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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Nothing To Say

I'm probably going to update less over the next few weeks. It's
actually - finally - the offseason, after a playoff run and the longest
post-season period in recent history between Super Bowl and draft.

Carolina's busy with signing picks, where they have everyone up to Tre
Boston signed, leaving just the top 3 to pick up, and far as I know,
they have the room now with the Charles Godfrey deal.

Cam Newton's supposedly out of his boot, and doing well. Greg Hardy's
deal appears to be unlikely to be renegotiated or extended, but his law
troubles might be overblown.

So there are, technically, no shoes to drop for a while. I could write
about some other nonsense - I actually have a deadline to meet for
someone else soon on unrelated matters - but for right now, Kelvin
Benjamin and the F-post might have to wait. If there's a rare shot that
anyone does want to read that or anything else right now, I'll pop it
out, though.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

WR - Common Theme

Carolina's addition of Kelvin Benjamin really altered the fabric of the
receiver group - in a good way. In most ideals, Benjamin is the polar
opposite of the lunchpail type receivers (Jason Avant, Jerricho
Cotchery) whose value comes in doing the smallest things well. Benjamin
is still learning the position, so the dependability, the efficiency
won't be there.

However, one thing the group as a whole seems to have in common? They
have experience with a running QB and/or a guy who has experience
extending plays. Absolutely, Michael Vick is the prototype, but you
can't discount Ben Roethlisberger either. Both QBs have some
escapeability, and that requires a wide receiver who can be flexible
along the way. Benjamin's 2013 was with a runner in Jameis Winston, so
it's not a foreign concept.

And all three will have to mold together to fill Cam Newton's own
escapeability.

Tiquan Underwood stands out as an exception. He's bounced around, and
while he spent some time with Josh Freeman, I don't know I'd single him
out about making it happen with a scrambler. It's not that he can't do
it, it's just a small sample size.

Either way, it's just another example of a situation where the current
WRs might not be as flashy, they don't have past success here in
Carolina, but they have a significant amount of 'fit' to the system and
what the team wants to do.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dallas Apparently Loves Carolina's Draft

It's never bad to have a little validation.  While Carolina isn't exactly in the business of validation, and the draft grades are rarely kind, Dave Gettleman noted that a GM had texted him to congratulate him on seeing his son graduate, and said one (maybe the same one, maybe not) had texted and said the tradeup for CB Bene Benwikere was a good move.

But Cowboys VP Stephen Jones went a step further. While he didn't give Carolina any props, he went on record suggesting that, before a trade-up, they'd anticipated targeting DE Kony Ealy and G Trai Turner with their 2nd and 3rd picks, respectively.  Both were ahead of Carolina's picks in those rounds, so they would've taken Carolina's two players there.

Now, it's rare for an executive to rave about two players his team didn't pick.  And, by trading up for Demarcus Lawrence in the 30s, they're also saying that they had Lawrence high enough that they couldn't chance him falling (i.e., he was both ahead of Ealy and far enough ahead for the trade).  But

The other thing is, Jones shoots himself in the foot by showing that he essentially gave up a starting level player to get a minor upgrade - or, in my view, a downgrade, since I liked Ealy more than Lawrence.   So that solidifies the traditional strategy of not trading up.  Is Kony Ealy a Trai Turner less than Demarcus Lawrence?  Not in my estimation, and not if you take Turner out and judge them as equals.

But, interesting stuff.  Wasn't expecting that one.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bottled Potential

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
greatest.

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.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Improvement?

I was interested in digging through the position groups with ideas on
whether the team has improved or not. With the team somewhat set, the
challenge becomes 2014 on paper versus 2013 in practice.



Coaching

Another year together. Ron Rivera improved greatly into 2013 based on
in-game decision making. Net loss - Lance Taylor, assistant WRs coach.
Net gain - senior assistant John Ramsdell. So, win. As well, a few
question marks (LBs coach Al Holcomb, QBs coach Ken Dorsey, WRs coach
Ricky Proehl) have another year under their belts, and proved more asset
than liability. The offense picks up some needed experience and the
defense didn't change.
IMPROVED

QB
The key pieces return, I don't expect anything other than Cam Newton and
Derek Anderson to be on the team. Joe Webb is interesting but
insignificant. I'll throw a little love this way because of increased
experience, but Newton has a lot on his plate and has to start making
more deep plays happen again.
IMPROVED

RB
This one's shaky. More age than you might want, more money than you
might want. Deangelo Williams re-established last year as a good base
back, but Jonathan Stewart had a very shaky year only a season out from
getting a new contract and being named the top guy. Mike Tolbert does
always add a great wildcard to it, and Tyler Gaffney might be a lot
better for this team than Kenjon Barner. IMPROVED for that fact alone
and just on the 50/50 chance Stewart does play. But this could still go
south.

TE
This is hard to say. Greg Olsen had a good year last year, and no one's
going to take many of his targets. I don't know if Ed Dickson is a good
replacement for Ben Hartsock, one of the league's better blockers at TE,
but Hartsock was starting to become less reliable and was never a
receiving threat. The team could always just throw a lineman out there
for that. Dickson's potential comes in receiving, and the team does
finally have a competent player that could spell Olsen there. But
until I see how it comes together,
DOWNGRADE

WR
Carolina thoroughly overhauled everything, so there's no constant at
all. I believe there's less talent, but more ability. I believe
there's a better fit there - the players that worked better in the
vertical stuff Rob Chudzinski did, didn't work as well here. Ted Ginn
cleaned up the deep stuff, but it wasn't there much and the success rate
went down. This year's group is all potential, of course, but they run
strong routes, they execute well. They're more efficient. I assume
Jason Avant in the slot, where he's best, and Jerricho Cotchery having
to take on more work on the outside. Tiquan Underwood, at the least, is
a deep man that has potential to do more. I caution the reader to not
expect too much of Kelvin Benjamin, but he could at the least be a
redzone and third down jump ball guy. Honestly I love the idea of just
giving Newton a packaged play where he can hand off, run himself, or
chuck it at Benjamin on a slant, for every third down ever. A guess,
but IMPROVED

OL
A potential disaster. You really only know who two starters truly are,
Ryan Kalil and Byron Bell. Maybe you pencil in Amini Silatolu, assume
Bell is a LT and you have the left three.
But, the right side isn't all bad. Trai Turner might have some growing
pains, but I'd almost want to pencil him in as an immediate upgrade, not
only because he's powerful, but also because he's not seven different
guys. Having Nate Chandler and Garry Williams at OT is what's holding
down the rest, and who knows how that, or Bell at LT, will go. Depth at
C, depending on Turner playing inside as needed, could lack, too. Best
case? Bell is an adequate LT, and competition makes the rest happen.
Williams is a good pass blocker at RT, and looked OK as a run blocker
before getting hurt at G. But until then, there are a lot of questions
unanswered.
DOWNGRADE

DL
They return everyone and added Kony Ealy, who allows the team to keep
both starting ends and have a good end rushing inside. No purpose in
belaboring this, IMPROVED.

