2011 NFL Draft: Full Seven-Round Draft Projections of the Carolina Panthers

Evan HigginsCorrespondent IIMarch 30, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: Full Seven-Round Draft Projections of the Carolina Panthers

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    Say goodbye to the old, conservative Carolina Panthers draft strategy, and say hello the new, risky one.

    Recent drafts for Carolina have consisted of striking gold in the first and late rounds, but have completely wasted middle round selections like Bruce Nelson, Keary Colbert, Eric Shelton, Evan Mathis, Attiyah Ellison, Rashad Butler, Corey Irvin and Armanti Edwards (although, that's not Edwards fault).

    Carolina always took the conservative route under former head coach John Fox, but that all is expected to change. New head coach Ron Rivera is coming from one of the least conservative teams in the league.

    The Panthers will no longer stay away from risky prospects that have character issues, injuries or come from a small school program. This may lead to more busts, but it will also lead them to striking gold as well. 

First Round (First Overall): Cam Newton,QB, Auburn

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    Three-year Career Statistics at Florida and Auburn: 

    Passing: 2,908 yards, 30 touchdowns, seven interceptions.

    Rushing: 1,586 yards, 24 touchdowns.  

    I have written numerous articles defending Cam Newton and why the Carolina Panthers should take him with the first overall pick—and here comes yet another one.

    Newton may not be the best quarterback, nor the best player for that matter, but he is by far the biggest playmaker and that is exactly why Carolina needs him. 

    Carolina has never had an athletic, big-armed quarterback like Newton. 

    The other quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, is very overrated and went from being a mid-round selection to a possible first overall pick mostly due to the "who you know" rule. Newton is a better passer than Gabbert and much more of an athlete, which is what Carolina needs at that position.

    With every quarterback that Carolina has seen in the last 10 years, all of them have one similarity: when a defender gets into the pocket, the QB is sacked. They have never had a quarterback who can get out of the pocket and make plays with his feet when nothing is open downfield. 

    Not only does Newton bring all that to Carolina, but he gives this team excitement and an "entertainer and icon," as Newton would say. 

    Newton would help this team in multiple ways because of what he can do with the ball in his hands. I believe he will bring Steve Smith back to the type of player he once was, and give this team the best run game in the league.

    Look, I've heard all the excuses: "He was a one year starter, he has character concerns, he can't make it as a franchise quarterback." 

    If a player can transfer schools, become a starter, and put up the kind of numbers he did passing and running, there is no way you can pass on him.

    Want to know the difference between Cam Newton and JaMarcus Russell? Newton is athletic and has a much better arm and character—oh, and he won a championship in his one season with the team.

Third Round (65th Overall): Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina

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    Three-year Career Statistics at UNC: 103 tackles, nine sacks, one interception, one forced fumble. 

    The first selection of the third round usually ends up being the best available prospect that slipped out of the first or second round. That prospect this year is UNC defensive tackle Marvin Austin, who was projected to be a top-five pick until a suspension kept him out of the entire 2010 season.

    Austin is a home-town player for Carolina, and he, along with Newton, will bring even more excitement to this team and it's fans.

    Marvin Austin is a high-risk, high-reward type player, and if Carolina plays their cards right, he will be a huge steal for Carolina in the third round. 

    Since Carolina passed on a defensive linemen with the top selection, and gave up their second round pick this season to select Armanti Edwards in the third round in the 2010 draft, Carolina must go with a defensive linemen here.

    However, Austin is no compensation pick here.

    If he can stay healthy, have good work ethic and get himself back to playing in the form he was before his suspension, the sky is the limit for Austin.  

Third Round (97th Overall): Ahmad Black, CB, Florida

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    Four-year career statistics at Florida: 227 tackles, 13 interceptions, three forced fumbles. 

    Cornerback Richard Marshall has said that he doesn't expect a contract extension from Carolina, leaving a big hole at the position.

    While Carolina could choose Patrick Peterson at the top overall selection, the position isn't as weak as some believe it is.

    Former first round pick Chris Gamble struggled some last season, but along with the rest of this defense, they've been given a fresh start with new head coach Ron Rivera. Gamble has been one of the leagues most underrated cornerbacks.

