Are the Panthers ready to pull the plug on Clausen already?
As the inimitable "Terry Tate: Office Linebacker" once said, it is time to "condense the nonsense." Rumors abound about Carolina’s love affair with Auburn’s national championship-winning quarterback, Cam Newton. Put me down as someone who doesn’t buy the hype surrounding this terrifically athletic project passer at the pro level of the game.
The following is my prediction of what will go down during the three days of the NFL draft 2011 based on the team’s past tendencies under general manager Marty Hurney, the new coaching staff and what they have stated in interviews and my own scouting sources.
A.J. Green is a special talent at the wide receiver position
Let’s see; words that come to mind when you think about the Carolina Panthers passing attack (if you can even call it that) in 2010? Anemic, pathetic, useless, toothless. Basically, it was very poor as a whole.
There is no doubt that the majority of the blame has to go to the quarterback play, although Jimmy Clausen can’t shoulder the entire brunt of it. The offensive line also lacked cohesiveness due to a turnstile at several positions including right tackle and right guard. Add in three rookie receivers and a superstar who took up beating double- and triple-teams as a hobby on Sundays and you’ve got yourself a dismal passing game.
The last time a wide receiver was selected first overall in the NFL draft was 1996, when the New York Jets took former Panther Keyshawn Johnson. It is time to break that trend. A.J. Green is quite simply a phenomenal player and would instantly turn our struggling passing attack into one that would force defensive coordinators to adjust their schemes and, by extension, open up other areas of the field to exploit.
Green has the ability to be a special, game-changing type of player in the NFL, and isn’t that what any team needs to acquire if they find themselves on the clock first at Radio City Music Hall? The former Georgia Bulldog has amazing foot speed, with the quickness to both separate from cornerbacks and blow past them. He has a very wide catch radius that makes his QB look good on off-target throws. Scouts have compared him—and let me remind you that you don’t hear this comparison too often—to Randy Moss during his heyday and Sidney Rice.
Jimmy Clausen gets the weapon that he desperately needs to open up the offense. New offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski gets the kind of wideout he wants to build this offense on—a 6'3" freakish athlete with top-end speed and size to scare any defense. Marty Hurney decides to give Clausen another chance, foregoing the Cam Newton pick for a much more sure-fire prospect in A.J. Green.
The Panthers need to get back to front four dominance like they had with Kris Jenkins et al
The first overall pick addressed the passing game. After a long wait during which there is a distinct possibility that Hurney gets itchy for action and trades up, the Panthers address their biggest need bar none. Defensive tackle is a position that has been in a state of constant flux for the past few seasons. The team has brought in countless veterans like Louis Leonard and even Hollis Thomas to try and fill the need, but they never truly addressed it with young talent in the draft.
Terrell McClain was a three-year starter for the Bulls. He has a thick, wide frame with room to add to his frame in the NFL. He is a terrific athlete at the position, who showcases great initial get-off on the snap of the ball and good moves inside with his "swim and rips" technique to beat interior offensive linemen. McClain needs to improve his pad level, but that is easily coachable.
Richard Sherman is a rangy, athletic CB
The Panthers need to address the CB position with Richard Marshall most likely leaving via free agency and Captain Munnerlyn more suited to play the nickel role in the defense. With this very value compensatory pick, the team selects Stanford’s Richard Sherman—a player who has valuable experience playing both wide receiver and cornerback during his time in college.
Sherman is a player you won’t hear talked about much, but he has outstanding size at 6'2" for the cornerback position. Size has to be an important consideration for the Panthers knowing the type of receivers they have to face in the NFC South—Mike Williams, Marques Colston and Roddy White. Sherman is a great overall athlete with good foot quickness, long speed and the ability to add to his frame. If the Panthers stick with the Cover 2, Sherman will fit in nicely as he is not shy about making tackles.
The standout quality of Sherman’s game is his ball skills. He reminds me a lot of Sherrod Martin, who the Panthers took two years ago. Sherman can play both CB and S if required because his field awareness and ball-tracking skills are fantastic.
Rob Housler will be a good understudy to Jeremy Shockey
The Panthers are not shy about taking players from the less-heralded schools, and Rob Housler from Florida Atlantic is a good selection here at the top of the fourth. One emphasis of the new coaching staff is to involve the tight end more in the offense. The team signed free-agent Jeremy Shockey to be the veteran presence; now is the time to get the fresh-faced rookie in Housler.
Housler will probably never be a blocker on the end of the line of scrimmage, but what he brings to the table in the passing game will be invaluable to this offense. He is a great vertical threat with good speed for his 6'5". He is a very polished route-runner and has great quickness out of his breaks. Most of all, he presents matchup problems for any defensive player trying to cover him, whether it be the SLB or a S down the seam.
Housler is a purely pass-catching tight end with a great deal of upside to be a starting tight end for the Panthers in the long-term. Learning from Jeremy Shockey will be ideal for this young kid.
Jordan Gross and the Panthers offensive line need some extra bulk up front
The Panthers offensive line did no favors for the quarterbacks last season. The existing options at right guard need upgrading, but they also need competition.
Will Rackley out of Lehigh fits the bill perfectly. Rackley actually started at left tackle for four years, but has the required build to translate to offensive guard in the NFL. He has good initial quickness from his stance, can lock on to his assigned defender and has excellent balance in pass protection.
The knock on Rackley is that he played at such a low level of competition, but for a fifth-round pick the value is too good to pass up. Marty Hurney is good at finding late-round talent (Greg Hardy from last year is a good example), and Rackley is a good player to take a chance on here.
Jay Valai can step in immediately as a core special teams player
Valai was a three-year starter for the Badgers at strong safety and, although he doesn’t figure to be a starter at the position for the Panthers because of the current safety tandem in place, Valai can be a core special teams player because of his “in the box” mentality.
He is a very strong player against the run and quite often knocks larger players backwards on contact. He is the type of player who will give you 60 minutes of effort every Sunday and show reckless abandon in his play for the team.
With Marshall moving on, cornerback depth is needed
Cornerback is a position that has already been addressed in this draft, but adding another player for depth, especially one of the quality of Davon House, is a good move. House is a very physical player in press man coverage and has the room to grow more into his frame at the next level. One of his weaknesses is his lack of hip flexibility and fluidity in transition, which may limit his role early on to a special teams player. However, House comes from a small school and with proper coaching, he can turn into a serviceable backup at CB.
Carolina knows a good RB when they see one
It wouldn’t be the Panthers if they didn’t look ahead and draft a running back for the future, or at least a good backup option in the present. With DeAngelo Williams more than likely leaving in free agency, that leaves Stewart, Goodson and the underrated Tyrell Sutton. It makes sense to add a running back like Powell here.
He is not an elusive back, but he runs through contact with good power and low pad level. He needs to work on pass protection to become a better back overall, but that will come with time. Powell can sit behind the current running backs on the roster and learn.