Focus on #1: Carolina Panthers

Will the Panthers stand by quarterback Jimmy Clausen?

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.


  1. Ed

    Not a big Newton fan, and the “panther fan” seems to have my exact thinking. Clausen didn’t have alot to work with and showed some skills. I also agree with the three players they will choose between (fairley/green/bowers). If they can’t trade down, it should be between the three.

    • Rob

      Personally I thought Clausen showed absolutely nothing last year – and in hindsight a second round grade was too high. We’ll see if he can improve.

    • Daniel

      Hey guys, this is the “Panthers fan” from the article. Let me be clear on Newton, it’s not that I am against targeting him, it’s that I don’t see it being in character for the organization. Personally, I find his tools and ability highly intriguing though I would be worried about his issues as well. I think he could be a taller Donovan McNabb (and, in my opinion, that comparison fits him more than the Freeman/Roethlisberger comps I’ve been hearing) or he could be Akili Smith. I wouldn’t be terribly upset if we drafted him but I wouldn’t say it’s a very likely outcome right now.

      Clausen is a lost cause. Anyone who watched him all season and thinks he has a future as a starter is deluded. There are a few things he does well but he doesn’t make impact plays and wilts under pressure. I think the organization would move on from him if there was someone they really wanted but I’m not sure they see it this year. Still a long way to go til the draft, though. Newton or Gabbert could be that guy.

      And yea, I think the pick (if the Panthers are making it) will ultimately be Bowers or Fairley. Green is the next guy on the list I would consider likely, then it goes to the QBs, then there’s talk of Patrick Peterson and Marcel Dareus. From a neutral perspective, I suppose the top of the draft is more interesting this way.

      • Rob

        Daniel – thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts on this situation and also for visiting the blog to further answer questions. It’s really appreciated.

  2. Nano

    The more I see of Gabbert, the more I like him. He’d be a good choice. Great input from your Panther fan homie. He’s Jay Cutler like in terms of tools–but he doesn’t seem like a twatface.

    That was a major rug pull–having Luck not declare. That pick went from automated to, “Oh hell, what do we do now?” I don’t envy Carolina. For some reason Fairley worries me–it’s hard to spend a 1st pick on a guy that will probably be a 1 dimensional guy in the pros.

    I still think it’s Green if they don’t go QB. To me, Fairley and Bowers aren’t at the same level of other guys’ at their positions that have gone top 5 or so in recent years. But a lot can change in the combine. It may come down to contract negotiations and concessions.

  3. Alex

    It’s Fairley or Green at #1 with me thinking they’ll pick Fairley, but thinking they ought to pick Green.

    First off, I don’t think Bowers will be #1 as his Flordia State tape did NOT suggest a Mario Williams or Julius Peppers like some out there brought up. Plus, Carolina has some solid talent at the DE positions.

    The question then is to whether build the heart of a defense and complete the defense, which was ranked in the top half, because the Carolina Panthers have solid blocks in place on the defense (with the exception of DT) or whether they want to work on 32nd ranked offense.

    Granted, that 32nd ranked offense was destroyed by injuries at the RB and OL position, but QB and WR aren’t helping. Choosing AJ Green would give Clausen more options and the return of the RB and OL can give Clausen a fair chance to show his skills. This way, the staff can also make a proper evaluation of Clausen. If Clausen still can’t get it down with all the help he is getting (or returning from injury), then you can dump him for another option.

    I personally think they should go AJ Green to help the offense that needs more help than the defense, to properly evaluate Clausen, and for more “safety” (not a one year wonder), but I think they might go DT because of the coach.


  4. Charlie

    Obomanu signs 3-year extension, do you think that shows the hawks will stay away from wideout unless its an unmissable prospect like if julio jones fell to us?

    • Rob

      I wouldn’t think so. The Seahawks need to get better at receiver. As a fanbase we tend to over rate the players on the roster – and while guys like Obomanu can do a job, they’re also not going to define an offense. Overall there is certainly room for a talented receiver. Now – I’m not saying it’s the biggest need or a desperate need… it’s merely one of many areas the Seahawks could improve. In my last mock draft I felt Baldwin was easily the best player available at that point and thought it was a good fit. With more and more prospects declaring, there’s every chance in the next mock he won’t be on the board and I’ll have to look elsewhere. There are very few positions I’d rule out as being an option in round one for Seattle and receiver isn’t one of them, even with Williams and Obomanu re-signed.

  5. Matt

    Jeff Fuller returns to school. Our first round pick is going to suck. Trade out, stock picks for next year. I’d much rather have 2 first rounders in 2012 than settle for garbage like Cameron Heyward or Anthony Costanzo. I just can’t see anyway we are looking at a “difference making” prospect at 25. I can now see no way that any QB besides Ryan Mallett will be available at our pick…and I want no part of Mallett.

    Rather disappointing that guys who chose to return to school (Jenkins, Blackmon, Fuller, Luck) directly kill the depth at positions we need. Not saying Luck or Blackmon would have been available, but their lack of presence forces other guys up.

    • Rob

      But with the diminishing depth Matt – it’s hard to see which team would be willing to cough up a 2012 first rounder for a pick in the late 20’s.

      • Matt

        Yes sir. Maybe a team with a young QB in need of a potential LT trades up for Solder or Costanzo. Both of whom I think are strictly LTs. Who knows, maybe Detroit, Buffalo?

        At this point, if yo don’t think trading back is realistic, then trade our first 2 picks and get Smith or Locker.

