2011 NFL Mock Draft: Predicting the Carolina Panthers 5 Greatest Needs
It’s been a very disappointing year for Panthers fans—and yes this is the understatement of the year. The bright side is at least all the analysts and shows will have to talk about us for a change.
Everyone believes the Panthers have the first pick locked up (and they probably do), but check out this scenario.
The Panthers face the Arizona Cardinals next week and right now no one would be surprised if Terry Bradshaw got a call to start for them. This is the last chance the Panthers have for a victory.
A win against the Cardinals and consistently bad play from the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions would mean a three-way tie. The next tie breaker—don’t quote me though—is record within the conference, which Carolina would win.
Detroit and the Bills would then do a coin toss for first pick.
With this is mind, the Panthers select a certain southern receiver, and seeing that the Bills would have the top pick—a certain quarterback decides to stay in college, if he was smart. If our current quarterback sucks it up next year then we draft that certain quarterback that stayed in the next draft.
Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, there are a number of positions the new regime will have to address.
Without further adieu, I give you what a currently 1-11 team will need during the draft.
5. The Defensive Secondary
It’s not that our secondary is awful—a lack of pass rush along with the loss of leadership is what hurt them. Chris Harris was traded away, and now there’s a chance that starter Richard Marshall may be gone (not due to lack of cap space though).
Captain Munnerlyn is good, but he is too undersized to go up against the bigger receivers that are coming into the league. He makes a great nickel corner and has proven himself capable in Gamble’s absence, but a bigger corner in the fourth or fifth round would be very beneficial.
An option that has been discussed lately is moving Sherrod Martin back to corner and drafting a safety like T.J. Ward. This is not a bad idea, but I believe that the position needs to be filled by a veteran. Not having Harris is night and day compared to Martin (thank you management) and a veteran would provide more leadership until Charles Godfrey is ready to command the secondary.
4. A Real Tight End
Carolina had its run on tight ends by drafting one in the fifth round for three years in a row. They opted against drafting one of the 15 quality tight ends in last year’s draft.
Now, they need to realize that things need to change. It might have something to do with the fact Jeff Davidson never uses his tight ends as receivers, but every high caliber team in the NFL has a pass-catching tight end.
A tight end is a young quarterback’s best friend because they are big targets. Our trio of Jeff King, Dante Rosario and Gary Barnidge have talent and they have shown it, but their involvement needs to be amped-up.
I believe that we either use Barnidge more often—seeing he has more size and athletic ability—or we scratch him and maybe even Rosario and draft someone who is more of a threat. I’m leaning towards keeping all three and just chalking it up on Davidson, but this is a position that needs to be more than just another blocker.
3. Offensive Line Depth and a Right Guard
The biggest disappointment this year has been the offensive line. Jordan Gross is getting older, Jeff Otah gave up and the right guard position is still an unsolved mystery. Luckily, next year everyone will be healthy and I think we already have our right guard, we just need depth.
First, our right guard position is still in need, but between Duke Robinson and Geoff Schwartz we should have our fifth guy. Robinson has been injured, but his size is uncanny. Schwartz has the leg up as he is healthy, is currently at the position and he can pass-block, which was a problem for Robinson during the preseason.
Schwartz is also no runt at 330 pounds so he is definitely a contender for the position next year.
As for depth, I’m looking at the center and left tackle positions. Ryan Kalil may be gone to free agency and Mackenzy Bernadeau looks more like a fill-in than an everyday starter. Center is too crucial a position to not have back-up for.
As for left tackle, there’s the possibility of Travelle Wharton moving over when needed, but he has done a good job at the guard position. Gross is getting older and it may not be a bad idea to start grooming the future of the left side.
Whichever direction we decide to go this offseason, I know that Schwartz and Bernadeau were drafted in the late rounds, and that anyone would be better than Gary and C.J. Williams.
2. A Mountain at Defensive Tackle
There’s a common theme to the worst run defenses in the NFL. They usually lack a guy who looks like they could close an "All-You-Can-Eat" buffet. Carolina is one of those teams and, go figure, they are bottom of the league in run defense.
Ed Johnson has done well along with Derek Landri, but those two and Nick Hayden just are not getting the job done against the run. The Panthers used to be known for their run defense and a big reason was because they had Kris Jenkins (350 pounds on paper) and Maake Kemoeatu (350 pounds) on the line. If you notice that in Kemo’s name is the word “eat,” that is what the Panthers need.
It would not matter if the Panthers spent every pick except for their first on a defensive tackle, if they could all be at least 320 then we’ll be fine.
1. The Next Steve Smith
The reason why the Panthers cannot spend their first pick on a defensive tackle is there is a bigger need. The Panthers do not need another receiver, they need another Steve Smith. That is why with their first pick I expect to hear echoes of A.J. Green being heard.
David Gettis and Brandon LaFell have had pretty solid rookie years for being on the team with the worst offense in the NFL. Gettis has shown big play ability, while LaFell has shown he can be a reliable target and make big plays down field late in games. Both will have big futures with the Panthers, but neither are Steve Smith.
Smith is a whole new animal. He has an intensity like no other and can make any play. He can catch a jump ball in double coverage and score a touchdown on a quick pass at the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, he is getting old and he will not be around forever, which is why it is time to draft the next Steve Smith.
Green is 6’3", runs good routes, knows how to use his body to get into position and he has great hands. He is a taller version of Smitty. He has had a great career at Georgia and only had a bad year because he was suspended for allegedly attending a party held by an agent.
He is the best receiver of this class of great receivers. Draft him now and he not only will be another big target for Jimmy Clausen to throw to, but he can learn from Smith and start to take the pressure off Smith which is what Smith wanted all along.
We would have one of the biggest, fastest receiving corps in the NFL and possibly the best Carolina’s had in franchise history.
Why Not Andrew Luck?
The Panthers will have a new coach and a new staff next year, but hopefully will keep Ron Meeks, so most will think the Panthers will draft quarterback Andrew Luck with the first pick. I understand the logic, especially since many experts think that Luck could be the next Peyton Manning, but even Peyton was not successful his first year.
Everyone thinks Clausen should have performed like Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco when they came into the league. He is a rookie, he has had his ups and downs (who would have guessed), he has led his team into a position where they could win the game, and once again I don’t know how but Jeff Davidson is a coordinator in the NFL. All I ask is to look at Josh Freeman and see how his rookie season went.
A year makes a world of difference and Clausen deserves a chance to make this his team.