A good case could be made that the Carolina Panthers are a whole lot better than 2-8 record indicates. But that doesn’t change the fact that a playoff bid has been out of the picture for a few weeks now.
Though six games remain this season, it’s really not too early to start thinking about who to take in the NFL Draft in April. Positions of need abound on defense, but I think Carolina should take Oklahoma State’s wide receiver Justin Blackmon if he’s available.
While the Panthers certainly don’t look like one of the league’s worst teams, they have the second-worst record in the league, and they still have three games left against stiff opposition in the Saints, Falcons and Texans.
Blackmon won’t be on the board long, but it’s not out of the question that he’d be there at the end of the Top Five, where Carolina might very well be drafting.
With a top-five offense led by Steve Smith, wide receiver certainly isn’t the position where Carolina needs the most help. But if any area of this offense has struggled, it’s been its red-zone performance, especially through the air.
Carolina has been below average at finishing drives, and part of the difficulties can be attributed to the Panthers’ lack of a big, strong receiver to jump up and snatch fade routes or make tough catches in traffic. A big receiver like Blackmon would address that need perfectly.
Oklahoma State’s star redshirt junior would be the perfect complement to Smith in the short term. Though Smith is as tenacious as anyone, at 5'9", he’s not the ideal target over the middle.
Blackmon is the big, physical pass catcher the Panthers have lacked opposite Smith since Muhsin Muhammad retired after the 2009 season. Blackmon could complement him in the short term and be entering his prime in four or five years at the latest, when Smith will likely be calling it a career.
At 6'1", 212 pounds, Blackmon might be the best receiver prospect the league has seen since Calvin Johnson played for Georgia Tech. Before this season even started, Blackmon had established himself as a dominant college player. No non-quarterback had been named Big 12 player of the year in 12 years before Blackmon won the award with 111 catches, 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2010.
And last season was no one-hit wonder, either. With as many as three games potentially remaining on the Cowboys’ schedule, playing in arguably the nation’s deepest conference, Blackmon already has 103 catches for 1,241 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Many will scoff at this suggestion based on the success Carolina is already having through the air, but at least one recent example has shown that sometimes there’s nothing wrong with taking a top-flight receiver, even if it’s not the most pressing need.
In 2007, the Detroit Lions, coming off a 2006 season in which they finished 3-13 but boasted the league’s 7th-best passing attack, were ridiculed by many for drafting Calvin "Megatron" Johnson. Picking Johnson seemed even more foolish at the time, considering Detroit had used first-round picks on wide receivers in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
But with Megatron terrorizing opposing defenses week in and week out, nobody in their right mind is questioning that pick now. The takeaway from the Lions’ selection of Johnson is that you don’t pass on a standout receiver prospect just because you can already air it out.