NFL Draft 2012: Predicting Where the Carolina Panthers Will Pick

Tyler Horner@BR_TylerHornerCorrespondent IIDecember 18, 2011

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 11:  Head Coach Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers looks on during the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Bank of America Stadium on December 11, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

After an impressive victory over the AFC's top team, the Houston Texans, the Panthers are 5-9 and have won three out of their last four. 

Once in contention for the top pick in the draft, the Panthers now have no chance of getting a pick higher than the fourth overall selection; thankfully, that means they are firmly out of the drama that always exists at the top of the draft. 

In what currently looks like one of the deeper drafts in recent years, Panthers fans can confidently root on their team to win out without worries of dropping too far in the draft.

It's a controversial point of discussion, but it's fair to say that any team not in play for Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck should keep their focus on winning out. 

If the season were to end today, the Panthers would be drafting with the ninth pick and would receive that pick based on a tie-breaker with Buffalo, Washington, and Miami. That's right, Buffalo, no matter how hard that would have been to believe seven weeks ago. 

The likely range of draft spots for the Panthers extends from the fifth pick to the 10th. They face a probable win when they host the Bucs next week and that would likely eliminate them from picking any higher than seventh. 

The following week, they take on the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome. They will likely be in a battle with San Francisco for a Wild Card Round bye, so expect the Saints to play to win in the season finale. 

It's no guarantee that the Saints beat Carolina, but they're undefeated in the Superdome, and it will be hard for a rookie to go in there and defeat one of the NFC's top seeded teams.

If the 49ers fall to Pittsburgh and Seattle, New Orleans will rest their starters with a No. 2 seed locked up.

However, the probability is that the Saints will be playing for that seed against Carolina. 

In this hypothetical scenario, Carolina is now 6-10 and likely in a tie with Washington for the ninth pick. If that does in fact happen, Washington will win the tie-breaker and Carolina will be left with the 10th pick. 

That's assuming that Washington loses to the 6-8 Eagles and beats the 2-12 Vikings. If Washington wins both, Carolina likely falls into a tie with Philadelphia for the ninth pick. Another tie-breaker that they would lose. 

This sets the Panthers up for the 10th pick of the 2012 draft. What kind of talent should fans expect to see left at the 10th spot? 

Here are my top players projected to last to or near the 10th pick of the NFL Draft—only those who fit into position of need are included. 

  1. Cornerback, Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
  2. Wide Receiver, Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
  3. Safety, Mark Barron, Alabama
  4. Defensive Tackle, Devon Still, Penn State
  5. Defensive End, Andre Branch, Clemson 

Still rooting for Carolina to drop a couple games for top local prospects such as North Carolina's Quinton Coples?

Hopefully most of you will be discouraged from such antics after seeing the level of talent that will last toward the middle of the first round.