LB
I don't know what to say. Hard to get better, they don't need to get
better.

CB
I'm hesitant. Antoine Cason is really talented. They might not have
lost much on Captain Munnerlyn there - that might be an unpopular
opinion, but Cason might be the steal of Carolina's free agency so far
and I wish he'd signed for two years instead. They don't really have a
nickel, and I'll see Charles Godfrey do well there before I'll call that
a good thing. Bene Benwikere is the other option, so there's not much.
Melvin White probably got stronger and learned how to be a pro, so
hopefully that helps.
DOWNGRADE

S
I like what's here. Mike Mitchell was a unique guy there, a SS playing
a good FS. Now they have two guys fitting better the intended roles.
Thomas Decoud will improve under this front seven, and Roman Harper can
make plays in the box. My downgrade worry would be Harper being awful
in coverage, but Quintin Mikell wasn't great, he just knew the system.
UPGRADE

Special Teams
No clue who the returners will be. Everything else is the same.
DOWNGRADE



A lot can and will change. Again I'm comparing paper versus production.
But, I think the downgrades aren't all catastrophic, just the loss of
Jordan Gross makes that OL a hard sell. Otherwise, I think this team is
doing a good job of finding players that fit their scheme and at low
cost.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Greg Hardy Arrested, Released

Greg Hardy was arrested for assault regarding the woman he was screwing.  I won't put it past that, because obviously whatever that relationship was, isn't.

I don't deal in gossip, but I figured I'd acknowledge that he was arrested.  I'd also like to point out that various rumors, even before the 911 tape came out (by God, do your best to find a non-TMZ link, that site deserves none of your traffic), seemed to point at Hardy not being in the wrong.

I certainly hope that's the case, too, but let's face it, you never know.  Gong to hold judgement until it's relevant to the team.  I hope both sides find the peace they need in their lives, because the idea of a 280 lb man beating on a woman is obviously distasteful, and a woman beating on a 280 lb man who sacrifices his body for much greater pain just seems like a bad idea.   Hitting anyone when it's not extremely crucial seems pretty stupid too, if I'm being totally honest.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Godfrey As Nickel

I'd previously mentioned this, but wanted to dig in further.

I do have some worry about relying on Charles Godfrey as a nickel, but
the move makes sense if he's healthy.

Godfrey adds size, length, experience, upgrades the nickel tackling
skill, and possibly blitz ability (he only has 3 sacks career, but at
210 he's not going to completely fold against a blocker the way a 180 lb
guy would). If he proves good at it, but his full speed isn't around
with the Achilles injury, him being a short-zone guy isn't catastrophic
either.

The interesting thing, if you remember, is that this has come up before.

In 2011, Carolina did little to add at cornerback; they had Chris
Gamble, who would have a very good season, and little else; Captain
Munnerlyn would start the year, his first as a starter, but there wasn't
anything else of real consequence (Josh Thomas, still with the team, and
Darius Butler, who the team had moved on from a few years ago but is
still in the league).

Then, get into camp, and the idea was to move Godfrey down from SS and
insert second-year S Jordan Pugh. After raves by the final Fox staff
for his football IQ, Pugh had a solid end to 2010, starting two games
and pulling out 4 tackles, a defensed pass, and an INT in one of those
two starts. Godfrey, of course, was a college corner, and his move to
safety despite having corner ability was, at the time, surprising. The
simple idea that Godfrey was a corner isn't always easy to remember, and
the idea that the team intended to throw him on at nickel in '11 is a
distant memory too (since it never really happened).

Pugh struggled in camp, and though he started a game in 2011, the
Godfrey to nickel thing never really materialized. A year later
Carolina was left trying new things at corner (and '13, and '14...)
while Godfrey stayed at S.

The few college draft writeups left from 2008 all call him a corner, and
somewhat glow about him. "Rare combo of size/speed...Versatile". "good
initial quickness and physicality to re-route the receiver...effective
in zone".

Now at CB, my concern is his health. His deep speed doesn't bother me,
but he does have to deal with a fairly catastrophic injury within a
calendar year of seeing the field again (he was hurt in October, and
isn't 100%). But, for now, on paper, looks like it's not an awful
idea.

Reaching

When bad teams reach, good teams can't.

For instance, Ja'Wuan James going at 19 to Miami. They clearly had a
need, and if you wanted to say James was the best tackle on the board,
you could argue that - Morgan Moses, Cyrus Kouandijo had major issues,
and Joel Bitonio wasn't rated anywhere near 19. But neither was James.

Which caused a volatile situation at tackle. I don't believe James was
going to be Carolina's pick at 28, though we'll never know. But at the
least, Carolina had some concerns about Moses to pass by him twice,
there's reason to imagine that Kouandijo was worth some concern. I know
I'd read the rumors about Bitonio at 28, but I don't know how serious
they were (we might learn other people high on the draft board as we did
the last few years, but don't hold your breath).

Reaching for Kouandijo or Bitonio doesn't become "right" for Carolina
just because Miami did it with James. Which would've been part of the
reason to do it - James reduced an OK tackle crop by a fair portion,
where it didn't have the depth WR did. You could argue that simply
means you take tackle first, and then go with the deeper WR group
second. College Scouting Director Don Gregory even was quoted as saying
you can find (future?) starters as late as the 4th in this draft. It
had me thinking WR wasn't going to happen in the first, certainly.

And, yet, a lot of national cricism, regardless of the OT depth after
those first few prospects, comes from Carolina's taking a somewhat raw
WR in the first instead of an OT. Either they would be forced to take a
tackle (like Moses, who fell almost a full round, or Richardson, who
right or wrong I would've been OK with in 2 or 3, and went undrafted)
later that they apparently felt couldn't help, and forego Kony Ealy or
another talented player, or face this scrutiny.

Certainly, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, Donte Moncrief, John Brown
(who?), and Josh Huff - the guys who ended up being taken between 60 and
92 - were not guys Carolina felt could be future #1 receivers. I don't
either - Moncrief, maybe, because of his raw size/speed, but with
massive issues. Robinson is more polished than Benjamin, but not more
athletic and certainly without the upside.

I don't know. I don't end up being that happy thinking of a
Bitonio/Robinson draft, I don't really love the idea of a Bitonio/Ealy
draft. I can't lie that I'd have been happy with a Benjamin/Morgan
Moses pairing then or now - I almost would've rather had Jack Mewhort,
who went a pick ahead of Ealy, so it's irrelevant. But filling needs,
that's not what the draft is about. I really have a hard time buying
that so many analysts have little regard for value, especially since it
removes the need to 'know' the team or buy into the system (something
the average mock draft guy, average analyst after the fact, doesn't
really know well team to team).

So while, say, Bitonio/Robinson would've filled the team's two biggest
needs, I don't know. I think that would be an awful draft. I guess I'm
modestly predisposed to liking what my team does, but it's still there.
The team did better than the reach/need thing.

