For months, scouts have written about Andrew Luck as the best player in the country. After Monday night's game against Virginia Tech, an even greater number of people (myself included) saw Luck as a lock for the first pick in the draft... IF he decided to leave.
In a week colored with articles and news exclusives about his coach, Jim Harbaugh, Andrew Luck ended the speculation by announcing that he has decided to stay in school and earn his degree from Stanford. While the implications of this choice will play out over the next year, Luck's move has left the Carolina Panthers front office scratching their heads. So with a few months until the draft, who do the Panthers take?
I think the second best offensive player in the draft is Georgia's A.J. Green. He is arguably the most complete receiver to enter the NFL since Randy Moss, and would leave the Panthers' new offensive coordinator drooling. With DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart both healthy next year, it might be tempting to take Green here, even with uncertainty at quarterback.
While Green is an option, the Panthers had a woeful defense last year and missed Julius Peppers significantly. I think the most logical move for the Panthers is to take a defensive player with the first pick. Luckily, they have several extremely talented players to choose from.
LSU's Patrick Peterson has shutdown potential and could add some explosiveness to the return game. His versatility makes him an attractive option at No. 1.
The Panthers could also opt for Da'Quan Bowers from Clemson. With 15 sacks this season, many scouts think Bowers has shown shades of Peppers and could be a dominant pass rusher in the NFL. Depending on how the combine goes next month, the Panthers could also select Alabama's Marcel Darius. Darius is an absolute monster. He is surprisingly nimble for a guy of his size and anchored a talented Crimson Tide defense in college.
The most dominant defensive player I have seen this year, however, is Auburn's Nick Fairley. Reminding some of Haloti Ngata, Fairley is disruptive on nearly every snap he plays. Greg McElroy must have nightmares of Fariley. Playing against NFL quality offensive linemen each week in the SEC, Fairley is arguably the MVP of a team that includes a Heisman Trophy winner.
Obviously, without the combine results, these are only conjectures. The Panthers certainly have some time to weigh their options. With Luck deciding to stay in school, QBs like Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, and Cam Newton might see their stock rise significantly. The Panthers could also opt to trade down to gain more picks and embrace the rebuilding mentality. Whatever they decided, Jimmy Clausen is probably the happiest guy in North Carolina right now. I wonder if Luck sent him a "You're Welcome" text?