Jerricho Cotchery (set to be a free agent in 2019) and Tavarres King (2017). However, both will have to prove their worth if they are to stay on the roster. After all, this is the front office that released fan favorite Steve Smith. Production matters.
It's a safe assessment that Carolina will stock up on the two positions of greatest need and let competition and contracts thin out the herd. The goal will be building a team that can compete now as well as building a squad for future success.