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Friday, April 27, 2012

#40 - Amini Silatolu

I like this pick, even though I wasn't anticipating it.

Value: Good.  Not incredible, but a legit 2nd rounder.

Need: Definitely had one at guard.  He fits the scheme.

What I like the best:  Mean, nasty wide body who can move laterally, who can go after linebackers, or take on DTs.  Has tackle athleticism and guard push.

What I dislike: Small school.  His major flaw is his shorter arm reach, but that'll be fine at guard.

Tackling, Coverage Are Upgrades

I'm trying to get on board with the Kuechly pick still.  

What I love the most?  In thinking about the recent sports trend revolving around sabermetrics, I'm actually drawn to basketball.  There's a great story on Shane Battier being one of the few guys in the NBA that can digest what the numbers tell the coaches.

Not that everyone Carolina currently employs is stupid, but there's a nice blend of instinctiveness and awareness to go with intelligence with Kuechly.  Jon Beason has it, but Beason's one guy.  Kuechly might be better in that regard.

The second favorite comes from Ron Rivera's first day.  He promised things like winning, aggressiveness.  Once he started naming actual needs, tackling came after QB and TE.  Carolina tackled exceptionally poor last year, and there's a definite upgrade there now.  I'm reminded of how much the Bears game appeared to matter - it cost Sean Considine his job at safety/special teams, and eventually Jason Baker's job at punter.  They cut Baker, and they've brought in two safeties already.

The other major disaster was the final Saints game.  There's debate over Kuechly's athletic ability, but he's quite possibly Carolina's best cover LB as well. Thomas Davis always has been, but being healthy is the larger worry there.  Kuechly gives a player who can match up in those Saints games, to a point.  No one matches up with Jimmy Graham exceptionally well, but Kuechly does a good job there.  Same for Darren Sproles.  

Definitely, intangibles help.  I wouldn't be convincing myself right now that Quentin Coples is a locker room guy or a tireless worker.  Kuechly is.

I still don't know that I'm that happy with the pick compared to what we could've done, but I'm getting there.

I can't say I wouldn't have traded, or taken Coples begrudgingly.  Seattle traded down to 15 from 12 for a 4 and 6, and honestly, I'm not 100% sure I wouldn't have been OK with that.  For a 3 I'd have jumped.  At 15, Carolina easily could've still had Coples, or Melvin Ingram.  I can't be totally convinced Kuechly wouldn't have made it that far either.

early thoughts, at 40

Best players left, though not necessarily in order:

*Courtney Upshaw, OLB/DE
*Cordy Glenn, G/T
*Colby Fleenor, TE
*Peter Konz, C
*Devon Still, DT
*Casey Hayward, CB
*Stephen Hill, WR
*Jared Crick, DE/DT
*Josh Norman, CB
*Josh Robinson, CB
*Jannoris Jenkins, CB
*Alfonso Dennard, CB

You can pull Konz off the board for lack of need.  Hill is the last WR that could realistically help right now, and they have young WR.

It's hard to argue for Upshaw, with a linebacker on board already, but he does still have that 3-4 or 4-3 skill set I like.  He would still add rush, and without duplicating Greg Hardy as specifically. But, the 3-4 looks probably shouldn't take another LB off the field already.

Glenn, a massive lineman, makes sense in our zone scheme - and he can play RT if you really, really need. But, here, he's probably a guard.  At that, he's a massive size upgrade over anything Carolina has, and the NFC South (and NFC in general) doesn't have a ton of size at DT.  His athleticism issues shouldn't be an issue at guard, but still, ideally he'd be smaller.

Still is a prototype DT, though ideally you'd want someone just a little more athletic.  Still, the skill set is all there.  The team has said they want to stand pat at DT, but it's a nice combo to add DT ability in front of a LB.  Fits in any spot we could use - 1 or 3 technique 4-3, 1 or 5 tech 3-4.

I like Crick because he gives you what Rivera's discussed (about kickers, sure, but still) a two-for-one.  Still is a 280 lb DE who would play outside on run downs, spelling Greg Hardy for about 300 plays there, and giving you about 300 more inside as a rusher.   He has natural 5-technique ability and would fit in just fine in the 3-4 as well.