It does get harder to sell BPA when you reach on your 4th and 5th. The
value, in my opinion, wasn't there. Did the team get good players?
Yeah. Did they go BPA? That's much harder to say, at the least. They
say that, and I can't know otherwise, but the internet didn't have the
two DBs that high in general.

I guess, to a point, you can excuse the ide of saying BPA, but then
trading up for a player. Carolina did that by sacrificing a 7th to get
Bene Benwikere, potentially the last corner Carolina would've been OK
with. Dave Gettleman certainly didn't seem to want to give up draft
picks, and veering from the status quo couldn't have been aided much by
the Skype situation.

Nonetheless, I get it. I would prefer to have gotten a tackle, but you
can't force it.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Re-Draft

Next, I was interested in going through the draft picks and re-drafting
based on what I would've done. Should be a mess, right?

28. It's hard to not say Benjamin. He wasn't on my mind at the time
(though, I was only looking at twitter, so I wasn't certain at the time
who was really available), but if it were me, he's someone I'd take over
Marquise Lee. I loved Jordan Matthews' game but knew he was too far
down (ended up going 42, not far after Lee).

Morgan Moses (who went at 66) had been on my mind, and I might've jumped
on him, but I'd started to lose some confidence in him. I didn't want
Cyrus Kouandijo (went 44), and while Joel Bitonio was fine (#35), he was
too late a riser.

60. Probably Ealy, honestly. I would've been somewhat OK with him at
28, so this is fantastic. I was thinking tackle with this pick - Moses
(again 66), Billy Turner (67) or even Tiny Richardson (not drafted). I
didn't find WR that big a need, but in retrospect, it would've been nice
to possibly get Donte Monrief if they did double up; I'd started to want
one of the various corners. I remember TE being maxed out by now.

92. Turner was definitely not on my radar. I would've been fine with
him and am, but I was thinking corner (Keith MCGill, 116; Ross Cockrell,
102) or tackle (Richardson/undrafted - it's worth noting not only did he
go undrafted, only one OT went off the board between 92 and 128, Michael
Schofield).

128. If you're not picking Turner at G, and had (or had not) added a
tackle above, I liked Dakota Dozier here. I'd have also wanted Pierre
Desir to fall one spot for CB.

148. I wouldn't likely have traded up for Benwikere, given I didn't
know him. Antoine Exum was the 'big name' left but he was not what I'd
have called a good fit. Jordan Zumwalt might've been interesting at
LB. Having given up by now on Richardson in all honesty, and though
Seantrel Henderson was out there, I had significant concerns about him.
I still liked Laurent Duvernay-Tardif at OT.

204. I have no reason to not like Gaffney. I don't care about Michael
Campanaro. The team really didn't need a DT, but I'm sure I'd mentioned
Daniel McCullers earlier than the end of the 6th, which is where he
went.

Rick Factors

The draft is over, so the inevitable "attack it from all angles" bit is
coming. In this case, I'll go line by line and just see

*Kelvin Benjamin
High Risk, with high reward.
All first round WR have some issues here, but specifically there are a
few risk factors here. He's a long-strider so who knows about whether
he'll ever have crisp routes. He's inexperienced (one great year, two
total) but 23, so he'd be 28 going into his second contract. His issue
with drops are correctable as is most of the on-field stuff. I don't
think Benjamin will bust, at the least he's a guy who'll prove an
interesting jump ball, short, and redzone player, but you never know.

*Kony Ealy
Low Risk
He seems to do most things well. You can't always get linemen to
correct lower for leverage, and I don't know what the future holds for
him with playing time or who he'll be with. But, if he doesn't improve,
he's a solid edge rusher who stays at home, plays the run. A four year
rental on a young guy like that is fiscally incredible. If he corrects
the leverage and adds pass rush moves, he has a high ceiling with low
downside.

*Trai Turner
Low Risk
He's a somewhat raw lineman with SEC success, who could be plugged in
but still has competition. I can't see any downside, other than that
he's not a tackle. He's probably not going to make as many mistakes as
the other young guys Carolina has drafted around him, and he's the
highest drafted lineman Carolina has picked in six years.

*Tre Boston
Medium Risk
My biggest concern with him as a player isn't something I can speak to -
reading that he's vocal but not always positively, you can correct that,
but in the heat of the moment, you never know.

*Bene Benikwere
Medium Risk
I just don't know him well. He was rated somewhat low for my tastes,
and he's a guy that Carolina might need now more than Boston, but he's
not physically as ready, needs to get in the weight room a bit. They
say he's cerebral, and I'm heartened by the conversations with Steve
Wilks.
It's high risk as to whether I'll spell his name right. Might have it
wrong now.

*Tyler Gaffney
Low Risk
Only problem is getting him snaps. Doesn't seem to be much downside to
this player. He's the safe type of RB to pick, they'd already picked
the risky type last year.


*being a running back:
high risk. Backs used to get good draft slotting and then that second
contract was, at best, risky. Now they can't even go in the first
round. The NFL is doing its best to aid the QB and WR, as their values
skyrocket. Running backs take 20 hard hits a game and the best they get
is you can't spear them, and apparently you don't need to pay them.


*Trading up
low risk.
I don't know if this is ever an exceptional idea, but it's becoming
lower cost. Not a lot of teams got profit out of trades, and even
though San Francisco traded down a ton, they ended up with simply a few
more lottery tickets. The Washington/St. Louis trade in 2012 was one of
the more lucrative in history, but since then, nothing really high end
the last few years excepting the Buffalo trade up that cost them a
future first.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Draft Wrapup

And that's the draft.

Sorry for the day delay - this being the part that might actually be valuable to some.

I find an encouraging theme in this draft.  They're adding talent, almost without concern to the need in some cases.  Benjamin, Ealy, Turner are fantastic picks.  Are they starters right now?  Possibly Turner, but in reality, the others aren't yet.  They have the ability, but I think circumstantially both have more value in smaller doses for now, and learning from some of the top-flight pros on this team.

 I look at the boost wanted in the passing game, and I'm somewhat pleased.  I think Benjamin's deep game in this offense is under-rated, and that's something you can work into a game.  I can't wait to see his physicality and watch him turn into something more.

Ealy keeps the strength strong, provides a safeguard against both the pass rush from waning, and like it or not, a safeguard against the cap issues that it currently brings.

Turner and Gaffney provide some stability to an under-stable set of issues in the run game, where things took a bit of a dive.  The 2011,12 teams didn't run the ball well, though - they had some massive breakaways, and took advantage of deep coverage, but I never felt like it could really gain consistent yards, so maybe the reliance with the '13 team didn't actually change much.

Nonetheless, they're a pair that could cheaply, when asked, provide some sustain to those drives.  Turner seems like a big-conference version of the small-school knockdown guys that Carolina had already thrown in the last few drafts.

