NFL Draft: Carolina Panthers First Pick Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 4/25/2011
The Carolina Panthers are in the position this year that few teams likely truly want to be in. Having the top pick in the NFL Draft means that you are a bad team with a lot of needs, and you are going to have to make a very high- profile, incredibly expensive pick that is far from certain to pay off. The Panthers especially need to succeed this year because they aren’t the most popular team in the league and could use something to prove to their fans that they still care and are still competent. Here’s a look at the options the team has indicated they are considering and the issues and opportunities each presents along with my first pick predictions for the NFL Draft:
Cam Newton, QB, Auburn — I’d be willing to bet that this is the way they are going to go. I’d also be willing to bet that it’s not a pick that is going to turn out to be a great one. Newton is obviously an incredibly talented athlete, and he has accomplished a lot in a short time — there is no arguing that. There are just so many reasons to be uneasy.
For starters, he doesn’t play what would typically be called an NFL-style of game. Guys who play like he does — as dangerous on his feet as with his arm, to simplify greatly — have to adjust greatly to fit into the relatively rigid confines of the NFL game, and that adjustment has never really been smooth for team or player.
I wouldn’t be as worried about that for some teams as I am with the Panthers. They showed a total and utter incompetence last year when it came to adjusting to and protecting a new QB. It’s a new staff this year, but they still have little to work with and everything to prove.
Beyond that I have the inevitable concerns about Newton’s attitude and his character issues in the past. Most significantly — and this will come up again — I’m not convinced that QB should be the focus. I’m not a Clausen fan by any means, but it certainly wasn’t his fault that he was a disaster last year, and he is serviceable.
Newton by himself isn’t going to be able to turn this mess around, so I think they would be better served by adding strength is other support positions before plugging in a QB who is ready to shine.
Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri — I think I would probably pick Gabbert over Newton if I had to choose because he’s more of an NFL-style QB and the transition will be smoother. That being said, I wouldn’t pick Gabbert, either.
He’s the type of player that drives me crazy — he was inconsistent and often disappointing at Missouri, yet in the absence of other guys he has ridden his measurables and the hype to the highest levels of the draft consideration.
When you see a guy like Sam Bradford or Andrew Luck play you just know they are going to be a star. When you watch Gabbert you think he has the potential to maybe be solid if everything goes just right.
A guy who is going to be great in the NFL should consistently be great in college when asked to do the things he will have to do in the pros. Gabbert certainly was not that. He’ll also face the same issue as Newton — a shocking lack of supporting talent to work with and rely on. He’d be a better pick than Newton, but not a good pick.
Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama — If I had to make the pick it would be Dareus, and it’s not even a question. There is no other guy in the draft that a team can build around with little risk than Dareus. He’s a total beast who is very versatile, and he’s smart and carries little baggage.
The Panthers could plug him into the middle of their defensive line, rely on him to be a disruptive force, and work to put the pieces around him to match him and elevate this team to a force defensively. A defensive improvement would take the pressure off the offense as well. Gabbert or Newton have a chance to be someone to build the offense around, but Dareus is certainly someone to build the defense around.
A.J. Green, WR, Georgia — I don’t think the team will take the risk of taking a receiver in a position that they normally don’t go at, but it wouldn’t be a terrible pick.
They need tools for the QBs to work with, and Green is the most impressive tool on offense. He’s ready to be a contributor right away, and he could pair with Steve Smith to be a frightening duo — and ease the transition when Smith gets too old.
I don’t think the Panthers should or will make this pick, but it’s hard to totally hate the idea of it.
Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU — There is some talk that Peterson could be the pick, but I just don’t buy it. He’s the best athlete in the draft, and a dynamic receiver who should be a good corner as well.
A corner who returns kicks is not a guy to build around, though, and the Panthers badly need to invest in a centerpiece here. They would face a lot of criticism with this pick, and it would be deserved.
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