    Also, former seventh-round pick Captain Munnerlyn has been one of the defenses most exciting players over the past two seasons, and will step into Marshall's place.

    With that said, the team does need a nickel-back, and Florida defensive back Ahmad Black can do just that. His size, 5'9", 190lbs, will scare some teams off, but Carolina likes small corners.

    With Richard Marshall not returning, that leaves the Panthers without a physical cornerback.

    That's where Black comes in, as he does not play at the size he is listed, and is very physical.

    He played safety in college, but will most likely switch to cornerback due to his lack of size and need at the position. 

Fourth Round (98th Overall)- Edmund Gates, WR, Abilene Christian.

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    Four-Year Career Statistics at Abilene Christain: 158 receptions, 2,885 yards, 27 touchdowns.

    Carolina doesn't usually take small school players, but like I said before, this is a brand-new draft strategy. 

    Selecting big-time names at small schools has worked in the past. Look no further than Johnny Knox of the Chicago Bears for an example.

    Many people are looking at Gates as the same thing, and Carolina can not miss the kind of potential he has this late in the draft.

    After a very impressive combine that showed off his height and speed combination (he was the top performer in the 40-yard dash, vertical and broad jump), Gates put his name on the radar, and has since seen his draft stock rise greatly.

    Edmund Gates can bring the electrifying speed fans haven't seen since the days of Steve Smith's prime.

    Longtime Panther Steve Smith is not guaranteed to be back next season, and if Carolina does lose him, they will not have any type of speed in their receiving corps besides Armanti Edwards, who didn't record a catch in 2010.

    Gates can fill that void, and even bring his speed to the return game, where Carolina has struggled for many seasons.

    However, if Smith does stay, he can mentor Gates and develop him into Steve Smith 2.0.  

Fifth Round (129th Overall)- Virgil Green, TE, Nevada

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    Three-year career statistics at Nevada: 71 receptions, 911 yards, 11 touchdowns. 

    Head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, former Charger tight end coach, come from a team that has the best tight end in the league, Antonio Gates.

    Like Gates, Virgil Green is an athletic tight end who is expected to be selected in the later rounds. 

    Green saw his draft stock rise drastically after an impressive showing at the combine, and seems to be the perfect tight end for what Rivera has repeatedly said he has wanted. 

    Carolina signed veteran tight end Jeremy Shockey before the deadline, but he may not be the team's long term option at the position.

Sixth Round (161st Overall): Greg Romeus, DE, Pittsburgh

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    Four-year career statistics at Pittsburgh: 142 tackles, 19 sacks, two forced fumbles, one interception. 

    The Carolina Panthers selected defensive end Greg Hardy after his stock dropped because of injuries and character concerns. However, Hardy impressed last season, and if it wasn't for the injuries, he could of been a first-round pick.

    That is where Greg Romeus is right now, as a torn right ACL cut his season short, dropping his stock considerably. 

    If he can get healthy again, this pick could be another steal for Carolina, as Romeus can make an instant impact to this depleted defensive line still trying to recover from the loss of Julius Peppers. 

    This team may never have a defensive linemen as good as Peppers, but if they continue to bring in guys like Hardy and Romeus, Carolina may be able to put together a rotation that is tough to contain.

    Romeus' size (6'6", 270 pounds) is hard to pass up this late in the draft. 

Sixth Round (207th Overall)- Cedric Thornton, DT, Southern Arkansas

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    Four- year career statistics at Southern Arkansas: Unknown.

    Another small school prospect, Thornton is a raw player with huge potential and the skill to be a dominant starter at the next level in a couple of years.

    Thornton was one of top players in Division II last season, and if he steps up his game, he can transition that to the NFL.

    Thornton was invited to the Senior Bowl, where he showed good work ethic and enough skill to play with the big boys. If head coach Ron Rivera and new defensive coordinator Sean McDermott develop him enough, he could become a dominant starter down the line. 

Seventh Round (243rd Overall)- Korey Lindsey, CB, Southern Illinois

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    Four year career statistics at Southern Illinois: 10 tackles, 12 interceptions.

    Carolina has had success selecting cornerbacks late in the draft, and should continue to do this same in 2011.

    Lindsay is a good value late in seventh round, and will contribute on special teams. 

    He has good height and adds depth to a secondary that struggled last season.