They got their corners, though in a circuitous route. Benwikere and Boston make a bit more sense with Charles Godfrey going to corner (though, quietly, it appears, he'll have the first shot at the nickel). Boston makes more sense with Godfrey moving, as well.   Of course, both picks felt like needs more than best player, and the trade up backs that, too.

The sore spot of course - for the run game, for the passing game, s the lack of a tackle.  Turner's pick moves, definitively, Garry Williams out to OT, and he did better at G than I expected.  But I don't know if he's good enough to be a RT, he's a right side player and he's definitely not moving to left.  I feel like the talent is all at G-C-G, and the team is making do at OT.  So that's something that, I guess I'll just have to see what happens.  For now, it's unnerving.  Maybe Nate Chandler saves the day again?

They didn't do the OT-WR-CB by need thing.  They didn't like the OTs available (Morgan Moses fell a round, and Antonio Richardson and James Hurst both fell out of the draft entirely), but if none were better, they'd still have competition they don't have.

But, the talent level goes up, I guess. I like that much, that's the intent.

205: Tyler Gaffney, RB

For the second year in a row, Carolina threw in a RB pick at the end of the draft.

Ultra-productive Tyler Gaffney of Stanford is this year's edition, and unlike the Kenjon Barner pick of last year, he's not going to be called anything remotely like Darren Sproles.  However, unlike either player, he's not a specialist, he's an all-around player.  5'11, 220, he lacks top end speed and agility (the 4.49 40 is more than good enough, and he did very well in the shuttle and vertical, but less so on the broad jump.  I can't tell you much of what that's supposed to translate to, but the vertical and change of direction ones have a clear purpose), but does it all on the field.

 He's a good inside and outside runner, a good pass blocker in a complex system (more about that in a second), and a good receiver.  He has a compact build for a bigger back, who doesn't look like a 220 lb back, but runs like one.  He shrugs off tacklers, will drive for an extra yard, will give up the body for an extra yard.

He can handle a workload, and did so after a year off (baseball).  He seems to be able to pickup the game again quickly, and going to Stanford suggests he's not stupid.

As a bonus, the offense he played in?  It's Carolina's offense (people attribute Harbaugh as WCO and it's clearly not). I didn't throw it into Turner's bio, but Cam Cameron's is obviously the same offense, too.


This kid reminds me of a more polished Nick Goings.  Goings did it all (though Gaffney is slight to be a backup FB) when asked, and sat behind some better players.  Same for Anthony Johnson.  There are plenty of league-wide options for backs who do the dirty work without getting feature carries, and I don't know if that's Gaffney's lot in life - he could be the 2016 starter.  And, I don't know if he'll be a special teamer, or whether he'll be a good one.  I've only seen him as a scrimmage player.  I compare him to Goings and Johnson as guys who answered the bell when they needed, even though they weren't plan A (both were more plan C).  To be more fair, he's got a bit of Jonathan Stewart in him, too. He's physically like Curtis Martin.  But those two extremes notwithstanding, RBs are always full of talent and possibility, and no comparison is ever just.  He's not likely a future hall of famer, but he has talent and seemed to be worth more than a 6th.

 But in the meantime, Gaffney's going to be a highly productive backup when asked, the question is simply when he'll be asked.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Trade! 148 - Bene Benwikere

whoa.

Carolina traded up to the mid-5th to get CB Bene Benwikere, 5'11, 195 lb prospect from San Jose St.

Good cover man on tape, slightly slow (4.63).  Has to tackle better but downside otherwise is low.

Curious.  And, the first Dave Gettleman trade.  If Rivera didn't do it while Gettleman was off skype.


Twitter says, it cost them a 7th.  There's a 6th pick remaining.

Travel

I'm out of pocket the rest of the day, and chances are that 6th pick will not be worth live-messaging from my phone like the Benjamin pick.  So, day 3 of 4 spending a lot of it in a car - enjoy the draft, kids.

128: S Tre Boston

A little surprised at the value on this one.  May have been taken too early. Didn't see this one coming.

6', 205, has experience at CB and S.  Excellent tackler, vocal leader but doesn't always say the right things, good but not great athleticism.  Will be a good special teamer, and I assume someone the staff liked as a guy to take charge of the back half.

Adds some stability, where the team has UDFA Robert Lester and nothing else at S past the two year mark, and has some ability to impact when asked.

Hard to get past Richardson being there again, but Carolina's not the only one to pass him multiple times.

Closer, 128:

OF the corners I listed, only Desir's left. now he's gone, too. Rashaad Reynolds is interesting.

The linemen are there.  At WR, it's only Abberderis, honestly.  And I don't know if they'd want a slow slot guy with a much more talented player that could go to the slot in Kelvin Benjamin.

Early on 128:

As we reach the start of the 4th round, plenty of good players available as they get started.

As an added bonus, Dave Gettleman's going to use Skype to administer the draft, since he's off to his kid's graduation.  That's pretty weird.

There are plenty of good corners left, and most have size:
Bashaud Breeland just went, but Keith McGill is interesting (I think some teams are spooked about past injury).  Pierre Desir could contribute quickly.  Ross Cockrell is interesting.

On the OL, Richardson is still there; David Yankey could be a good G/T; Wesley Johnson is an interesting tackle project, as are Dakota Dozier and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.  I'd be very happy with James Hurst, where there's going to be some rehab but definitely a lot of talent.

Andre Williams might be a wildcard RB; Daniel McCullers remains a huge situational DT; I don't think the team needs another situational rusher but Adrian Hubbard is interesting, as is Michael Sam.

I don't think they're after a WR, either, but Jared Abberderis and Martavis Bryant are interesting.

TE is evening back out again, but maybe a round later if wanted; Marcel Jensen would be nice there.

Who Else?

Finally watching the pressers on the team site to glean more info.

I think it's interesting, when Dave Gettleman says that Don Gregory said Kelvin Benjamin would be there, even though he's the best player available at that point, they say there was another guy who would possibly be there that wasn't.

I'd love to know who that was.

If it was a WR, I could speculate - it certainly wasn't Lee, but maybe it was Brandin Cooks.

Maybe it was JaWuan James, the TN OT.  He went higher than I figured.  

Or, Jason Verrett at CB.

That's my guess, but it's interesting.   A little leaks out each draft, so maybe we'll know eventually.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Hog Molly: a 3 Round Retrospective

So far, after 3 picks, Carolina has added 823 lb of player, an average of 273 lbs (so, I guess Kony Ealy is the average).

Dave Gettleman didn't mess around when suggesting, in '13, that he liked the hog mollies. And each of these three players have above average size, to a point (Thomas is, I guess, average, but mass at G is less the point than having strong lines).

Since a tackle pick still seems inevitable, there's a good chance that Carolina will continue adding size.

