I know Carolina is, based on the world view, not upgrading.
They've done their best upgrades via the draft in recent years. And in
years prior, just not drafted well, hence the reason free agency takes
care of so much of the depth work that the draft should. So on first
look, there seems to be some outside concern. Their first two picks
might not start - the third doesn't play the exact position needed
I look at Carolina and I see nothing but potential. I guess that'll
happen - I have emotional ties to the team and I don't pretend to be
some stoic, lifeless observer. I also might have more experience than
the average pundit in learning what this team is trying to do
schematically, and get some of the nuance that points more toward an
upgrade in some spots than the average person.
And, added grain of salt, an additional amount of excitement comes from
essentially team-released information, since I do feel like the team has
a bit of control on the local media. But, you hear about the way some
of these draftees look, and you can't help but think there's a lot more
ceiling on this team than they're getting credit for.
It's tough to discount that this remains a very physical, power running/
and strong defense team. An opponent must either be willing to play
that style of football, or be willing to have a high rate of failure
trying to break the game open in other styles.
There's room for failure with that high ceiling. Cam Newton's ankle
surgery, something that detractors often point toward, could in fact
hinder him. I guess the idea is, either he'll miss some practice time
or it'll continue to bother him. To me, the idea that he's carried the
injury for years suggests that finally fixing it will help. Further,
you could hope that a more consistent ankle will help his footwork, the
inconsistency that helps cause him some inaccuracy.
No different than with Kelvin Benjamin. You know he's not that
experienced, and yet experienced WRs take time to acclimate to the NFL.
And yet you know he has such a high ceiling. You know he can wow you.
The question will become, how and when will he reach that ceiling?
There haven't been many Panthers this talented, this much of a sky's the
limit situation. I keep calling him Receiver Cam, and truthfully,
that's what he is. You could legitimately parallel them physically from
the neck down, they have the same positives and limited negatives.
Newton, somehow, came out of the box much stronger than anyone could
imagine, and he's had a good three years. Expecting that from Benjamin
seems quite unlikely, but expecting nothing is no more realistic.
And, past that, you can't say that the other rookies will or won't add a
lot. Trai Turner is the most likely to add significant time, being the
most talented/highest rated player at RG, but there's nothing guaranteed
there. Bene Benwikere is a raw 5th rounder, and a guy some felt should
go lower, but he's at a position that could actually use a player. A
lot of the other spots, you find no guaranteed snaps. Even Benjamin,
being raw, might be a guy who finds it hard to break the ceiling against
three very efficient veterans in an offense that has low room for risk.
But can they design parts of the gameplan to allow for Benjamin, like
Newton, to succeed within the framework of the offense? Absolutely.
Similarly, the need for Kony Ealy to play major snaps continues to grow.
Turner's vicious run blocking could really help on an offense that runs
a lot, but doesn't always run well. You can see the value in a pair of
young DBs for a secondary that's had castoffs and undrafteds. You can
definitely see a value in a do-it-all RB on a team with aging talent
carrying the ball.
I don't know what the future holds - it's foolish to think any of us can
provide that. But, I see value here. I see a team that has to find
someone to be Jordan Gross, but outside that, I don't have as many
concerns as I did with the 2013 team.