Let’s begin with a final answer to something I’ve been asked countless times over the last couple months.
The question: Who will the Panthers take in the first round of this year’s draft?
The answer: I don’t know.
I do know a post without predictions and/or #HOTTAKES won’t get a bunch of shares or retweets, but as a man who used to work in Charlotte said a time or two, “It is what it is.”
And what it is on the morning of the draft’s first round is essentially a guessing game if you’re trying to figure out what the Panthers will do. It’d be disingenuous for me or anyone outside a handful of people in the building to even pretend they have this one nailed down.
After a seemingly interminable wait for the draft to get here, I wish I could report who general manager Dave Gettleman is set on. But gleaning that sort of information has been much tougher this year for a number of reasons. The biggest: A team drafting way back at No. 28 won’t have a great sense of what they’re going to do until at least 15 picks have been called, so how could we?
It’s been easier to get a beat on players the Panthers don’t like. For example, it’s highly unlikely offensive tackles Cyrus Kouandjio or Morgan Moses will end up in Carolina. But there’s one hint of information so surprising, it makes me think it may point to the right guy.
Let’s break things down into three categories:
BEST GUESS – Kelvin Benjamin. Yeah, I can’t believe it either. To be clear, he may be my favorite player in this draft. That’s also reason No. 3,493 I wouldn’t make for a good NFL GM. I’ve long had a thing for tall receivers. Just toss them the ball and they’ll go get it. Obviously, it’s not that simple, and it’s certainly not with Benjamin. He has plenty of concerns swirling around him, but from what I’ve heard, the Panthers are truly interested. If that’s the case, if Gettleman thinks enough of him to eschew the possible red flags, that means there’s legitimate fire around the smoke.
WHAT THE PANTHERS SHOULD DO – Trade out of the first round. Many assume fans will be most disappointed if the Panthers don’t take a receiver in the first. It’ll be even worse if they don’t even use their pick. But while a player at 28 may end up being a key piece, the odds of him being a true game-changer aren’t great. The Panthers need pieces. Multiple. They’re not just building for 2014, but for three to five years down the road as well. One of Gettleman’s goals is to find starters in the first three rounds. The more chances he has in those rounds, the more building blocks he can possibly add.
WHAT THE PANTHERS WILL DO –
Something not many expected. What’s that? Exactly. If folks outside the Carolinas have talked about the Panthers this offseason, it’s been to mock them. Most can’t understand why Gettleman would dismantle his receiving corps, even though those who can’t, don’t understand that receiving corps wasn’t going to get the Panthers where they want to go. But shoot, you can swing a cat and find a good wideout in this draft. There’s also the matter of an offensive line that may be more gate than wall. Yet while most fans have already made their decision on Byron Bell, how can we be sure anyone in the second wave of tackles is going to be that much better? So the Panthers could end up doing something not many expected. It’s not just lip service when Gettleman swears he’s going to take the best player available. That player may be a defensive end, a cornerback, a safety or even a guy like Xavier Su’a-Filo. Yup, a guard. No one would see it coming, but that’s because it’s so easy to focus on need. What’s not easy is doing something few expected you to do, something that won’t thrill your fan base. Gettleman’s already proven this offseason that he won’t make decisions based on fan sentiment. He could very well do it again.
- We recorded the second BBR Podcast Wednesday night with ESPN College Football Insider Travis Haney. There’s a chance I’m partial, but I HIGHLY suggest you give it a listen before the draft. You’ll want to hear what Haney has to say about the current Panthers receivers, what he first thought when he saw Benjamin, and who could be Carolina’s surprise pick (hint: the answer is above). Oh, and not many know Clowney or Johnny as well as Travis. CLICK HERE to listen or download.
- Have you filled out our not-all-that-fancy-but-sorta-fun Panthers First Round Bracket?
- “Smart teams can reap huge benefits by trading down.”
- Two Panthers draft parties Saturday: Charlotte, Spartanburg.
- A league source tells us the NFL Draft starts Thursday. We’ll likely do a few things around it.
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