It's needed.  I felt like, after 2010, this wasn't a successful team - after 2011, it was a team that had an identity, but not a tough one. It ran the ball well, but it didn't succeed at the hard yards, just took a lot of easy ones.  2013, the passing game bore out those tough yards, and the defense added physicality, but the O?  Not as much.  They ran the ball somewhat well and got the necessary 3rd down yards in the pass game, but the O needs to be nastier to do that against good defenses.

I think they're on their way with that now.


So, Tackle?

I really don't know what'll happen at OT, excluding max protect for the deep ball.  But, I have a few options:

*Eric Winston - a solid RT, Winston is a free agent and a good guy in the locker room.  Don't know why he's available.

*Some guard move out?
-it's likely Garry Williams and Nate Chandler are tackles right now, but who's to say Amini Silatolu isn't, too?  It's unlikely, but not impossible.

Draft isn't over yet, either.

Tiny Richardson remains, as does the undervalued James Hurst of UNC.  Dakota Dozier and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif are interesting projects from smaller schools (or different countries in the latter's case).  Seantrel Henderson is there, if you like character concern.



92: Trai Turner, G, LSU

Carolina's third round pick is LSU guard Trai Turner.

An intriguing pick, Turner is a powerful RG and a good value, at a position of potential need.  I feel like Carolina needed a tackle more, and Turner is a guard with apparently some center skill as well.

6'3, 310 lb mauling RG, with a solid amount of athleticism (4.91 40?) and best 10-yard split in the position.  He's a knockdown type guard who punishes defenders, not unlike the college tape of the two guards drafted in the top 120 in the last two drafts - Amini Silatolu and Ed Kugbila - except this is against the SEC, instead of non-Division1 opponents.

Interesting to see how that flashes out - my first instinct is Garry Williams and Nate Chandler are at RT for the time being.   It's not as if Carolina didn't start a ton of different RG, and this should help the run game.  Carolina's tended toward the knockdown G who can also move, and he's another just like that.


92 Upcoming

WR
Donte Moncrief is interesting. Potentially best player available.

OT
Tiny Richardson would contribute.  Best lineman.

DT
Daniel McCullers is a massive NT, if you're into that.  He can go one-gap, and the small number of snaps needed here are smaller, where McCullers would be more ideal.  But Carolina has their four.

CB
Plenty of talent- Keith McGill, Bashaud Breeland among others - but no one really that breaks out of the pack.  McGill is interesting because of size.


Kony Ealy

The Pick at 60: Kony Ealy.

Short term, there's not as much need, but Ealy was a first round lineman who could've gone in the 20s.

6'4, 275, he's a good run defender and edge rusher who played right end for Missouri.  He can stand to get a little stronger, 22 reps x 225, and he can get lower for leverage, but overall, a very intriguing pick and a guy who was rated well above this pick.

Unfortunately it eventually means shedding a DE salary, I guess.


60 Pick Upcoming

A number of players off the board now (as I'm writing this they're at 56), and here's what I see based on need and talent:

OT:
Moses, Richardson, Mewhort

WR:
Moncrief, Latimer, Allen Robinson

CB:
Keith McGill?

DT
Louis Nix

DE
Kony Ealy

G
Gabe Jackson



edit - Latimer off the board now.

double down?

Carolina isn't averse to the pick pairing of the double down.

I don't know that the snaps are there, short term, to add another guy who might not contribute right away.

But, you never know. And there are options.

Marquise Lee is obviously there. I always saw him as more complimentary, and if for some reason he kept falling, absolutely he'd be the best player (despite throwing in the pick so fast, Dave Gettleman did suggest the choice may have been between them).

Jordan Matthews makes sense at the Z receiver, and he's more ready short term.Same for Allen Robinson.  Cody Latimore adds size and speed, as does Donte Moncrief.

still need a tackle though.

I am back from travel and off my tablet by tonight, so more updates near pick 60, And hopefully fewer typos.

Lee or Benjamin? And, The Next Pick

There seems to be a narrative nationally about Marquise Lee possibly being the better receiver.  I had a few reservations about both guys...Lee was rated higher on the internet, but apparently not in Carolina.  Lee had his detractions too (he may have been the guy Gettleman mentioned as catching a ton of short balls), so I'm OK with Benjamin over Lee.  Dave Gettleman likes Hog Mollies and TD catchers, and in a way, Benjamin is the most Hog Molly receiver ever.

What's less certain, to me, is whether the team did truly take the best player. With a lot of WR, the top 4 OT, and a number of DB gone, it would've appeared it would be easier to go elsewhere.  DE Kony Ealy was there, for instance.  But nothing else interesting dropped.

Lee wasn't interesting, and Benjamin definitely is - he's a freak, with a high ceiling. But, not a sure thing.

Separate from everything that the 2013 draft was, Benjamin is raw and young, a redshirt sophomore after drafting nothing but seniors last year.


Now, OT - Kouandijo, Moses, and Bitonio are there, though somewhat unexpectedly, James isn't.   So still some value left at tackle.  Corner still has some life, too.

Kelvin Benjamin!

So I missed the pick for the first time in two decades. As Jenny Lewis sang toward the encore, I read the pick. How bizarre, delightful, a modestly drunken mess. One of my favorite moments ever, learning the pick as it happened but enjoying a ton of live music concurrently.

Kelvin Benjamin is a massive, raw receiver.  I love the pick, though you would want him to have time to grow into it...he's a guy who might play 400 snaps, but not 1000. He's a good guy in the slot, but the team has two precise slot guys.

So, he's an outside guy. An X receiver on a team that doesn't have much of one, which might be his in.  

But for that to happen, he has to become more precise. He'll have to maximize the deeper opportunity, the corner route, the Bang-8 (think Michael Irvin), the fly.  His shorter stuff ought suffer a bit from the leak of short area quickness until the routes get sharper.

I'm not unhappy. This is a good pick. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Bitonio?

Lots of mentions that Carolina's very interested in Nevada's Joel Bitonio at 28. One of those reports had New Orleans ahead of them interested as well.


don't know how reliable, but it's interesting. Long way until the 28 pick however.

Final thoughts

I'm traveling today, traveling back tomorrow, having to get caught up on some work over the weekend and during Mother's Day.  Goodell really did a bang-up job scheduling this nonsense on Mother's Day when it was just minding its own business in the middle of April.

Dave Gettleman's initial mantra included Hog Mollies a good bit, and touchdown scorers.  I do hope the team comes away with one or the other tonight.  However, this year as much as any, I'm not expecting to be disappointed by anything they do (and it does no good anyway).

I will post what I can when I can - this is the first time I've missed an entire first round in this team's history.  Nutty.  I do expect to watch my phone where I can, I'll post very late tonight.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Draft Exercise

I do this every year, but I don't publish it often. With the vets set and the final rankings in for most every player, it's a good time to do a final one.  Lacking a lot else to say, here we go:

You pick out a draft ranking, and you don't pick guys before your spot (i.e., assume the top 27 are gone for the 28 pick).  It's easier if you don't look too far ahead. 

