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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Where Do the Panthers Go From Here?

Well, as I'm trying to post more often, I'll probably be writing about some things that are by no means to be considered of chief importance. Nevertheless, I'll write on them anyways. I figure football is a good place to start, specifically with my favorite team.

In the worst year since the 2001 NFL season, the Panthers fared better by only one win, resulting in a horrendous 2-15 season. The only blessing that has come out of it is possessing the number one pick in this year's draft. With a possible lockout on the horizon, however, it may be some time before the possible fruition of the Panthers do with that pick is seen. With all this in mind, there are a few options.

One is to simply use the number one pick. There are some guys up for grabs who certainly have the potential to become superstars. Among them is Georgia's A.J. Green, who is a sensational receiver and arguably the best prospect at wide-out in several years. He has all the physical tools you could ever want in a receiver (speed, height, good hands) and seems to play intelligently. Not only this, but the Panthers have needed another legitimate receiver for years. While Steve Smith has been an anchor player for several seasons, and I believe has at least a few good years left, he is getting older and has talked about wanting a trade. Either way, the Panthers cannot expect him to carry the passing game on his shoulders any more. Green would not only provide immediate assistance, but would probably become an extremely reliable, if not superstar-level receiver for years to come. Of course, a great receiver can't do much if the QB isn't throwing the ball well, and that is certainly a questionable situation right now for the Panthers as well.

Speaking of quarterbacks, the currently (in)famous Cam Newton is up for grabs. While Jimmy Clausen could legitimately claim some excuses for his poor performance this past season, I am inclined to agree with one writer who described Clausen as having a "Matt Leinhart sense of entitlement," which will get him no where. Also, Newton is without question at least an above-average quarterback. Though his passing numbers may not be the highest, he has shown himself to have both a powerful and accurate arm. He has drawn some comparisons to another controversial quarterback, Vince Young, but Newton has every bit, if not more accurate arm than Young, and certainly a stronger one. Also, if this past season is any indication, he has what it takes to be a team leader. Yet it would be a gamble to make such a high pick largely on the basis of one season. All in all, it could be an interesting roll of the dice if for some reason they decide to take a chance on Newton.

There is also some talk of drafting a great defensive player, and this draft is already producing two standout candidates that have come up in talks related to the Panthers. Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers and Auburn's Nick Fairley have both been the subject of some speculation. Bowers is already being described as the next Julius Peppers. Fairley hasn't yet at the time of this writing even declared for the draft. While I have not had the pleasure of seeing Bowers play (probably because he played for Clemson), I've heard he's quite the force on the field. After watching the National Championship Game on Monday night, Fairley seemed to be more than just a "fair" prospect on defense. He looked like someone who, as the digitized version of Lee Corso so often said in NCAA football video games, "plugs up the whole line." Either way, one of these players would not hurt a bit. Of course, there are needs on the other side of the ball too, especially at the o-line, which brings me to the next option.

There is always the possibility of trading the pick down in favor of getting multiple picks. Doing that of course would mean saying bye-bye to Green, Bowers, Fairley, and probably even Newton. But it would result in the Panthers still being able to draft a number of good players. This strategy has worked well for teams in the past (the Patriots, anyone?) and could prove to have more utility in the long run (the Patriots again).

After reviewing all the options, I have to say none of them seems to be the clear cut. Going off my gut, I believe the wisest move would be to go with Green or to trade down. At the same time, good defensive players are rarely bad moves, and Newton just seems downright intriguing. For now, we'll just have to wait until April.

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