Fleenor is interesting, as a very talented 'move' TE.  He's the most able TE in the draft.  But, with Jeremy Shockey, Olson most often played the move guy, and Shockey was the more typical inline TE.  It's hard to say how they'll interplay Olson with Gary Barnidge (who's always been too tall to block well consistently) and Ben Hartsock (who can only block), or whether they'd want/need another guy, but Fleenor - while he fits this O - is extra since Olson isn't suddenly going to become the line TE.  Orson Charles of Georgia is similar in that regard , he's going to help your passing game, but he's not going to become your blocker.

I separated out Dennard and Jenkins because they're first round talents at CB with issues off the field.  They're not less talented than the guys that have gone off the board already.  I can understand if the team has pulled either off their list entirely.
That probably has happened, so I'll mention my favorite CB is Josh Norman of Coastal Carolina, the most seasoned is Brandon Boykin of Georgia, the smartest is Casey Hayward of Vandy, and Central Florida's Josh Robinson is the best all-around CB outside of the trouble I already listed.  I'd be happy with any of the five at this spot, and corner is by far the biggest current need.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Kuechly Presser

I"m gleaning words from the Panthers presser here:

They trusted their board, took the best guy.  "If he was there" more or less stating that he was a guy they had very high on the board.
They wanted him, he was a guy they weren't going to entertain trade offers to get. That was a scenario they intended to stay and pick him.

Kuechly can play all 3 spots, will play if he's one of the 3 best LB.  They don't mention 3-4 at all, which in my own opinion isn't that relevant as they had guys who can play ILB. They're not stuck on he or Beason playing outside.

No impact on any injury concerns, per both.
They liked LB later in the draft by a good bit, but felt he was too good to pass.

Rivera "truly excited" to get him.  Has special ability.
Hurney adds "right work ethic, approach, hunger.  He brings all those things."
Rivera mentions locker room.  Suggests they felt Coples might not be the hard worker (I"m putting that statement in his mouth, honestly).

They also stated they had no intention of trading back into the first, so maybe Hurney has learned that lesson.

9 pick - Luke Kuechly

Carolina went with the guy I least wanted, of the guys that were most likely.

Though, for a moment I actually did worry that they would pick Mark Barron, though I don't trust that rumor.

So, they picked the most fundamental defensive player in the draft, so that's good.  We have no defense so it makes sense.

But, from a purely need standpoint, theywe could've picked up a LB in the 4th.  

On the upside, Quentin Coples is falling fast based on Carolina's passing of him.  And, Carolina won't have to worry whether or not their top pick actually cares.

What I hate is what I think it means for our LBs.  If Beason is in decent shape, what happens with Davis?   Also, for better or worse, we are spending far too much money at LB.

Honestly, I'm kinda shocked.  I couldn't think of a single LB that Rivera was in charge of, with the talent we had at LB already.  He's never gone after a blue chip LB.  I didn't expect one, but enough people did that I should have.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Final Thoughts