Starting here: 

http://gbnreport.com/top100.html

28.  Kyle Fuller, CB - I've been warming to this pick for a while.  It makes a lot of sense.  With Lee going right ahead of Carolina, and having a small concern about Morgan Moses' supposed stiffness, Fuller is an intriguing pick.  

60.  Jordan Matthews, WR - I hear Matthews on the tip of Dave Gettleman's tongue when he talks about guys who catch a ton of passes but a lot of them are screens.  He or Davante Adams, the other WR I'd find interesting here.   Of the two, I think Matthews is more pro ready, has a fuller route tree, and is studied enough that he can make a difference with Carolina's vets around him, where a lot of kids aren't ready enough to get off the bench.  There's some concern about Matthews' hands that I wasn't aware of, but he graded out well there in '13, and he's the only senior in a glut of underclass at WR. 

92.  Jack Mewhort, OT - I liked him and Turner.  I find Turner less talented.  Mewhort is a tough guy who gets devalued because he's not LT enough or RT enough, to parse.  Screw it, he's a good lineman.  I think he's one of your best 5 and he helps you.  That's enough for a 3rd.  Stanley Jean-Baptiste would've been great but Fuller kinda pops any other defender picks for this exercise. 

128. Dri Archer - I dunno.  Something about him stands out. It's not just speed.  He'd be a project at WR, and the team has some time there.  I think he could be a special returner. 



168.  James Hurst, OT - I don't think he'll be there, at all.  I see him in the 3rd.  But, twist my arm, I'll take him here. 



http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/prospectrankings

28.  JaWuan James, OT - almost took Ealy.  James is the trendy OT down this far, and I sell him on his size at LT. A team like this can get by with a little less polish as a pass blocker for sheer force. 

60.  Marcus Smith, DE - speedy rusher to throw a wrench into things (and, doesn't necessarily force the choice of Johnson or Hardy, since he's neither guy).  

Matthews was gone, as was Moncrief (a less polished but more vertical option). Mewhort is taken a bit early and not needed. 

92.  Jared Abberderis, WR - Archer was there (too early), I like Kevin Norwood, but Abberderis has a fairly polished history and might be a success if he can start working out a bit better.  Another boring underneath guy. 

128. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, OT - very intriguing Canadian size/strength/athleticism prospect.  Why not? 


168.  Russ Cockrell, CB - just need a guy.  He's not going to struggle mentally as hard.  Maybe that's a simplification.



Tuesday, May 6, 2014

ATD60: The End

I don't think I have much else for my 60 prospects.  I've covered about all I wanted - and the draft is in 45 hours.

It's finally almost here, so there's that.

Godfrey Cuts Salary

Charles Godfrey went from a central piece of a dilapidated secondary, to
a forgotten man in moments, during Carolina's success in 2013. After
injuring his Achilles tendon, Godfrey ended up watching various new
safeties take his place; he did so again months later when Carolina
signed two more this offseason.

While he was rumored for months to be a cut, he took a cut to stay.


Godfrey's deal is similar to Jon Beason's, with per-game roster bonuses
at $106,250 apiece. It's a gamble that Godfrey will be on the field,
but those bonuses don't count against the team for now (they may be
considered 'unlikely to be earned'). Beason's restructure took a
massive paycut in exchange for per-game bonuses, and then was traded
early in the season.

The move saves $4 million for the team. For Godfrey, it gives
motivation to be on the field when possible, a move that might push him
to cornerback, if his speed returns.

Blue Geese

So Dave Gettleman's thrown out "blue goose" as an example of a rare
player.


But who fits? Identifying a player that may be a future Hall of Fame
player is nearly impossible, and


Exclusions:

It will be an easier list if we drop the charade on a number of players
that just won't fall. Let's exclude the top two rushers – Jadaveon
Clowney, Khalil Mack; the top two receivers – Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans.
And, honestly, even if in need for a QB, I don't like anyone top ten,
so I'm going to avoid the nightmare of that position entirely. Greg
Robinson and Jake Matthews are clearly blue chip tackles who could fit,
if Carolina had a top five pick; neither will be there anywhere near 28.

I don't know that any of the remaining WR are as good. Brandin Cooks
might fit the bill, but the chance of him being passed by more than one
other receiver is slim. Adding in Taylor Lewan and Zack Moses, and you
have some guys Carolina would never likely have a shot to draft.



Who might be, though? Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA. He's the second best at
his position behind former teammate Khalil Mack, has length and elite
rush ability. He doesn't have a lot of coverage skill and needs to
refine if he were to do more than just rush, but that has value.

Ridiculously athletic, rushes, has the size for the strongside and could
play the type role Von Miller plays. Guys who are fulltime rush OLB at
his size aren't as rare as they used to be, and teams aren't clamoring
to play 3-4 the way they had. If a few teams ahead of Carolina did need
a guy like that, they might have a greater need all-around than Barr's
raw skill. Carolina doesn't need that - they have good linebackers.

A linebacker pick would be, at first sight, catastrophic. But a pick
like this could fill a future SLB need, which means AJ Klein becomes
heir apparent to Thomas Davis; it could also land Barr as a future DE,
with the muddy futures of Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson.




Nonetheless, via advancedfootballanalytics' analysis of the 28 pick,
they suggest the rarest player available would be CB Kyle Fuller,
followed by Morgan Moses at OT, then Kony Ealy. Ealy would fill a
somewhat similar need to Barr, though he can't play OLB. He can more
easily produce what either DE is currently providing, so it would depend
on what flavor of rusher you want across from the one you'd keep in this
scenario (I'm in favor of both current guys staying and just paying the
price, but you don't draft a rusher in the first with that type of
plan).

at 60, the data suggests that Boise St DE DeMarcus Lawrence would be a
rare but possible pick. The tweener rusher is interesting here, where he
could push an end inside for rush downs that, at the least, provides
some outside quickness to respect (which opens up things a little more
inside). The other interesting data point at 60? Jordan Matthews,
which would be a great pick.

The analysis suggests it's more likely than not that need-type players
will be there. Blue geese aren't likely at 28, but that seems to be the
sort of thing Dave Gettleman might label an outside-the-box type pick
there.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Misc Draft Stuff

It's just short of four days until the draft, and honestly, at 28 and
beyond, I have no preconceptions. Not unlike my feelings about free
agency, I'm suggesting patience.

After having attempted to answer a message board post about hopes/fears
- I realize I have nothing to predict. I could throw out some
suggestions that might be more radical, like the team picking a
non-WR/OL this draft, or neglecting either the OL or WR spots, but
anything I throw out there tends to be more to intend to be different
than to assume anything would be correct.