        • Blake

          I assume/hope you’re referring to Jimmy and not Tyrone. In that case, I really think he’ll be available. I’ve not seen a mock with him in the top 20 aside from this one. I understand that he’ll move up during the combine, but I haven’t seen a 2nd rounder move to a top 20 pick in quite some time. Happened to CJ2K and Heyward-Bey but does not happen often on 40 times. Baldwin is also a decent option as is Justin Houston. I agree though that circumstances are less than ideal and that trading back will likely prevail as the best option. Moving back 10 or so slots could present more value and make Ras-I Dowling an option as well as a more justifiable price on an offensive tackle. Baldwin could still be available there as well.

          • Matt

            I meant Jimmy Smith earlier. Despite mock drafts placing him in round 2, after the combine when he turns heads with his size and 40 time, he will rocket up. I saw him play a few times and he looks SO much better than Amukamara, it’s not even funny. He’s built exactly like Cromartie and Asomugha, where Amukamara is built like a running back. He’s a legit 6’2″ too. Amukamara looks more like 6′ on the dot and is not very long or fluid (in my opinion).

            Corners with great size and speed, while maintaining top level fluidity are so hard to find. I can only think of Cromartie and Asomugha, who in my opinion, are the most physically gifted DBs in the NFL. Cromartie obviously has some issues, but from a pure physical athleticism standpoint, he has very few peers.

          • Rob

            Brandon Graham flew up the boards after the Senior Bowl. Such a rise is possible. Maybe I’ll be wrong on that – but having watched Smith I think he’s clearly one of the stars of this draft class. There’s been very little coverage of him elsewhere. But an argument for him not rising cannot be based on other mocks – most of which had Jimmy Clausen as a top ten pick last year, some of which had Colt McCoy in round one and none had Tyson Alualu in the top ten.

          • Blake

            Good points guys. No doubt Smith is extremely athletic, but he has little to no idea how to recognize route combinations. Right now he can make up for it with his speed, but he will have to learn how to anticipate in the NFL. I would undoubtedly have to deal with his issue than Amukamara’s issue of athletesism due to the fact that he can be taught to recognize routes while nobody can teach Prince how to run faster. I just can’t figure out why he’s not listed as even a rd 1 prospect anywhere besides here and NE patriots draft. Certainly Colorado has something to do with it, but it is a Big 12 school. I guess the lack of true statistics hurts him as well. Kerrigan is from a small school in Indiana, but his gawdy #s help keep him in the top 15 contention.

            If Jimmy Smith, Aldon Smith, Jake Locker, Cam Newton, Julio Jones, and JJ Watt were all on the board, Rob, who would you choose? And who do you think the FO would like most out of these 6 studs. Undoutedly this will not be a scenario, but it is to gauge your opinion on each player. A response in order of favorite to least favorite would be greatly appreciated.

  6. Ralphy

    The first thing that came to mind reading this is I am more thankful now for the Whitehurst trade. Who know’s what the Hawks would have done if they hadn’t moved down but I am thrilled that we aren’t dealing with questions on Clausen’s future with the Hawks.

    Second if I was the Panthers I would go Green. I personally think he is the safest pick and a true need for the Panthers. Especially when you factor in all the wasted picks they have made recently trying to find an NFL worthy WR. Those could have been other pieces that they are still in need of.

    As for what I would like the Hawks to do I am becoming more of a fan of Baldwin after watching some video of him from the ’09 season. Something was wrong with him this year as he didn’t look like he cared. We need another weapon (and it’s not Obomanu) for our QB. I completely agree with Rob that that is what it will take to really help open up the running game. Lets just hope Baldwin is there when we pick 32nd!

    • Blake

      Rob says he has a source that knows the Seahawks didn’t have Clausen on their board, so that is not an issue. I was looking at that as well. Gronkowski, Kindle, and Lamarr Houston were the 3 picks after our traded away pick. All are good prospects, with Gronkowski being an unlikely pick, but a ROY candidate. Houston seems like an especially good fit at 5 tech for us. We also may have used the pick to trade up for Dez Bryant or (sadly) Tim Tebow. We’ll see who’s available with our old 3rd rounder this year. All in all, I hated the trade when it happened, and in retrospect, it also cost us the #8 pick this year since CW got us into the playoffs. I guess I’ll take it to get in the playoffs, but my opinion could be different tomorrow if we get smashed by Chicago.

  7. Frank

    I agree totally Ralphy with the pick up of Whitehurst being a life saver. Last year we were a shoe in for a high draft pick, nobody thought we would go this far. We wouldn’t have made the playoffs without Whitehurst playing well.
    Its just like Rob said with Causen if he plays well he nocks them out of contention for a high draft pick to replace him. Whitehurst played well and here we are, picking after the Franchise Qbs are long gone. On the bright side each of the Qb from this class are have major flaws that I’m okay with missing out on. Newton is not a genius and his accuracy is over played, Gabbert has no touch and he spreads his legs out like a pitcher when he throws, Mallet isn’t a great athlete and maybe not a leader of men, Locker has accuracy issues but is hard too read without NFL quality recievers. I’ve never been a huge Locker fan but when I compare him to this Qb class he may be the least flawed of the options. I hate too say it but after Lockers bowl game I had to totally revaluate him. I really loved how he has a huge arm but throws nice little lobs over the linebackers, real touch passes not Gabberts rocketballs. Mechanically very sound. Not taking on the challenge of going Pro last year is the most bother some
    thing about him. I would rather just add other peices CB namely but if you could trade your first, second round pick with Whitehurst to Redskins for Locker would you? I like Whitehurst and think he’s got some game if he got a chance to settle in but he’s already fairly old. Shanahan should be very worried about his job after the circus came to Washington this year. Whitehurst is a better player than Locker for a couple years, self preservation could force his hand. If you like Locker you like Whitehurst I would think.

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