I was looking back at some thoughts on the '12, '13 drafts earlier, and it brought to mind that the team has done a fantastic job drafting in that span - and yet, the entire makeup of the team could've been massively altered with simply going with the next man down on the draft board.
I struggled to be OK with the Luke Kuechly pick - not that he wasn't a fantastic player, but that I felt (wrongly) there wasn't the ILB need and the value wasn't great (of course, now he'd be a top 3 pick in a draft with two very dynamic QBs). I'd focused hard on whether Mo Claiborne was worth a trade up (I do believe he'll be a fine player if he's ever given the right scheme, which hasn't happened in two attempts), and the Quentin Coples/Melvin Ingram/Courtney Upshaw thing (Upshaw I saw later than the other two; clearly Coples is the better of the three but it's not like he's been Julius Peppers - so I was both right and wrong?); there was the need for a DT and whether Dontari Poe was for real (turns out, yes) or if you reached past him for Michael Brockers.
But the line I'd heard during and after the pick was that if not Kuechly, it'd have been Mark Barron if he hadn't gone at 7. Which, as I was already coming to terms with Kuechly, the Barron thing was something totally different. It's not that Carolina had a great secondary over that time, either. You could, as they ended up doing, move Charles Godfrey to FS, and who knows, he might've been good back there.
In Carolina's single-high safety scheme, it's not inconceivable to think that Barron would've been a wrecking crew. His 88 tackles each year would've been welcome, and the team's had a hole at SS since that draft - throwing a bunch of guys at the job including the assumedly stable Roman Harper. This year Barron threw in two sacks, and certainly he'd have been a good blitzer in Carolina.
Barron was, in my mind, the biggest reason that Greg Schiano's group went from 32nd the year before against the run, to 1st. That's remarkable, and yeah, I'd throw Barron in there as "the reason" (though Lavonte David has well overtaken him now).
But Barron's not a great cover guy. He's the guy you expect as a 6'2, 220 lb guy playing SS. That he went #7 overall didn't make it that much better, getting him as a blue chip guy doesn't make him blue chip. He's not as good in coverage as David, not faster. He wouldn't have helped Carolina there. Tampa attempted to get some rush in front of him, and that didn't help (not really his fault); they got good DBs around him to play cover 3 or cover 1 behind him and that didn't help much either. Truth is, he's somewhat a big linebacker who plays on a team with a more exceptional version of him at WLB. Lovie Smith should be playing a lot of Cover 1 Robber which might use him some of that Barron skill, but Barron won't ever be elite because he's just not that great at coverage.
Similarly, Kenny Vaccaro and Tyler Eifert were supposed to be the guys behind Star Lotulelei in 2013. Vaccaro, like Barron above, plays SS. There's been a hole there. Vaccaro, I'm going to suggest, has had a better career even though it's only been 14 games. He pushed Roman Harper out, and both sides earned that. Vaccaro is a good all-around player at S, and while he didn't blitz well, he deflected the 2nd most passes at S and was an excellent run defender. Vaccaro fits - his play against slot receivers was interesting as well.
Eifert is a different situation. Obviously, Carolina has Greg Olsen, who led the team in most receiving categories last year. It's somewhat easy to predict Eifert's impact since he was behind Jermaine Gresham, and his 39/445/2TD year seems pretty realistic. Carolina could've easily used that, though it may have come at the expensive of an already anemic WR unit.
The difference in fit is that Gresham is massive, and Eifert and Olsen are ore similar - both are guys who can play at the line, but in 2 TE sets might be better moving. But, in the end, you have one guy on the line, and I don't think either would be diminished. That does worry me a bit, in an offense that runs the ball so much, whether you can have 2 TE that don't block that well (and even with all the size at TE this draft, I'm not impressed with the blocking that the rookies might provide). There aren't a ton of balls to go around for anyone, and a lot of them have to go to Olsen. That's not just an argument against WR, it's an argument against TE, too - Eifert might not see enough balls to be worth it in the short term.
That makes an Eifert pick a phasing out of Olsen, the opposite of what's currently happening.
All of it's speculation, but I think one pick makes a big difference sometimes. In these situations, it came out in Carolina's favor.