Thursday is every football fan’s unofficial holiday, the 2011 NFL Draft.
This draft will be a first for me, as I have never seen a draft without a free agent period or one before a possibly cancelled season. If this isn’t bad enough, the Panthers have the No.1 overall pick, and the only player worthy of a No.1 pick decided he likes his dorm more than being the face of a franchise.
This was just another disappointment in a long line of disappointments Panthers fans and the Panthers' team has suffered through.
Carolina dumps almost everyone over the age of 30, leaving a team with just rookies and players still learning to play the game. Then, because the owners opted out of the CBA, the rules of an uncapped year denied Carolina from signing players like James Anderson, Jon Beason and DeAngelo Williams to long-term deals. Follow all this with the fact that Carolina went 2-14, almost made Jeff Davidson play quarterback and are now constantly reminded of the fact that they made one of the worst draft day trades in recent memory. This all makes for a very rough year for Panther nation.
The good news is the Panthers actually have a first-round pick this year. The Panthers have nine picks overall, but the question is who will be drafted? It could almost be anyone since Carolina has a few positions that need to be stocked, but with no certainty about what will happen with free agency, it really is anyone’s guess.
These are not set in stone, but they will provide you something to think about. I will provide ideal (my pick), actual (who the front office will probably pick) and hypothetical (it could happen) picks for each round.
Will I be right? We will see.
Is this our future?
Ideal: A.J. Green, WR (Georgia)
This kid was suspended for four games, and he still posted almost 900 yards receiving—and he didn’t even get to face Vanderbilt.
At 6'4" and 212 pounds, he is a physically-imposing receiver who catches anything and everything; his one-handed catch against Colorado says it all. Plus, he can block, and the guy is physical. Don’t be fooled by his 4.5+ 40 time either, as his game speed is much faster.
If that isn't enough, he is also one hell of a kick returner.
No receiver has gone No.1 since Keyshawn Johnson, but Green is that good. He always has been good, always will be good and is the perfect gift for young quarterback Jimmy Clausen.
The best news is, if Carolina drafts him and Clausen sucks, then they only need to draft a quarterback next year, and he’ll already have had his Pro Bowl receiver learning from Steve Smith.
Smith has always wanted a new No.1 to take the reins, now he will.
Actual: Cameron Newton, QB (Auburn)
He’s big, he’s fast, he can chuck it, he’s a Heisman winner and a National Champion.
He has leadership for days, and he knows how to score.
His main flaws are his character and his college system. The system is not a worry since quarterbacks such as Sam Bradford have come out of spread offenses and succeeded. The character is a question as he had an incident at Florida, but if he proves his work ethic, Rivera can whip some character into him.
Why isn’t he a lock for the first pick? The answer is Carolina drafted Jimmy Clausen in the second round last year, and many people believe that between a lame-duck coach, a bad offensive coordinator, a beat-up line and an inexperienced receiving corps, he just had a raw deal and deserves another chance.
It will be up to Ron Rivera to decide if he deserves one, and that decision could determine how the top part of the draft turns out.
Hypothetical: Trade the No.1 pick to the Bengals for the No.4 pick as well as a second, a fourth and a future pick.
Reports out of Cincinnati say the Bengals are highly interested in Newton. With Palmer guaranteeing he will not be in a Bengals uniform any longer, Cincinnati will need to decide when to make a move for the future.
Newton is a playmaker with a questionable background. If this doesn’t define the Bengals, then I don’t know what does. This deal would get the Bengals their quarterback of the future, and the Panthers can then draft A.J. Green at a less questionable pick.
Was he worth it?
Oops! I forgot, we traded the pick to the Patriots, of all teams, in order to draft Armanti Edwards in the third round of last year’s draft.
That worked out well. He had as many fumbles as he did catches, and he was deactivated for most of the season.
This may be a blessing in disguise. Carolina has not had much luck with second-round picks. Recently, the blunders have come in the forms of Kerry Colbert, Eric Shelton and Dwayne Jarrett.
Hypothetical: Phil Taylor, DT (Baylor)
I realize that most mock drafts have the Chiefs taking him in the first round, but what if they decided drafting a third defensive tackle in the last four years—in the first round—is too much?
Maybe they decide to go with linebacker Akeem Ayers. Either way, Taylor is 340 pounds, and that’s all that is needed, but he had a great Senior Bowl in case people like to see a little more.
Will the hometown boy stay home?
Ideal: Marvin Austin, DT (North Carolina) and Curtis Brown, CB (Texas)
Both picks are probably going to go in the second round, but both have a chance to slip due to character issues and/or lacking physicality.
Austin is a nasty, physical tackle. He did great in all his pro day and bowl workouts, but his character may drop him into the third round.
As for Brown, his 6'0" frame makes him a good-sized corner in the league. He has decent speed, but can he big physical enough to hang around in the NFL?
Actual: Brandon Burton, CB (Utah) and Kendrick Ellis, DT (Hampton)
If these two were drafted, I would still be happy.