Just a quick few ideals before the draft.  I will likely have something after the draft, as a reaction, but more 
*I’ll be OK with anyone we pick.  I might not love the value immediately, but a lot of the “why did they do this instead of this” lies in wanting your guy.  More often than not, your favorite team isn’t going to pick your favorite player.  Over time, I anticipate whoever is at 9 and gets picked, to be a guy who helps out, a lot.
*I understand the thoughts for WR or OL.  I still want defense more, and there’s enough defense out there to make it realistic.   That said, I don’t want Luke Kuechly – he’s not what I’d expect out of a top 10 player at LB. And, if he’s picked, at least one of our LBs is outright screwed for his career, which is another thing I’d certainly rather not have.
*I still more or less believe in Melvin Ingram or Courney Upshaw on this team more than Quentin Coples, but Coples is the better player.  If he’s there, I expect he’ll be the pick, barring a surprise like another player higher than him being there (unlikely).  If they get to him, he’ll be their pick.  If not, I bet he slides a good deal – if we don’t like him, it’ll be a hard sell that there isn’t a reason why. I can’t say I’ve made my peace with Coples’ loafing, or honestly his technique issues.  I’m still concerned.  Maybe I’m, at this late point in the process, willing to defer since Cam Newton clearly came out of the same concerns so brilliantly.
But, Ingram and Upshaw duplicate Greg Hardy less, and are more versatile in this pro multiple scheme.  And I do want more of an outside rusher, which they are.  Ideally, Charles Johnson would play the left end more than the guy we'd draft.  Any of them are talented enough that they will help, regardless of what flavor, and while I'd really prefer a good DT to DE, rush is and always will be at a premium. 
*SO with that said, in a crude flow form – and expecting the top 5-6 guys out there, my preference falls on these players in order:
1. Coples
2. Ingram
3. Riley Reiff
4. Courtney Upshaw
5. Stephon Gilmore
6. David Decastro
7. Michael Brockers
*Floyd isn’t there – I don’t find him as dynamic as many do just because he did run well.  But, he fits, very much so.  I wouldn’t, but I’d understand, if he were the pick.  Kuechly, or any DT not Brockers, I don’t get at all at 9. 
*I’d be in favor of a trade down, especially if Coples isn’t there. Not that he’s the must-have, just that he’s the only guy that could fall to us that shouldn’t.  
Even so, if he were there, is the lesser between Ingram or Upshaw (both higher motor players who fit our versatile scheme better) that much worse that you couldn’t drop back and get a 2nd rounder? At least half of those guys I listed above would be there at 16. Any of the DTs, except possibly one, would be there too.  And then you’d have the ability to go get another defender at 40, and likely follow that with an offensive player. 
So, technically, the above list would have “trade down” #1, and the rest behind that.   I seem to like what’s there around 15 more than I do 9, and do like a lot of what is suggested to be around 40 – enough that a second pick around there wouldn’t break my heart at all.
*I have our needs as:
In that order.  I don’t have WR down because I don’t believe anyone lower than Blackmon/Floyd really upgrade us, and Floyd IMO is just a possession guy – too high for a guy like that. 
I also have DE low because it’s not the “need” the others are.  The DL that I have listed are, in my opinion, true upgrades and do make us better, but we don’t have to have a guy like that otherwise.  We could do just as well with a Jared Crick later – a guy who could take some snaps at DE for the run, and go inside for the pass.
*Even with Tolbert, I wouldn’t totally expect we don’t take an undersized RB to fit behind he and the two RBs.  Rivera talked about Sproles in a way that suggested he wanted a guy like that, and a guy with some return ability and missing NFL size might make sense late.
*Jimmy Clausen did work out with Floyd in his showcase.  I wouldn’t be totally surprised if there’s a trade, and that it would come at a low price for Carolina (or trade-up fodder).
*We could draft nothing but OL and DL and be fine.

Stephon Gilmore?

Recently, Stephon Gilmore has been racing up the draft boards, based on reports.  There’s been talk of him both at #7 (Jacksonville), and here at #9 with Carolina.
Gilmore has risen, in part because of the folly of other CBs (Jannoris Jenkins’ rapid population of the earth, both his and Dre Kirkpatrick’s weed habit, and Alfonso Dennard’s rage issues on players, cops, etc), and before that rise, was still considered possibly the better pure cover corner over even Morris Claiborne.   He excels in man coverage, and the team used Chris Gamble in man a lot last year.  That may not actually equate to how they’d use their corners this year that much.
So there’s some legitimate basis for Gilmore to go high.  Some scouts have him that high.  But some suggest that he’s better in the man schemes and playing under in cover 2 than he would be at sitting back in zone and breaking routes. 
In the end, I and many actual scouts still don’t have him that high.  I’d prefer a small trade down, with the hope of getting him or another CB or rusher, as that 16 range (around the Jets and Eagles, two teams that seem to want up) might bring better value (and another 2nd rounder, hopefully).   If Gilmore isn’t there, there are plenty of other players I like that seem to be good value there as well (edge rushers Courtney Upshaw, among others; the other malcontent CBs; David Decastro provides a better value there, and so on).
The upside is, if Gilmore does go as high as Jacksonville, that gives a higher chance of a Quentin Coples falling.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Decastro v/s Reiff

