Draft strategy revolves around value


Is there a balance between a team need and the team's draft board? For example, if a team has a glaring need at left tackle but the board says the best player is a middle linebacker, will a team look at who they have currently at middle linebacker and in effect bypass the draft board and take a left tackle who is rated very close in rank? – Craig in Omaha, Neb.

General manager Dave Gettleman has been consistent with the message that with the 28th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers will select…the best available player. But as Craig asks, does that mean when the Panthers go on the clock they'll simply look at their board and turn in the name of their highest-graded remaining player?

Probably not.

In Craig's hypothetical scenario, it's possible the Panthers would pick an offensive tackle "very close in rank" over a middle linebacker. Draft grades are often tightly bunched, so if an offensive tackle and linebacker are on the same tier, Carolina could take a player that isn't technically at the very top of its board. Gettleman won't let position need dictate his decision, but it could be a virtual tiebreaker.

The ideal scenario played out last year when the Panthers wasted little time selecting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei with the 14th choice. Carolina did need help along the defensive front, but Lotulelei likely was so high on the Panthers' board that filling a need was simply a bonus.

We know that needs the Panthers could address with the 28th pick are left tackle, cornerback and wide receiver. What I want to know is if the Panthers do take a wide receiver out of Allen Robinson, Kelvin Benjamin, Brandin Cooks and Jordan Matthews, who would fit better in the offense and might work better with Cam Newton? Also, if we do take a wide receiver, in your opinion who could be there at left tackle in the second round that could possibly step in and play right away? – Gene in Charleston, W.Va.

This question brings to mind another consideration when it comes time to draft. Tweaking Craig's scenario from the previous question, let's say the top two players on the Panthers' board when it's their turn are a wide receiver and offensive tackle. This is where position depth in the draft can influence a pick. If Carolina feels decidedly better about the prospects of getting value in the second round at offensive tackle than at wide receiver, that could be a tiebreaker of sorts that leads the Panthers to take a wide receiver in the first round while waiting at offensive tackle.

I happen to think that just the opposite is more likely to happen, with Carolina liking the depth at receiver after the first round more than the depth at offensive tackle. But if the Panthers were to pick between those four receivers in the first round, I'd give an edge to Brandin Cooks. He appears to be a more polished prospect than Benjamin - something the Panthers tend to value in early rounds – and there's a chance that Robinson or Matthews could still be available when the Panthers pick in the second round.

As far as landing a tackle in the second round who could immediately start, Cyrus Kouandjio (because of medical concerns) and Joel Botonio (because some teams project him as a guard rather than tackle) are intriguing prospects who could be gone before the Panthers select in the first round or could still be there when they pick in the second round. Ju'Wuan James and Billy Turner could be viable second-round targets. Going deeper (probably the third day), Brandon Thomas and James Hurst are worth tracking, though Thomas might not be able to play in 2014 because of a knee injury.


Everyone says we have to address wide receiver, offensive line and cornerback, but isn't the return game a major issue with the loss of Ted Ginn? Kenjon Barner is gifted but has had issues with injury. How do you see us addressing the return game? – Stephen in Charlotte

I'm not too concerned about Barner as far as injury and believe he'll be given a chance to show that what he did on kickoff and punt returns at Oregon can carry over to the pro game. Kickoff returns aren't as big a part of the game as they used to be, but wide receiver Kealoha Pilares was a record-setting kickoff returner as a rookie in 2011. Wide receiver Tiquan Underwood has kickoff return experience, cornerback Antoine Cason has punt return experience, and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery has done both – though none have really been involved in the return game the last couple of years.

In the late rounds, the Panthers might consider drafting a player based partially on his return ability. In the earlier rounds, receivers like Odell Beckham and Bruce Ellington come with added value because of their return ability.

Will there be a draft party at the stadium this year with all the renovations still going on? – Jesse in Concord, N.C.

There will be a draft party, but not at Bank of America Stadium. Get all the details here. Whether you head over to Hickory Tavern or not, Panthers fans should have a lot to celebrate a week from now, as the draft will make an already good team even better.

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