I really feel like this draft is a blank slate. I'm really OK with
essentially any pick, outside a quarterback - it's not a great QB draft,
the team has its two players, and a QB pick plus Cam Newton's contract
status provides a little turmoil (I'm really not much of an anarchist).
I can deal with a RB pick - the depth chart gets muddied but you have
an 'out' and more emphasis on the run game (that lacked at times despite
so many attempts). I'd prefer not to have a high LB pick, but I can
understand it if it happens - Thomas Davis is aging, and gets expensive
after this. I anticipate one defender in the top three picks, and it's
not that they can't use a DE or DT, for various reasons.

*it feels like the two guys I've tracked the longest in this process -
Cyrus Kouandijo since last year, and Kelvin Benjamin for a lot of this
year - provide the best potential, and yet both have the most questions
to me. Both come with top ten type talent in a way (actually, if
Benjamin was a 4.5 guy or at least did better in change of direction, he
might be up there anyway), but both have a high downside - depending on
who you ask, you could easily just forfeit the pick and be as good.

*I'm tending toward the Jordan Matthews type receiver and the Zach
Martin type OT instead. Martin probably won't be there - even with
questions on whether he should be a G or T - but I hesitate to throw
Joel Bitonio up there. Matthews and Bitonio just don't value quite as
well right now compared to the 28 pick, but I'd be happy with either
player on the team (including at 28).


*I will say, since the two "needs" are WR and OT, that WR tends to be
the spot where you're more likely to get what you pay for - higher
drafted is more often better. But, even higher draft picks don't show
up well out of the box, so the higher investment takes longer to receive
return on investment. WR has trended upward this past year, where
Keenan Allen was a player who produced immediately, and you saw eventual
production out of first rounders Cordarelle Patterson and Tavon Austin.
But that's three that were solid by year's end out of the 9 by Allen's
pick (I won't count the two after him, there were 11 by the end of the
3rd).




I still, as I'd initially argued in the 2012 draft (while ignoring the
Luke Kuechly possibility), that an OL pick is the best way you get your
money's worth up front. You get an almost expected starter out of the
box, you get a potential upgrade on every snap compared to a WR that
probably doesn't start (and therefore upgrades a few hundred snaps on
average, if that).

On the other hand, the third need - CB - has a lot of potential snaps to
upgrade, and while CBs might seem like good out-of-the-box performance,
there's a lot of struggle there with most rookies. The below article
(sorry, I'm posting this from outside the ability to make this a link)
talks about this from Eric Davis' perspective, and he generally makes
sense:

http://www.nj.com/jets/index.ssf/2014/05/nfl_draft_2014_why_cornerbacks_always_have_toughest_rookie_adjustment_of_any_defensive_position.html

it's a Jets-specific link but it still does suggest that the want/need
will end up being for a roleplayer, and anything more might be hopeful
but not expected. Relatedly, the team needs a slot corner, where the
best options might be Josh Thomas (who started early on before being an
early Buffalo casualty), and maybe Eric Dockery, but while they have
more outside-specific corners, that might still end up being the pick to
push and back Melvin White.


*What would I do?
Honestly? I'd play the BPA game, to a point, and possibly prioritize WR
over OT despite the above. The 'why' is because I'd throw a mil or two
at Eric Winston as a vet tackle. He's experienced, he's played at a
high level most of his career despite what I expected of him coming out,
and he's a leader.

You could make a similar argument with Miles Austin, another free agent
who, if healthy, is a lot better than his 2013 - but I prefer the
Winston approach along with some WR youth. You have to be 100% ready to
assume that a WR pick will not play much this year, however. You could
also argue the team doesn't have enough money for either, being under $2
million right now and apparently trying to avoid the Charles Godfrey
release spilling over into 2015.

Consider, of course, if you could put WR off a year and throw in a later
OT choice, your needs become CB and then just depth. From a need
standpoint, the expectation would've been to fill the greater needs via
free agency, even if short term, and go best player (or defense to
balance) with draft picks. It's just that the money wasn't there, with
so much of it spent on Greg Hardy. They did throw money at three WR and
an additional TE, and I could argue some upgrades were made there, but
nothing at OT, where they're down one starter.


*I would target students of the game that tackle well at CB, and
honestly, the more ready prospects at WR, OT, CB have more value here
than projects. Seeing physically ready prospects like Amini Silatolu
and Ed Kugbila either struggle to adjust or just outright not be ready
to play makes me a hair gunshy about expecting an immediate starter at
OT, too. That does create risk, too.


*David Newton breaks down the outcome of the 28th pick in recent
history:

http://espn.go.com/blog/nfcsouth/category/_/name/carolina-panthers

instead of rehashing it or rebranding it as my own, figured I'd post his
and add what I think - you don't see significant production in the first
year out of anyone here. And yet, when the team talks about WR, they
point that out - so they may be expecting someone that can produce (and
therefore, possibly not at WR).

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Around The Draft: Joel Bitonio

Hitting the shadow of the draft now, so only a few left of these to do.

Nevada OT Joel Bitonio is a riser. I've seen OTs show up as very athletic and gain draft spots, and I haven't always been a believer. Walter Jones was a key player who showed up OK on film, ran fast and worked out fast, but I didn't buy in - Jones was a top 6 pick and just went into the Hall Of Fame.

But that's history, and history isn't always kind to fast OTs.  Bitonio - 6'4, 300 - was the fastest player at the 10 and 20 yard mark of the 40 yard dash, and finished at 4.97.  Playing in a versatile Nevada scheme and recruited by Chris Ault, the 'father' of the pistol that now consults for a living for NFL teams, Bitonio is also versatile - he's played guard and tackle.  He has a mean streak that shows him succeeding when he locks on. He enjoys finishing plays, seems tough and durable.  For his size, he's an excellent run blocker.

Some scouts have concerns about his size - they prefer a few inches taller, I guess, but he's 6'4.  The issue that provides is whether his arm length is enough (attacking the DL before he can get to you, providing a massive wingspan to get around, and so on).  That doesn't bother me, though.  I read he can get off-balance because he reaches - explained that he stops moving his feet occasionally.  That bothers me a little more.


It's bizarre that Bitonio went from a guy that needed to play some guard at the Senior Bowl (where he did well) and taking snaps at center, to being a guy who's creeping toward the first round.   To me, he's possibly topped out, but his floor is that he's gonna be one of your five best linemen and can probably start at LT anyway.

I don't value him at 28, but the tea leaves point to him being in that area suddenly.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

New Assistant DB Coach

Curtis Fuller has joined the Panthers' coaching staff.

The former NFL DB - including time with the Panthers at the end of his career - is now the defensive assistant/DBs.   That puts him in under Steve Wilks, the team's DBs coach and Passing Defense guru.

Not unlike the John Ramsdell signing, there's only a picture up on the team site (though I can't credit myself on finding this one).

As a player, Fuller received a degree in psychology and a Master's in liberal arts at TCU before being drafted in the fourth round by Seattle (2001-02) and spending time with the Packers (03-04) before his six games in Carolina (04).

