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Carolina Panthers

Dayton Fliers: Staking the NFL Draft


When the NFL Draft was 12 rounds and held on a Tuesday and Wednesday, there was no live television or radio coverage. Team draft picks were given to the receptionist to make fans aware of the choice when they called the switchboard.

Contrast that to this week's draft, which will be conducted over three days - two of which will come in prime time over multiple television networks.

Obviously, much has changed, but one thing has not - the importance of the draft. Then, as now, the draft is the lifeline of a team. That's why this week is a combination of excitement, anxiousness and trepidation around Bank of America Stadium. The scouts have spent a year studying and evaluating players. Now, they must wait and see if the players the Panthers covet are there. More importantly, they must know where to go if they are not there.

There are gambles that will be made. The Panthers made a literal one in 2004 when they traded a fourth-round choice to the San Francisco 49ers to move up three spots in the first round for the player they wanted - cornerback Chris Gamble. He has become a staple on Carolina's defense.

There are risks that may be taken. In 2007, general manager Marty Hurney dropped from 14th to 25th in the first round to get an additional second-round choice. Hurney was hoping that linebacker Jon Beason would still be available late in the first round and saw things others didn't in center Ryan Kalil with the extra second-round pick. Both players have already made it to the Pro Bowl.

There is also a lot of holding your breath. That was the case in 2008 when Carolina selected running back Jonathan Stewart 13th overall in the first round and then tried to find a team to make a trade while hoping that tackle Jeff Otah would remain on the draft board. The Philadelphia Eagles were willing to deal, and the Panthers got their right tackle six picks later with a big sigh of relief.

That is not always the case. There are some drafts when it seems like every player targeted is chosen a pick or two ahead of you. That's when not only preparation is critical, but also maintaining an even keel when the inevitable letdown comes is essential. Without naming any names, that has happened before in the Panthers' draft room.

Overall, the Panthers have fared well under Hurney regardless of the scenario. A recent Sporting News report card ranked him third among active general managers in success of first-round choices behind Baltimore's Ozzie Newsome and Indianapolis' Bill Polian.

Excitement. Apprehension. Curiosity. Whatever you're feeling as a fan this week, just multiply it by 100, and that will approach how the scouts feel.

The trappings may have changed over 30 years, but the stakes have not.

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