Tuesday, May 24, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - Carolina Panthers

With the lockout in full effect, there's little to really cover in the way of the NFL other than reviewing the NFL Draft. While most experts say it usually takes 3 full seasons to grade a draft class, and I agree, we can have a little fun and grade each team for their selections made nearly a month ago. I figured I'd grade each team based on their pick in order in the 1st round, starting with the Carolina Panthers, and go from there. What I'd like to do is to examine in-depth each team's 1st round, or first overall pick; how the player fits in with the team; and his professional outlook. For each subsequent pick, I'll go over a brief synopsis of the player and how he'll fit in, then I'll assign a letter grade for the team's total draft haul at the conclusion of the review.

Here are the Carolina Panther's Draft selections:

1) Cam Newton - QB - Auburn
GM Marty Hurney went for the shock value here by taking Cam Newtown with the first overall pick. While some, in fact probably most, will disagree, I think this was a solid move on the Panthers part. Jimmy Clausen really struggled last year, though he didn't have many weapons around him, and new coaches typically mean new quarterbacks. Cam Newton has the most "upside" of any of the ones selected in the 2011 Draft. While I wouldn't start him this year, at all, Newton will have a more discernable impact over the course of his career than would have a Marcel Dareus or Patrick Peterson. That said, Ryan Mallett, if not for off-field issues, is the most pro-ready quarterback and could've (should've?) been taken here if not for those said issues.

How he fits in: While I wouldn't start him right off the bat, especially since he's not getting additional run time in OTAs and rookie mini-camps, new coach Ron Rivera might not have a choice. Jimmy Clausen just doesn't have it all together, and never has (sorry Notre Dame fans) and I don't think Matt Moore or Tony Pike would provide much in the way of competition, so I'd expect Newton to be named their day one starter barring something unexpected.

Outlook: If Newton works as hard as he says he's going to work I think he can have a career path somewhere in between Vince Young and Michael Vick. I don't like mentioning those two names, but he's most similar to them than any other NFL quarterbacks. Newton will have to work on such things as taking direct snaps, calling plays properly in the huddle, all kinds of drop backs, reads, triangle reads, etc. But he can still make plays with his feet, and that's what makes him so dangerous. Also, keep in mind that Vince Young's record as a starting quarterback is a solid 30-17. I think Newton was the right pick, but maybe not the best pick.

3rd Round, 65th overall) Terrell McClain - DT - South Florida
The Panthers got hosed by the Patriots and had traded their 2nd round pick in the 2010 Draft to take WR Armanti Edwards...you know him best as the Appalachian State quarterback who upset Michigan. So, the Panthers second pick in the 2011 Draft came in the form of Terrell McClain, a 6'1" 291lbs DT. Ron Rivera made his hay in the NFL by operating the small, quick Chicago Bears defenses of the early-mid 2000s that were very good, and he's building upon some solid front seven players here with the Panthers. What the Panther's really lacked was a solid defensive tackle who is quick and can penetrate in a 1-gap scheme. That's what McClain will bring to the table, and he's a sure tackler. The main knock on him is that he lacks a motor, and has a lot of trouble getting off blocks if he can't shoot a gap. However, looking at what the Panthers have there, and really it's only Ed Johnson, McClain should have a good shot at starting from day one.

3rd round, 97th overall) Sione Fua - DT - Stanford
Again, the Panthers dipped into the DT well here taking Sione Fua, who I had rated higher than McClain. Fua, a NT in college at Stanford is 6'1" 310lbs and his very strong at the point of attack. He's not as quick or athletic as McClain, who figures to be a 3-technique DT, but he's able to hold his ground better against the run and I think he's more suited to play alongside either McClain or Ed Johnson. Fua has shown an ability to play through trash and collapse the pocket registering 4.5 sacks as a senior. Fua should definitely make the roster and be a solid rotational player on the D-line as a rookie.

