For the last two years there’s been no great mystery over who would be taken first overall in the NFL Draft.
In 2009 the 0-16 Detroit Lions had a new coach and a need for new direction – which clearly meant finding a franchise quarterback. When Sam Bradford made the decision to return to Oklahoma it seemed likely that Georgia’s Matt Stafford would be taken first overall.
Despite some members of the Detroit media and the quite a number of Lions fans suggesting an offensive tackle (Jason Smith) or even a linebacker (Aaron Curry) could be the choice – Stafford was the favorite in January and unsurprisingly the forecast came true on draft day.
For most of the 2009 college football season it seemed like defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh would be the hot tip to go #1. It was a regular projection among mock drafts with little challenge from people like Sam Bradford – who had missed almost the entire season with a shoulder injury.
However as the process continued and we got closer to the combine – Bradford re-gained momentum and with St. Louis as desperate for a quarterback as Detroit the previous year there were no surprises when April came.
The 2011 draft would have followed an even more predictable path had Andrew Luck declared. Instead, there’s no real answer to what the Carolina Panthers will do on April 28th.
It’s reminiscent of the 2008 event when Miami had the #1 pick. For a long time people had Glenn Dorsey (DT) pinned down as the first selection, but concerns about his ability to stay healthy and his fit in the 4-3 scheme (Miami were switching to a 3-4) dropped him out of contention. The Dolphins needed a quarterback so Matt Ryan was a distinct possibility. Darren McFadden’s blistering 40-yard dash at the combine made people wonder if he could go first overall.
By the time we got closer to the event it appeared to come down to Ryan and the two Long’s – Jake and Chris. The Dolphins opted for Jake – an offensive lineman from Michigan. The defensive end (Chris) from Virginia went second overall to St. Louis leaving Atlanta with the quarterback.
Things may be unclear for a while in 2011 too.
I contacted a knowledgeable Panthers fan called Daniel Elliott to get a status check on things at this early stage. With the deadline tomorrow for underclassmen to declare – we’re pretty sure who the candidates should be.
Obviously Carolina spent a 2nd round pick on Jimmy Clausen last year – although he endured a rough first season in the league as the Panthers slumped to a 2-14 record. I asked Daniel if quarterback was still potentially an option:
“I do believe the door should be open at QB. As much as I loathe Clausen’s play style, I think he has the potential to become a decent back up quarterback to poor starter. I don’t know exactly how the Panthers value him at this time but Marty Hurney (the GM; retained through the coaching change) did invest a 2nd rounder in him, the highest pick the Panthers have spent on a quarterback in over a decade.
Judging from Ron Rivera’s introductory press conference it sounds like they’re being realistic about the situation – they know he was terrible but they also excuse it a bit because he was playing for a lame duck coach on a gutted roster – which is about as much as I can ask for as a fan.”
My reaction to his comments on Clausen is that the plan will be to bring in some sort of veteran competition, with the likely outcome being that the competition will win out while Clausen returns to the bench temporarily with his long term future in the organization to be determined at a later date.”
This seems logical. I’ve previously continued to mock a quarterback (either Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton) to the Panthers with the #1 pick. I didn’t grade Clausen highly last year and have little confidence in is ability to become a long term starter in the NFL. However as Daniel points out – the GM that drafted him has maintained his position despite the disastrous drop in 2010.
“Their scouting department is apparently big on film and on-field production in college over tools and combine performances so I don’t know if they’re as high on Gabbert (or Locker) as some other teams would be. I don’t see Cam Newton as a possibility at all. His merits as a possible NFL QB aside, the Panthers have avoided players with anything resembling character questions ever since the Rae Carruth and Fred Lane debacles.
To give you a better idea of what they’re looking for, in the entirety of John Fox’s tenure the Panthers were linked with just 1 top tier QB prospect in a trade up strategy or “if he fell” scenario – Matt Ryan. Now, is it possible Gabbert becomes that guy for them? I would say yes, but it’s very a remote chance. I think they wanted a home run, thought they had it with Luck and now that they don’t, they’re not sure what to do.”
So what about the other options then? A lot of people are talking up Nick Fairley after a strong BCS Championship performance that was aided by a suspect Oregon scheme that allowed him to go unblocked on many plays. Da’Quan Bowers enjoyed a strong year for Clemson while A.J. Green is also fancied as a weapon on offense. Here’s Daniel’s take:
“Bowers is an option to play across from Charles Johnson and when added to a stable of Greg Hardy (raw, but flashes of big potential) and Everette Brown (kind of the DE version of Clausen…but still some production) could bring back the dominant End play we had with Peppers and Rucker. With that said, I live in ACC country near Bowers and he’s not Julius Peppers or Mario Williams. I wouldn’t focus much on the scheme flexibility thing. My interpretation of Rivera’s PC is that we’re very much sticking with the 4-3 but will throw in a couple of 3 down lineman looks when the time calls for it. Not that it changes much since I think Bowers projects best as a 4-3 end.
Despite this, I do think the favorite for now is Nick Fairley, hype or not. There was a report about a month ago that we had him targeted at the top of the draft before the Luck train really started rolling and the media started speculating he’d declare.”
Riding a NC hype train into the draft can work sometimes, as Vince Young can attest. How psyched I am about this being a possibility? Well, I think it’s safe to say nothing is going to excite me as much as thinking we’re getting a possible franchise QB. However, the only position on the team as weak as QB is DT. Honestly, the team could release everyone from that spot tomorrow and I wouldn’t bat an eyelash (the only guy who I think has any worth is Derek Landri, and that’s solely in a back-up/rotation role).”
I’m aware of Fairley’s flaws as a player – you’re probably getting a 1-gap guy, tires easily, possible leverage issues, amongst other things but on the other hand, the number of guys with the ability to bring pressure up the middle and make game changing plays from that spot is not very high. I think he’s going to be in the running all the way up until draft day unless the aforementioned character conscious front office are scared off by interviews with him or something that comes up in a background check.”
The AJ Green option is actually quite popular amongst the fanbase. He’s a local product (Summerville, SC) and this is the organization that traded the #33 pick for Armanti Edwards.”
The uncertainty over what Carolina’s plans may be with the #1 pick pretty much defines how the 2011 draft may be reviewed as we move forward. A new CBA appears to be no closer, meaning when the Panthers officially are on the clock there may not have been a free agency period and therefore no trades.
With this inability for teams to fill needs before the draft – it may make the event even more unpredictable than ever before.
While we can try to project what Carolina will do with the #1 pick – as with most of the draft and the possibility of a lockout – it’s a complete mystery.