Following Matt Kalil, the next best linemen are Iowa’s Riley Reiff and Stanford’s David Decastro.  Alliteration aside, the pair share lots of similarities at this point – they’re both longterm starters at a high level (which dramatically increases a lineman’s chances of translating the skill level as a senior, to the pros).  Both played in a pro-style zone scheme, both coincidentally developed out of the same Coryell lineage that Carolina runs (Harbaugh and Ferentz were even with the same Coryell team in late 90s Baltimore).
Both look to be in range of the #9 pick Carolina posesses, and the team does have a need for linemen.  After letting Travelle Wharton walk, they brought back interim RG Geoff Hangartner, and added occasional Colts starter Mike Pollak, both of which likely fight Garry Williams for the two starting jobs.  Jeff Otah played well when able, and Byron Bell was a nice story, but the combined to make RT the glaring weakness.  They do have both, and Bell should improve going into his second year, but Otah is unrealiable and going into a contract year.  So the argument could be made for either player – the almost franchise level upgrade at guard, or the tough-nosed tackle to protect the edge. 
Both protect the investment of the various offensive skill players.  Both provide value because linemen tend to play more snaps than any other position.  Compare the impact of a lineman on almost every of the 1200 plays an offense might run, compared to the value added by a WR pick in the same term (on a team with Steve Smith, Greg Olsen, and three good receiving backs).  So, there’s a need.  It’s not the fun thing to do, but it might be coming.   So which one?

I hate to go with conventional thought, but a guard at 9 is just too high.  Outside of Wharton, the Panthers have had pretty good lines since 2008 relying on guards that were 5th-7th round picks or street pickups.  While Reiff isn’t likely to be as good a guard for one year, the long term is that Reiff at RT longterm is an upgrade that can, if required, play LT. Decastro could very well be a Hall of Fame player, though I don’t find any real difference between the two in skill set, work ethic, technique, and so on.  I’m sure there is- I just don’t discern much and it’s hard to compare the two positions in some ways.
And, in value terms, either player will make a great deal less than their veteran counterparts, but tackles have naturally better value. Reiff is definitely better than the average tackle in the 2nd round, but is Decastro significantly better than the average 2nd, or even 4th, round guard?  It’s less easy to say so in some cases.  Interior linemen can be hit or miss, but good ones are still there later, and you can more adequately survive with a roleplayer that does one thing very well, or both things at an average level.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Outside Rushers, Outside #9

I’ve pushed the ideal of a true outside rusher – a guy to press the edge.  A guy that will crash the outside.  Other criteria – size (250-260), ability to set the edge (for the run)/gap integrity (“staying at home”)
Greg Hardy does a fine job most downs, but not unlike his moods, he’s up and down.  He can provide as much pressure as Charles Johnson at times, and has the size to play the run well.  He excelled at batting passes at the line, the only player since Julius Peppers to do as well.   But, he wears down with too many snaps – which may have been partly a matter of it being his first full season starting – and while he can set the edge well, he often leaves contain and can get suckered.  He doesn’t have the discipline that many of the other guys his size in the last few years have – Johnson, Peppers, Tyler Brayton were all very good at it, Mike Rucker was about as good as I’ve ever seen at it.  
The ideal solution would’ve been a veteran player who can play the run for 20-25 snaps at a cheap rate, but the team didn’t go after any veteran DL.  So an alternate solution to this, that doesn’t directly replace Hardy fulltime, is a versatile player who can play the OLB in the 3-4 or at end.  Which would mean Hardy takes more snaps in base, and would play the 5 technique inside/3 technique in nickel, and that rusher would play some end, stand up in nickel, and stand in the 3-4.  It’s still somewhat duplicative, but not completely.   The ideal for that is Melvin Ingram, who has immense versatility, though I do lament that there isn’t that elite 250 lb guy this year (Demarcus Ware, Brian Orakpo, Dwight Freeney, etc).  Ingram isn’t that elite player, but he’s a step below.  Outside of the top few, that’s what’ll be available – really good players.