4th round, 98th overall) Brandon Hogan - CB - West Virginia
The Panthers have one rock-solid corner in Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall has shown flashes at times, though he's still not reliable opposite Gamble. Aside from those two vets, the Panthers have a bunch of young guys who are primarily nickel/slot and dime players - certainly none who you'd want to have to start. Hogan fits that Ron Rivera Cover 2 corner mold and will remind some people of Charles Tillman from the Bears. Hogan's an experience corner who is not afraid to come up and support the run collecting 171 career tackles in 44 games. He's versatile with the ball in his hand when he makes an interception, seven career, which tallied 156 return yards. For Hogan, I think he can be a nickel corner from day one, but his prospects of starting hinge more on Richard Marshall than himself.

5th round, 132nd overall) Kealoah Pilares - WR - Hawaii
Over the past few years, we've seen a rise in teams taking receivers from June Jones' spread system in Hawaii and now at SMU. Davone Bess of Miami and Emmanuel Sanders of Pittsburgh have led the way, and now Pilares and Aldrick Robinson (Redskins) have added to the total. Pialres came to Hawaii as a running back and had over 100 carries his first two years. However, he shifted to wide receiver and just started hauling passes left and right - a product of the Jones spread - and when all was said and done he caught 209 passes for nearly 2,500 yards and 22 scores. He'll be best served in the slot, as Bess and Sanders have before him, and should push the likes of Armanti Edwards and David Clowney down the roster a bit, but it's still no guarantee he makes the team.

6th round, 166th overall) Lawrence Wilson - LB - Connecticut
The Panthers have a solid starting trio of Jon Beason, James Anderson, and Thomas Davis, but there's not much in the way of depth behind them. Wilson should make a solid addition to the team as one of the Ron Rivera undersized, coverage linebackers in the mold of a Hunter Hillenmeyer or Freddie Roach did in Chicago. Wilson's only 6'0" 229lbs, but he's got pretty good range and can deliver a big hit. He's got a propensity to go for the kill shot and miss a tackle here and there, but that's something coachable. Wilson should stick and will be able to make a mark on special teams with his speed and athleticism.

6th round, 203rd overall) Zack Williams - C - Washington State
The Panthers have an oustanding center in Ryan Kalil, but he'd be scheduled to be a free agent under the 2010 rules of the CBA. The Panthers have expressed interest in keeping him over RB DeAngelo Williams to continue to anchor their line. Williams represents an insurance policy, but a weak one at that. At 6'3" 309lbs he's a bit bigger than Kalil and might be better served at RG as he's non-athletic. Williams may be a pratice squad candidate depending on what happens with Ryan Kalil and starting left guard Travelle Wharton, but it'll be a long time before we ever see Williams snapping to Cam Newton.

7th round, 244th overall) Lee Ziemba - T - Auburn
A solid player for the Auburn Tigers, a 4-year start, 3 of which came at left tackle, Ziemba's draft stock took a major hit as he had short arms and didn't look very good at all at the NFL Combine. However, the Panthers needed a better swing tackle (the 3rd offensive tackle kept active on gamedays that can play either side should a starter go down) than Geoff Schwartz. Ziemba will get to learn from a solid veteran in Jordan Gross, and could eventually be granfathered into the O-line. I think he stands a better chance to make the roster than Zack Williams, especially if Ziemba can shift to play G as well, giving him 3 positions he can play.

Overall Grade: B-
Marty Hurney will ultimately be measured by Cam Newton, as he'll make or break this class for sure. The Panthers didn't really address getting a playmaker at WR and who knows how long Steve Smith will be around or if Brandon LaFell will improve there. Right now, Jeremy Shockey stands to be their starting TE, and he's getting long in the tooth, and they still don't know what they have to get after the passer in DEs Charles Johnson and Everette Brown. Those things aside, the Panthers repaired a major hole in the middle of the defensive line, added a potential starting CB, and got some versatility and depth in the linebacking corp and on the O-line. Cam Newton could give them a solid franchise quarterback for the future...or he could cost Marty Hurney his job. As it stands, I'll give Carolina a B- for taking a chance on Newton, but failing to get him a playmaker. This class definitely bears watching down the road, and I have a feeling the final grade may rise in the not so distant future.

Next up, the Denver Broncos.

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