NFL Draft 2011: Why Carolina Needs To Make UGA's A.J. Green Its First Pick

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NFL Draft 2011: Why Carolina Needs To Make UGA's A.J. Green Its First Pick
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Now that we've wrapped up the NCAA tournament, the focus of the sports world shifts to the NFL draft. 

If you thought the offensive performance between Butler and UConn was ugly last week, then you probably won't be pining to watch highlight film of the Carolina Panthers 2010 season.

To describe the Panthers' offensive performance last year as dismal would be offensive to the word dismal. At times, it appeared Carolina had taken on a junior high team persona, with no real go to guys and consistently inept showings by a variety of quarterbacks.

The proof is in the numbers: Carolina ended the season in last place in points per game (12.2) and pass yards per game (143.1), nearly 40 yards behind the next closest team; twelve of the team's 14 losses were by 10 or more points. 

All this accumulated with the firing of head coach John Fox right after the season.

Some of those struggles can definitely be contributed to star running back DeAngelo Williams' absence in 10 of the team's games; stud wideout Steve Smith also missed a few games. 

However, with no Jake Delhomme and an array of inexeperience under center, you have to wonder if, even with the assistance of Williams, that the team could have found even marginal success.

Defensive minded Ron Rivera has now come in to coach and will certainly bring an even more hard-nosed defensive mindset to the team.

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But the defense wasn't really the struggle last year, was it? The Panthers managed 18th place in total defense and 20th in total sacks in the league.

There's been plenty of talk about the Panthers wanting either Auburn DT Nick Fairley or Clemson DE Daquan Bowers. However, there are already a solid crop of young defensive talent in the Panthers' stable, including 2010 draftee Greg Hardy and Everette Brown, not to mention Charles Johnson who lead the team in sacks last year.

Then there's discussion of the need for a new QB, despite the Panthers selecting two just last year in the draft (Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike).

One has to wonder is Clausen already deserving of the "bust" title? Sure, he had a rough rookie year, but the Panthers' wouldn't have wasted a high pick on Clausen if they didn't plan to use him at all.

Even if DeAngelo Williams doesn't come back as he has threatened somewhat, the Panthers have Jonathan Stewart and a surprising rising star in Mike Goodson in the backfield. Goodson was actually second on the team in receptions last year.

The wide receiver position is one that is relatively thin. Steve Smith is great, but is getting older and is certainly past the peak of his career. Brandon LaFell and David Gettis may develop into serviceable receivers, and guys like Dwayne Jarrett and David Clowney are little more than roster depth. 

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

What Carolina needs is a wideout with big hands, a big playmaker receiver that can dominate a game in a league that is steadily becoming more pass than run.

A.J. Green is that guy.

Being 6'4", 205 lbs with the athleticism of Randy Moss, Green is one of those few sure-fire guys who can contribute the minute he steps on the field. Allowing him to work with Steve Smith to better develop his route running will further his game. Then Carolina can utilize LaFell and Gettis consistently as needed to develop Armanti Edwards into a slot receiver, something John Fox never showed the gumption to do.

The sexy pick is Cam Newton, a QB that obviously has loads of talent. But at what cost would the Panthers have to spend to spend yet another early round pick on a QB that possibly may blow up in their face? 

Those occurences are okay in the second or third round, but not at the No. 1 overall selection. 

The Panthers have to get this right.

Andrew Luck would've been the easy choice, now he's not available. Bowers or Fairley or even Patrick Peterson would all be safe choices, but for an offense so anemic that even Rivera's resurrection of the '85 Bears defense couldn't keep the team competitive, they need a firecracker on offense. 

A.J. Green is the best offensive player in this draft. With new OC Rob Chudznski's experience developing Antonio Gates and WR coach Fred Graves work with Andre Johnson in Houston the past several years, the experts are in place in Charlotte to turn A.J. Green into a superstar. 

The question is, will the Panthers be willing to trust Clausen and take a shot? Or play it safe like they always do?

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