But, as Ingram may be a few spots value-wise below Carolina’s pick, and in my opinion DE could very well use a patch instead of a fix, what else is out there?

Consider with all of these players – any talk of 3-4 is one-gap. You’re just an outside rusher.  The hand on the ground, hand off the ground bit is more or less interchangeable in this defense and is just window dressing.  A rusher outside is a rusher outside, and the Wade Phillips part of this defense has regularly taken guys who might not play a great contain OLB or coverage OLB, and continued to push them to rush 90+% of the time.  Don’t just consider Mario Williams, consider the Dallas OLBs and the work spanning both the Phillips and Rivera Chargers.  Rivera’s work there showed a massive amount of four-man looks, even if one or two players stood.

This isn't a comprensive list, but some guys that have caught my eye over time.

Trade down – picks 16-25
Courtney Upshaw, Alabama – he has the size, and sets the edge.  He’s fallen because he’s not showing quite as much OLB athleticism in space, and some don’t feel he’s a 4-3 end with his hand on the ground.  I think he can do either, and looking for him to be a drop OLB might be unrealistic, but in Steve Spagnuolo’s version of this defense, he played Matthias Kiwanuka at OLB and the team hasn’t replaced him with a smaller SLB over time.  So, in a pinch, could you play Upshaw at SLB in a 4-3, over the TE and still blitzing much of the time?  Sure.

Whitney Mercilus, Illinois - prototype end fits the bill.  He’s a more typical 260 lb end than a tweener, but he has the outside rush down.  He's only had one year of top production, but it was stellar.  He can add more size than most of the guys on this list.

Nick Perry, USC – Perry’s got tons of size, and like Upshaw is a natural standing linebacker.  He has all the natural skills, but since he's a tweener, he'll have to find the experience to play pro tackles against the run.  He's explosive and fast getting into his blocker, but will need more moves to keep from getting washed out of the play.

Our 2nd round pick (40) – player range 30-45
Bruce Irvin, West Virginia – he’s your more typical 3-4 OLB. He's yet to show he's a football player - he's just shown rush ability - and is the first light guy (at 240).  Has shown to be a bit selfish and might have to learn to play within a system. 

Vinny Curry, Marshall – Curry is an average athlete that has, what seems, a pretty ready set of skills already.  He has a number of moves, and when he gets to the edge, he turns the corner sharply.  But his upside is lower than most of the guys ahead of him.

Shea McClellin,  Boise St - Somewhat of a later riser, the 6'3, 258 lb OLB has done it all, not unlike what you'd expect out of a Ron Rivera rusher.  He's rushed standing, or with his hand on the ground, or playing from an eagled LB spot.  He has experience dropping into coverage.  But, he's not going to add much weight, and won't be setting the edge at a high level from DE.

Later rounds – 3-4-5th or later (approximate)
Kyle Wilber, Wake Forest - mostly a 3-4 OLB, he's played in both but won't have end size.  If you're looking for a smart 3-4 OLB in later rounds, he's a sleeper. 

Delano Johnson, Bowie St - obviously, a small school prospect.  At 6'4, 267, he's got the physical tools to play in the league, but he has to work hard to do it.  He's going to excite whoever gets him, on paper.

