NFL Draft Pick Projection: Carolina Panthers At #9 Likely To Take Fletcher Cox, But Should They?

Two years ago, when the NFL regular season came to a close, the Carolina Panthers held the distinction of owning the worst record in the entire NFL at 3-13.

They also held the rights to the number one overall draft pick in the 2011 draft.

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The Panthers made a bold statement with the selection of quarterback Cam Newton at the top of last year’s first round. I refer to this move as a bold one due to the scrutiny that Cam Newton found himself facing in the eyes of many so-called prognosticators.

Several NFL pundits were willing to overlook Newton’s feats on the football field, which included winning the national championship and a Heisman Trophy along the way, by concentrating more on the controversy that he carried with him to the NFL from the University of Auburn.

Many evaluators were willing to admit that the athletic signal caller was a great college quarterback but were unwilling to predict the same type of success at the NFL level.

Newton had a memorable rookie campaign. He threw for over 4,000 yards and accounted for a total of 35 touchdowns (including a record 14 rushing touchdowns by a quarterback).

Newton’s arrival rekindled the career of Steve Smith, who was on the trading block this time a year ago and now has a new contract. The Panthers also traded their 3rd round pick in the 2011 draft to the Chicago Bears in order for them to acquire tight end Greg Olsen.

This off-season, they went to the free agent market to acquire running back Mike Tolbert from the San Diego Chargers. Their offensive backfield now appears loaded with DeAngelo Williams, Jonathon Stewart, and Tolbert.

They are solid along the offensive line, especially at left tackle, center and at right tackle, as Jeff Otah continues to rehab from injuries sustained last season.

Most of all, the Panthers appear to have struck gold in picking Cam Newton, who has looked every bit like the franchise player the Panthers were hoping he’d be.

What they need now is to have the same type of success in the draft on the defensive side of the ball.

Carolina’s primary needs heading into the 2012 NFL Draft are, in order: defensive tackle, defensive end (pass rusher), and cornerback. In order of need and who may be available to them in the first round, I have listed what the Carolina brass may have to consider when the draft kicks off Thursday Night, April 27th (8pm EST):

DEFENSIVE TACKLE OPTIONS

Fletcher Cox

Fletcher Cox is widely regarded as the top defensive tackle available in the 2012 NFL draft.

The 6-4, 306 pound former Mississippi State Bulldog showed impressive athleticism at his pro-day and at the NFL Scouting Combine. His mobility was just as impressive on tape as he showed a desire to be dominant at times against top competition from the SEC.

Carolina would be smart to grab Cox if he is still on the board.

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Dontari Poe

Dontari Poe is a bit of an enigma.

At 6-4, 346 pounds, Poe certainly looks the part of a premier NFL defensive lineman, but something seems to be missing. He absolutely tore up the Scouting Combine with a sub-5.0 forty time (4.98 seconds) and by bench pressing 225 pounds a total of 44 times. But after watching tape of Poe while playing at the University of Memphis, the results don’t match his physical attributes.

Poe may be worth the gamble, and he represents a player at the top of the Panthers “need” list, but is also a “buyer-beware” type of talent. With Hall-of-Fame type of raw talent, the Panthers may be willing to select Poe especially if a team like the Rams or Jaguars select Fletcher Cox prior to their pick.

Talented defensive tackles such as Cox and Poe do not grow on trees or fall to the later rounds very often.

DEFENSIVE END

Quinten Coples

Coples is a player who compares favorably to Dontari Poe in the fact that scouts cannot seem to agree on when he should be selected in the first round.

Some say that at 6-6, 284 pounds, and with the ability to run the 40 yard dash in under 4.8 seconds, Coples has top-ten talent. Others point out that while being very athletic and a skilled pass rusher, he takes too many plays off and doesn’t always give his all.

One comparison that I did not agree with was when a scout recently compared Coples’ potential to that of Julius Peppers. One has to remember that Peppers combines even better athleticism than does Coples (4.64 forty time coming out of North Carolina) and has more consistently proven to give maximum effort to get to the quarterback.

In my opinion, Carolina would be better served selecting a Fletcher Cox or Dontari Poe in the first round and then following that selection up with a defensive end such as Marshall’s Vinny Curry in the second round.

CORNERBACK OPTIONS

Dre Kirkpatrick

While Morris Claiborne is widely regarded as the top cornerback prospect, it must also be assumed that he will be off the board prior to the Panthers pick at number 9.

Dre Kirkpatrick was an All-America performer while playing on one of the best college defenses of all time in the Alabama Crimson Tide. The tape reveals that he is also the most physical cornerback in this year’s draft.

Against the run, he has shown a knack for avoiding offensive guards that are pulling on a sweep, in order to get to the ballcarrier before he can turn the corner. Versus the pass, he has shown the ability to play physical at the line of scrimmage but also capable of turning to run with any receiver.

The one slight knock on Kirkpatrick is that he does not possess “elite” speed (posting 4.49 – 4.51 forty times at the Combine). However, at 6-2, 196 pounds, Kirkpatrick fits the bill to become a top NFL cornerback.

He is my favorite cornerback in this year’s draft as he combines good coverage skills with a willingness to become physical with both ballcarriers and receivers, alike.

Stephon Gilmore

Stephon Gilmore has been a good prospect for the past two college football seasons. He also is considered a “fast riser” in the 2012 offseason (post Combine), along with names such as Dontari Poe and Ryan Tannehill. Like both Claiborne and Kirkpatrick, Gilmore has an excellent combination of size, speed, and the skills to cover the best receivers in the tough SEC.

Although Gilmore has a chance to be selected among the top ten players in this year’s draft, I do not consider him a better prospect than Dre Kirkpatrick. I say this because he does not offer the physicality that Kirkpatrick brings to the table.

I do not mean that Gilmore is not deserving to be mentioned with the athletes at the top of this year’s draft. Rather, I feel the Panthers could get a better player and more value (additional picks), by trading down a few spots in the first round and then selecting Dre Kirkpatrick, instead.

PROJECTED CAROLINA PANTHERS SELECTION:

FLETCHER COX

The Panthers fill a big need with a good player and one who represents the “safer” pick.

But my pick for the Panthers would be Poe.

I do not regard Dontari Poe as this year’s Mike Mamula. Rather, I consider him a player on a defensive team (University of Memphis) that was not very talented. The value of a defensive/nose tackle cannot always be measured by statistics. The ability of a defensive tackle to command constant double-teams, while offering the occasion “splash” play, can lift a defense by freeing up other players, thus, making those around him, better.

If drafted by the right team, with a good coaching staff, Poe will be a perennial All-Pro.

Now it’s your turn:

Who should the Carolina Panthers select at #9:

View Results

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To see the rest of the posts in this series check out:

For the Full NFL Draft Schedule and Coverage Times: NFL Draft Schedule



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