Fuller (who's oldest child is named Carolina, though I'd assume that independent to his time here unless it's one of those "your name is Savannah because we spent a weekend there when you were conceived" type things - in which case a number of my friends' pending children will be named Ice Storm) spent time with Raiders on special teams (2007), was a defensive coordinator in Texas for a year (2008), spent a year in Green Bay as a coaching administrator ('09) and was an assistant DBs coach there ('10).   He spent a year with the Titans assisting DBs in 2011.

According to the media guide, Fuller was Administrative Assistant to the coaching staff in '13, but I can't find if he was there in 2012.  His addition to the full-time staff likely comes with a lot of data mining type quality control experience, as well as work on the field and in the coaches' booth.   Carolina didn't have an official assistant DBs coach under Ron Rivera (John Fox kept two DBs coaches throughout his tenure), though Bobby Babich was an unlisted assistant who left for the Browns in '13 (and may currently be unemployed).

Since the media guide is not out and Carolina doesn't list the admin position on their website, no idea if there's a replacement for Fuller.

Around The Draft: More WRs

With a few days to go, I'm going to throw up some miscellaneous receivers that might come in handy by the time the big guys are gone.  I still believe that Dave Gettleman did reach for Ed Kugbila after taking a pair of (in need) guys that fit best player available, and who knows.  Maybe we need a WR at that point.  Hard to say, but here are some later guys.



Alabama's Kevin Norwood is intriguing.  6'2, 200, 4.44, seems to do it all well in summary - good routes, good body control, good hands,

Norwood is 25, which drops his value (he has a Master's degree and is a reliable, mature player however). He never led the team in receiving, he's been only somewhat productive in a good scheme with a good QB. He's not strong (8 reps x225) and doesn't play physically strong, he's not doing well at outmuscling for the ball and he's going to have to play press if he's ever good enough - so he'll have to get to work in the weight room.

He reminds me of Jason Avant to a point, and there's nothing wrong with that.  I have him around the 4th, as a guy who can play inside or outside.

Brandon Coleman of Rutgers is completely a size prospect - 6'6, 225 - who has adequate long speed (4.52) and might fit in as the poor man's version of Kelvin Benjamin.   You get the long-striding, huge frame, you get a lack of top end speed, and not as much physicality as you might hope for (though he did do 21 x 225 on the bench, so he's not weak); Coleman can do the post up type moves, and he's good deep (almost 19 yards per catch).  You can see some of that Alshon Jeffery in him, but the shorter routes might not be as good.  That's a concern - you want to see anyone run a full route tree, but if you're a big guy without a ton of speed and the short routes aren't good, you just play off and recover.

I have Coleman around the 5th - you never know with exaggerated measurables guys, he could go in the 3rd or not be drafted.


Then I have Josh Huff.  Oregon, who's pushed a lot of Panthers lately (since 07, J.Stewart, D. Rosario, G. Schwartz, K. Barner, and via free agency this year, Ed Dickson).  Huff in a better year might be higher - 4.46 speed, no real size or strength deficiency (5'11, 205, 14 reps).  He's a fluid athlete and strong blocker, physical ball carrier.  He's bounced around a bit - inside, outside, backfield - and the only real weakness, unfortunately, is hands.  He works at it, he makes some really tough catches, but sometimes the concentration isn't there.

 So, three guys who could be high end, but are also projects.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Around The Draft: Cody Latimer

My Around The Draft In 60 Days nonsense is reaching the home stretch, providing me the opportunity to discuss another size/speed WR project to get you to the finish line.

Indiana's Cody Latimer is yet another WR who projects to greater things based on getting in a better system/coaching situation/QB situation.  If you, the end user, are excited by measurables, Latimer might be your guy (if not, Kelvin Benjamin, the guy before this, is).  6'3, 215 lbs with strength to go with it (23 reps x225 on the bench was tops at WR, and ranks him very high against all back-seven defenders), ran a 4.44.  He has a good catching radius, including soft hands.

He's high-cut, they say (I don't measure receivers from here at my desk and let's be honest, someone else can do that, I'm good), so he has the Kelvin Benjamin type issues - long striding, maybe a little stiffer in the lower body so his routes don't look great.  He's not going to sink his hips into that out route the way a similarly large Jordan Matthews might, or at least, hasn't.



Latimer's raw basketball background is intriguing in this offense, where TEs (Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates specifically) have done an excellent job translating the post-up type moves into playmaking.  Similarly, the bigger receivers have room to make things happen there - Vincent Jackson and Calvin Johnson have made a heck of a living playing that same role at WR.  Latimer would excel at that.  I've seen plenty of criticism about Latimer not being a football-first prospect, somewhat unstated because it wasn't his "first love".   Don't know what to make of that, haven't met him. 

So, instead, I focus on sloppy routes, and a somewhat meteoric rise in the last few weeks.  A third round prospect based on play, he shot up because of the size/speed thing, and there has to be a balance.  He's not a polished prospect, and he's the type that can struggle if he's asked to do too much immediately. He might go as high as the 20s, and he'll definitely be gone before his February rating of the 80s-90s.  

But while some fans don't believe in the WR corps of the Panthers, you have to consider (once again) the fundamentals in place and the style of play.   Latimer, like any rookie, would have to outplay receivers that run good routes, have good hands, and know the game.  

Thinking Back: BPA?

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.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Around The Draft: Kelvin Benjamin

60 prospects, 60 days, a week to go.


Kelvin Benjamin might be the Cam Newton of receivers.

They share size (6'5, 240), speed (roughly 4.6), the combination of which is rare for the position (though the speed for both is clearly not the most top end). They're both long striders, both looking slow but getting upfield quickly - both are tough to stop and brought it all together for one pretty good season at the end of college.

 Benjamin, at first look, is a tremendously exciting prospect. You don't see size like that - and as a part of that, his arm length is ridiculously long (83" wingspan).   That's an unmatched catching radius.

Being a little slower in this offense - where beating someone deep isn't always just a matter of a flying 40 - is OK. But good routes are a must, and that's where the problems start for Benjamin. Imprecise routes and inefficient catching are problems.  Things like that would make Benjamin an easy to tell roleplayer, a guy who might be in there 10 snaps a game taking slants and comebacks.

Benjamin is a very intriguing X receiver who has also done good work in the slot. Carolina has some somewhat larger receivers, but nothing like this. Approaching his potential, Benjamin's the powerful player that makes Carolina's passing game go from bland to exotic, with the same plays. But how long do you have to teach him to get him there?

A successful Benjamin might be the type of player you can't match up against.  A slot corner against Benjamin?  Come on.  A linebacker?  The skill is a huge issue.  But Benjamin, it's hard to say what you get out of him in '14.  That's a consideration.  How long do you expect to wait to see that?

Benjamin's like nothing else out there.  He's the first player at WR that fits Hog Molly status.  It's unlimited potential - he can easily overcome issues with technique and experience.  But it's a major risk.

He's currently rated in the 35-50 range.  It's warranted, he's worth that.  But do you put a 28 pick in a guy who might require patience?