Brett Roy, Nevada - the Jarrett Johnson of this list.  A stout 280 lbs, he's nonetheless a linebacker by trade,  and if you use him at OLB, will probably set the edge very well.  He uses his hands well, and if he keeps his base under him, he could be as good a contain defender as you could expect out of an OLB.  He doesn't have experience playing end, and he doesn't rush the passer that well.  But, Johnson was a part of some of the better defenses of the last few years, and will make $5 million in the 3-4 version of this defense in San Diego.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Immediate Solution At 9 Pick
Carolina has no expectation of what position will be added with the 9th overall pick.   What the team does expect is a player to add to a starting role immediately.
Carolina expects help right up front from that player – the identity of which will depend much greater upon what falls to #9 than a specific need at this position or that position.  Head Coach Ron Rivera mentioned that they expect that player to start right away – that they’re not looking for a project.   The philosophy makes sense, but definitely steers toward ‘safer’ picks.  It essentially rules out the DTs (either underdeveloped, inexperienced, or underperforming) and WR, which is the most slow to develop position outside of QB, traditionally - and toward the DEs, LBs, and OL. 
If one were to guess, based on that statement, the pick would lean toward an OL.  If the team has OT Riley Reiff and/or G David Decastro rated around their pick or they have confidence that they’ll be there, which there’s a strong chance both will be, it would make sense to pencil that pick in.  Reiff makes more sense, being more versatile (he could slide in and play guard as needed for a year, where there’s certainly more resistance to Decastro moving outside), but he’s a little less likely to be available. 
As well, Hurney responded very favorably when asked about drafting linemen, suggesting you don’t pass up a chance to pick a player when able.   The scenario has merit – both from an immediate perspective and long term philosophy – the team has two guard positions open and loses on-again-off-again tackle Jeff Otah next year (if he’s even healthy).  A line prospect that starts for you, as a #9 pick certainly would, will play 1200 snaps for you in a year when healthy, where a DE would have trouble playing more than 2/3 that (with two incumbent starters, Greg Hardy would sit, but not every down).

For two linemen to be in range would allow the team to have that, at the very least, as a major consideration, with the best defender coming at pick 40.  The team would also have the ability to trade down and capture the best lineman (or defender) at around the 16 mark, where the Jets and Eagles seem motivated to move up.  The team is receptive to a trade down, but Hurney stated that a trade up was a lot less likely despite a few media rumors suggesting it.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Draft: Circumstance, Luck

Reading through mocks, scenarios, wish lists, arguments, and analysis (both professional and amateur), there’s a wide range of things that people want/fear/expect at the 9 pick for Carolina.

But, essentially, there’s a massive amount of uncontrollable things that happen ahead of that pick, and all Carolina picks. They only had true control over the pick last year, with Cam Newton. Outside of that scenario, the only controllable circumstances happen when the team is already on the clock – whoever is picked will be far more based on what’s left, a matter of what other teams think and a little luck.

Control outside of those restraints costs – trade-ups are expensive. Carolina’s already paid a heavy price for just such a thing, and Marty Hurney routinely fails the team in that regard. The risk is so much higher than the reward, and even when it does work, the price is high. Hopefully, the lack of trades in 2010, 2011 have been part of a learning process, that will get back to the Hurney that might trade up three spots for a need player (04) or down ten spots into the heart of a talented draft (07). For that matter, 2011 was a far more need-based draft than you’d wish, for a young team that still had so many places to upgrade.

I’ve personally become far too need-centric this year in my wants.
I’ll fully admit that the safest picks right now aren’t at the places the team needs the most help. I don’t get that excited about a guard or MLB pick at 9. They’re fine players, but are they that much better than what will be there at 50? Do those players, even if they’re the best player, radically change things compared to their equivalent a round later? That’s why those players don’t go in the top ten. I guess OT doesn’t have that risk, though then you’re discussing whether a RT is worth the 9 pick (since Jordan Gross isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, I have worries about such a high pick at a non-blue chip position). Still, if you want immediate impact, it’s hard to do better than OL, where you can all but guarantee a starter and you expect 1200 snaps out of a starting lineman. It has that “protect your investment” feel to it. Right or wrong, people assign a decade to a starting lineman’s tenure before he steps on the field, and for that, I guess the last tackle we drafted in the top ten has paid off – Jordan Gross starts his tenth season this year.

