Following the 2009 season the Carolina Panthers immediately went to work on their roster. Instead of filling holes on their roster and adding depth to the positions that needed some real attention, the Panthers suddenly veered into the opposite direction.
The turnstiles opened at Bank of America Stadium following an 8-8 season in 2009 and the first one out the door was Probowl defensive end, Julius Peppers. Peppers was allowed to leave this offseason and he has since found a home in Chicago. Peppers had made rumblings about wanting to leave Carolina after the 2008 season and even had his "short list" of the four teams he wanted to play for. The Panthers were not buying it and Peppers was slapped with the, all powerful, "franchise tag" and he found himself making over one million dollars per game last season.
The Panthers had considered the idea that Peppers could stage a "holdout" before last season got started and they did not want to get caught short handed if that happened. To counter that possibility, the Panthers traded this year's first round pick away in order to draft defensive end Everette Brown, earlier in the second round than their original pick had allowed.
Along with Peppers there were a whole host of free agents, players over thirty years old, some injury prone players and almost any player who just happened to be at the end of their contract were suddenly all shown the door. However, the Panthers core players were left intact.
The core is made up of Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, Steve Smith, Jeff Otah, Jordan Gross, Ryan Kalil, Travelle Wharton, Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, Chris Gamble, Chris Harris, and to a point, you have to add, newly signed quarterback, Matt Moore and Everette Brown, though the jury may still be out a bit Brown.
That is not a shabby group to build a team around. As a matter of fact a few keen moves could take this squad a long way this season.
Looking at the grouping of core players reveals some issues that need attention. The glaring issue, there are no defensive linemen on the list and there is only one wide receiver who draws attention. Let that be your draft day guide in trying to understand what the Panthers may be doing during the draft.
In my opinion the Panthers should draft the best talent available who helps their team instead of making their draft selections driven by a list of team needs starting with the most needed position to be drafted first and so on.
Following that draft model, if Golden Tate were available when the Panthers make the 48th pick of the draft, he would become a Panther. Staying on that same track, if defensive lineman Tyson Aluala were available when the 48th pick rolled around, he could find himself a Panthers' draftee.
Finally if both Aluala and Tate are both gone, which will possibly be the case, the Panthers would have to look to Mardy Gilyard and if by a slim chance, Colt McCoy, were still on the board the Panthers would have to look at bolstering their quarterback depth and I have to think the Panthers make the move and take the young Texas quarterback.
So, Panthers' fans, do not set your hopes too high for a flashy pick. There is a slim chance a draft day trade could be made to allow the Panthers to move up, higher, in the second round and claim a player who they believe may have fallen or a player who they had rated very highly and just had to have, but short of that I cannot see the Panthers dealing away this year's picks as there are just too many holes to fill and not enough current draft picks to fill them with.
I almost certainly cannot see a trade, that would have the Panthers drafting in the first round. That type of deal would cost the Panthers more picks than they could even afford to consider. Another reason I just cannot see the Panthers making a move up the draft ladder, to draft on day one, happens to largely hinge on the uncertainty of the future of the NFL, the CBA and whether or not there will even be football in 2011. So, trading away future first and second round picks in order to move up now becomes a tough proposition, with all of the big questions on the horizon.
As far as specifics go, the Panthers released both of their starting defensive tackles and their all-pro defensive end. So, the defensive line has to be where the Panthers look to add depth in this draft. In a stroke of luck for the Panthers, this year's draft just happens to have some depth at both the defensive tackle and wide receiver's position.
Receivers taken in the draft most always take time to develop and according to Panthers' GM Marty Hurney, the team expects some of their younger, more recent draft picks, to perform this coming season. I could not help but think of Dwayne Jarrett, who flashed in the last game of the season last year.
That comment would also include players like James Anderson, Dan Connor and others, but Dwayne Jarrett's name is in there too. Hurney's comments could spell a little trouble for those fans who want a bigger named wide receiver to be drafted early by the Panthers with their first pick.
On a side note, as far as Dwayne Jarrett goes, he did haul in his first NFL touchdown after catching a nearly perfect pass in the last game of the season. Could it be that Jarrett had lacked a quarterback who could effectively get him the ball? Jarrett has had issues with getting off of the line of scrimmage and if he can finally clean that up he may be able to produce, but it is still hard to see him as the Panthers' number two receiver.
However, with Jake Delhomme now gone, the final verdict on Dwayne Jarrett will be in this season if Matt Moore can pick up where he left off. If that happens the Panthers suddenly look a lot more like a contending team.
Look for the Panthers to go after a receiver with one of their top picks, but keep in mind, the Panthers are taking the best player on the board at the time, who can help their team. That could mean the Panthers take a defensive tackle first or they could draft a quarterback first and go after a receiver like Taylor Price, Carlton Mitchell and possibly even a player like Jacoby Ford, Andre Roberts or Riley Cooper in the middle rounds.
Finally, the Panthers could even get creative and take a chance on a guy like Dexter McCluster. McCluster had a slight stumble during his forty yard dash at the Combine and the slower time did hurt his draft stock but McCluster may well be more of a project the Panthers do not want to take on this season. However, I do remember Steve Smith having the same issues when the Panthers drafted him.
The question was could he do anything other than return punts. Well, after a pro-bowl season as a returner Smith found himself getting to run routes and that has worked out quite well. A running back in college, McCluster could be a prime return man and transitions well to a slot receiver. Many teams have him rated as a wide receiver.
Another sort of two-for-one player the Panthers may try and chase down is Armanti Edwards. If Julian Edelman can do it, then why not Edwards? He does possess some height and speed and he knows his way around a football field.
Whoever gets Edwards will get a guy who may turn out to be a decent receiver but they will also get an "emergency" third or fourth string quarterback. Don't put this sort of move past the Panthers with one of their last picks on day two.
If the Panthers look to beef up their defensive tackle position and then go after a quarterback early in the draft then the Panthers would most certainly be looking for a wide receiver late in the draft. There will possibly be guys like Jordan Shipley, Marcus Easley or Blair White out there and each has the possibility to add to the Panthers' offense. If the Panthers were to chose Mardy Gilyard or Arrelious Benn first, then Dan Lefevour may be the Panthers next pick and a backup for Matt Moore.
There are many combinations that can help the Panthers, however, for this draft to be considered a success for the Panthers the team is going to have to find a few players who can step up and make plays for this team in the regular season and that is easier said than done.