Burton is a tall corner at 6'0", and he is fast. He also doesn’t mind being in press-coverage and can stick with his man. With Richard Marshall possibly on the way out, Burton may be the next starter to go with Gamble. Plus, he has a poor time catching the ball, so he would already fit in with the Carolina defense.
Ellis is still probably more of my personal pick, but how can Carolina not draft this guy?
At 6'3" and 340 pounds, this guy is a run-stuffer. Sure he comes out of a Division II-A college, but he’s a monster. He stays low, gets off the snap fast and did I mention he is 340 pounds?
The one flaw is that he was kicked off the South Carolina team for violating team policies, so if he is drafted, Rivera would have to set him straight.
Hypothetical: Carolina trades a third and a fifth/sixth to move up into the second round.
There are two players that, if they fall far enough, I could see Carolina trading up to get.
The first is Clint Boling, who is in the conversation for the best guard in the draft. The 6'5" lineman out of Georgia had a good Senior Bowl and has been excelling in his workouts since. He would fill an immediate need at right guard, a position Carolina has not had real stability at for a long time.
The other player is Stefen Wisniewski. The center out of Penn State is a leader and has football in his blood. He could not only fill in at right guard, but he could be an excellent back-up center for Ryan Kalil.
Are you ready for a Luao?
Carolina has the 97th and 98th picks, allowing for more flexibility with their selections.
Ideal: Greg Salas, WR (Hawaii)
Salas may be a surprising pick, but he would be worth it.
At 6'2" and 210 pounds, Salas has great size and similar speed to A.J. Green. What's deceptive is Salas has a 37-inch vertical, which can separate him from most corners, and he catches anything close to him.
He would make a great mid-round pick, especially if Green is not selected.
Actual: Drake Nevis, DT (LSU)
Nevis is a great talent, but his lack of size may lead him to drop this far.
Nevis is one of the best pass-rushers in this year’s draft, from a lineman standpoint. He has a great first step, knows how to use his hands and is a violent being.
Whether the Panthers draft a defensive tackle in an earlier round or not, Nevis would be a great pick.
Hypothetical: The Panthers trade back in the fourth round to add a fifth and a seventh.
The question is whether the Panthers really need to have back-to-back picks. A trade would add more picks in the later rounds, and it is the later rounds where the Panthers have excelled drafting players such as Greg Hardy and Geoff Schwartz.
Could Dowling be our future star corner?
Ideal: Virgil Green, TE (Nevada)
The Panthers might want to continue their trend of drafting tight ends in the fifth round.
Green would be a great pick, as his 6'5" frame plus his 42.5-inch vertical would make a great pairing with Gary Barnidge as the future of Carolina’s tight end position.
Actual: Ras-I Dowling, CB (Virginia)
Look for corner to be addressed multiple times, as Carolina will look to add depth and be prepared to replace Marshall if need be.
Dowling's 4.46 40 demonstrates his speed, and he is tall at 6'2". If that doesn’t intrigue you, how about the fact that he has the hands of a wide receiver and can help out with the run? He would be a great mid-round pick to add depth at the corner position.
Hypothetical: Trade fifth and a sixth to move up into the fourth round.
This is just an option in case someone really unexpected starts falling in the fourth round. If a guy like defensive end Sam Acho fell, then this could be an option. Acho is a workout freak and a winner. He’s a Longhorn, and he knows how to use his hands.
Can we get the next Flacco?
Ideal: Pat Devlin, QB (Delaware) and Jah Reid, OT (UCF)
Devlin is a poor man’s Joe Flacco—he’s only lacking the big arm.
He has a quick release, he’s mobile, he's great at making pre-snap reads and he’s effective in the red zone. He’s also very intelligent and accurate. Devlin would make a great project, if there’s room for one.
Reid is a massive tackle at 6'7" and 326 pounds. This mauler loves to run-block and does a good job at keeping his balance. He would provide a mountainous back-up for Jeff Otah, and if the Panthers wanted to just be mean, he would make a great sixth lineman on short yardage plays.
Actual: The two guys listed are what I believe the Panthers would do with the two picks, if the players were available.
Hypothetical: The Panthers trade both sixth round picks to move up and draft Devlin.
Is Royster JStew2?
It’s the seventh round, so right now it could be a kicker or even a long snapper, but I’ll give it a shot.
Ideal: Ray Dominguez, OG (Arkansas)
At 6'4" and 329 pounds, Dominguez has ideal size for a guard. He stays low and knows how to “plow the road.” He also has surprising speed and does a good job pulling. He’d make a good reserve player and would add depth to a depleted line.
Actual: Evan Royster, RB (Penn State)
At 6'1" and 228 pounds, Royster has the right size for an every-down back.
He knows how to lower the pads and run people over, but he is also patient and will wait for holes to open. Royster is also a good receiver and would make a powerful check-down for Carolina’s quarterbacks.
I understand we have all these good running backs, and there’s still a chance that Carolina will re-sign Williams, but if for some reason they don’t, Royster would make a suitable No. 3 back.
Drafting is our strength, and if Carolina is to have any kind of success in the future, they need to make it a great one.
Thanks for the read, and enjoy the NFL Draft, April 28-30.