I don’t even know what to do with the LB pick discussion, as much as we might be in need of depth/potential starter ability, I don’t know where Kuechly fits in. If everyone’s healthy, which multi-million starter sits? He helps none in the 3-4, as well, so it’s not likely you find ways to make him an extra LB. He’s not your chuck-the-TE, on the line OLB that this defense could use (James Anderson is a fine player, but he seems to play a very WLB role at SLB). WR I can argue either way – but I don’t think, outside of a true difference maker, that a WR will make a uge difference. Is Michael Floyd better at some things than Will Blackmon? Sure. Does that make him the potential star that Blackmon seems to be? In my opinion, no. So do you put a #9 into what looks to be a really good #2 receiver? Floyd seems, to me, more Keyshawn Johnson than Andre Johnson (or Calvin Johnson). He definitely fits the offense however, and maybe he can be enough of a deep threat jumping for the ball but I don’t know if he’ll spend a lot of time running away from defenders.

The team seems content at DT – which seems to be a mistake – but while Ron Rivera will let you know what he thinks, without smokescreens, he’s also not telling you what happens if DT is at the top of his board (my problem is, I don’t see the DTs as worthy right now, and I’d much prefer a veteran addition). CB, my greatest need, is suddenly a disjointed group of shady kids, where there was once the feeling that you could pick between Morris Claiborne (largely expected to go top 5) and Dre Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick was busted for drugs, and at his size there’s concern that he’s athlete enough to be a top ten. The maturity level drops a good bit from there, among the guys typically thought talented enough to be a first rounder.

I don’t think DE is the weak spot that DT or CB is – I think we could use depth at minimum, but with fewer snaps or personal growth, Greg Hardy can be enough. His numbers more or less mirrored Charles Johnson’s, though part of that was a late-season let-up by an injured Johnson, who braved through some bangups but wasn’t effective at all. I have some reservations about Quentin Coples, who I can’t see dropping to us. If he does, great. He’ll be a fantastic base end, and if needed, a fantastic 5-technique guy, too. I do think Ron Rivera can get work out of him, despite questions about motor.

But, Melvin Ingram is more what I was hoping for, in a lot of ways. Neither player is the ridiculously athletic outside rusher you might want top ten, the type guy that doesn’t make Greg Hardy completely obsolete. Either could stand up, and rush, just fine. Ingram seems to take better to actually playing OLB, and 3-4 teams do seem to have a keen interest in him – he could stand, but not lose anything to running. He’s beefy but not as stiff as Coples seems. You could play him at end, or stand him, and it’s all the same, which is what this hybrid defense is about. It doesn’t fit our greatest “need” – I think our problems at CB, DT are much greater – but at least at DT you could argue for stasis. My biggest concern isn’t talent or depth, it’s green players who might not overcome their issues – McClain’s gap integrity issues , or Fua’s lack of explosion. To me, there’s definitely room to make one of those guys our 4th best, rather than it be one of the street guys we picked up mid-year or Andre Neblett.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Steve Smith Signs Extension

Steve Smith seemed like the one star without a long term deal, and now that’s covered.  Carolina signed Smith to a three year extension, announced today with a press conference.
The deal also essentially guarantees what Smith and the Panthers decided last offseason – that they’d stick together instead of go separate ways.  The star WR, with the team since its low point in 2001, has more or less charted his success, and with it, the team’s – his best years have often been the team’s, not because the team was always good, but because he helped lift them there (2008, the run game certainly did its part).  With that said, there’s definitely a correlation between Smith’s success and a QB who’ll throw it deep, and he has that in spades with Cam Newton. Smith was at one point on pace to not only eclipse his best year of 2005, but to beat the yardage total of Jerry Rice – at one point looking to be on pace to go for 1,850 yards.  Smith won the receiving Triple Crown in 2005, with the most receptions/yards/touchdowns. 
There’s also a little worry on my part about terms – Smith was already making a $10.7 million cap divot, and that’s before the newer deals by other WR – like Vincent Jackson’s 11 million per year.  Clearly, it’d have been more risky a year ago, but Smith’s value would be much better right now had he signed a year ago.
Speaking of which, it seems the team is intent on re-signing Jonathan Stewart, regardless of Deangelo Williams being one of the highest paid Panthers and having just picked up Mike Tolbert. Outside of Stewart, there aren’t any high profile Panthers without a long term contract (next would likely be whoever steps up at, say, WR).  I guess, you’re on deck, Stewie. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

For/Against: Trading Up For Claiborne

I've argued in the past that CB is the team's biggest need. Competition in this division requires good pass defense. But, as it stands, the best corner in the draft (Morris Claiborne), despite recent wonderlic reports, won't be there at #9.

Without a consensus on what to do with that 9 pick (and many of them being pedestrian LB, OL ideas), there's a suggestion of the need to trade up for Claiborne. So, let's do a little For/Against on the idea, and see what comes out of it.


*Claiborne would radically upgrade the corner spot, teaming with Chris Gamble for much better coverage. Captain Munnerlyn goes back to spot duty, where he excelled.

*teams seem to want to trade out of the top 10, or move within it. More demand means better value.

*With the new rules, Claiborne will cost a great deal less than a free agent corner, even in a trade-up. It won't cost an excessive amount monetarily to make a move up. Compare that to 2010, the final year of the old pay structure, where a move from 9 (CJ Spiller, 5 years, $25 million/20 million guaranteed) to 6 (Russell Okung, 6 years, up to $58 million) would create major cap issues.


*Cost is too high, even with more demand going down. Take the 6th pick - which means that Tampa has passed on Claiborne. By the traditional value chart, the 6th pick is worth 1600 points, the 9 1350 points. So to keep from giving up future firsts - which I think we've learned is a terrible idea by now - the 2nd (40) pick is worth 500. So with 1850 points of value, the Rams' 3rd (65) just about fits (265 points). So you move up three spots, give up the difference of a round in your next most important selection.

*The second round seems like a better place to naturally receive a corner. As of right now, you could get a scrappy slot/outside guy in Brandon Boykin/Georgia, a fluid and instinctive athlete in Jamell Fleming/Oklahoma, a heady and productive Casey Heyward/Vandy.

*more importantly, you could see Dre Kirkpatrick/Alabama, Stephon Gilmore/South Carolina, or Janoris Jenkins/North Alabama fall. There are options. Gilmore and Jenkins may each be as good at covering in man and zone as Claiborne.

*Claiborne isn't the only thing you need. Even if you forget about the offense (WR/OL), and just focus on defense, corner isn't the only concern. The team needs defensive line and linebacker help, and chances are, it wouldn't sleep on a difference maker at safety if one did show up.

So, losing a future pick to ensure the drafting of one guy that can help immensely, leaves you without other help.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Reggie Smith Signed

Carolina added another safety in free agency this week, Reggie Smith of San Francisco. The (6’0, 200 lb) former Oklahoma safety was a 49er draft pick in 2008, 3rd round. Smith has been behind a unique set of circumstances in SF, only starting due to injury until last year, when he was expected to play at FS in place of free agent Dashon Goldson. Smith got hurt (torn meniscus) and the team re-signed Goldson – who is currently the team’s franchise player. The team wanted him to return as well, but Smith was looking for a starting opportunity.

It’s good that the team recognizes the issues at safety as just as dire as the corner spot opposite Chris Gamble. Of course, before jumping off the deep end, also consider that the team had placed former Philly starter Sean Considine and former Bear Kevin Payne as veterans on the roster last year, with Considine making the roster but being cut mid-season as part of a special teams shift (the Bears game, which was a special teams nightmare). So it’s not somehow a quick reaction, a new reaction, or even an over-reaction. It’s not even that different from last year. But the urgency may be greater now, with last year’s failures and Jerry Richardson’s statement about Martin at the end of the year.

There was talk that Carolina would be interested in drafting a safety, but that appears unlikely now. There would also seem to be a bit of support for Sherrod Martin to move back to cornerback, where he does have experience (and size). Camp comments from last year suggest that Martin may have been tried there at one point, had there been more time, we would’ve seen that. The team eventually used Jordan Pugh at nickel corner for a brief time, and then abandoned it. Martin, Pugh, Smith, and Godfrey all have experience at corner, and all are currently at safety with newcomer Haruki Nakamura.

Carolina does have flexibility, however, and that’s a step up. Hopefully, it leads to better safety play. The new additions, at the least, seem to have the ability to make their assignments first, and worry about making plays second.