Do you think not taking a wide receiver in the draft will hurt the Panthers this year or do you think taking two defensive tackles was the right choice? – Luke in Monroe, N.C.
I liked the decision to double down on hog mollies in the first two rounds with Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short because the Panthers needed to upgrade the defensive tackle position. I like it because general manager Dave Gettleman viewed Short as the top prospect on the board in the second round and didn't hesitate to take him even though he opened the draft by taking a defensive tackle. I also like it because of how the draft board shaped up for wide receivers versus how the Panthers' current roster shapes up at receiver.
There were seven wide receivers that most draft analysts felt fairly confident would be chosen in the first two rounds. When the Panthers picked in the second round, just two of those – Keenan Allen of California and Quinton Patton of Louisiana Tech – were still available. The Panthers passed and then so did everybody else, with Allen lasting another round and Patton another two-plus rounds. I thought the Panthers might consider Patton in the fourth round, but he actually stayed on the board for 20 more picks after Carolina took guard Edmund Kugbila. Eight receivers that weren't listed in draft analysts' top seven went before Patton.
I don't think the Panthers were opposed to drafting a wide receiver, but taking everything into consideration, they selected the best available players and showed faith in the additions of Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn and the group of developing receivers behind Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell.
A better pass rush will help, but the truth is our secondary guys are slow and will not tackle. Do coaching and management not recognize this? – Ernie in Tega Cay, S.C.
As to your first point, the Panthers do believe the secondary's best friend is the front seven. Head coach Ron Rivera said exactly that in his post-draft press conference, and he said it with excitement given the Panthers' first two picks. You can see why by thinking back to the Super Bowl team a decade ago, which featured relative unknowns at cornerback and thrived with the likes of Julius Peppers and Kris Jenkins up front.
On the other hand, I don't think you'll find anybody inside Bank of America Stadium that will agree with your assessment of the secondary. The Panthers ranked a respectable 13th against the pass in 2012, then they went out and added cornerbacks Drayton Florence and D.J. Moore and safety Mike Mitchell during free agency. They only ranked 23rd in the league in interceptions, but Florence has 18 career interceptions – including six with two returns for touchdowns over his last two full seasons – and Moore has 10 in the last three seasons despite starting just three games.
There were a couple of spots where the Panthers might have looked at adding to the secondary in the draft. Safety Shamarko Thomas could have been a consideration in the fourth round, and sixth-round pick Bacarri Rambo is a talented prospect but came with some off-the-field concerns. But the Panthers liked what was available at other positions better and like what they already have in the secondary. They also were able to land a draft-worthy safety without using a draft pick, agreeing to terms with undrafted college free agent rookie Robert Lester from Alabama.
Why did the Panthers draft a running back when one of our major cap problems was that we were spending too much on running backs? We have Mike Tolbert, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. What do the Panthers coaching staff believe is valuable about Barner? – Justin in Greenville, S.C.
It's debatable whether the Panthers have invested too much money in running backs. They don't necessarily agree, having found a way to get under the salary cap without shaking up their talented backfield. What isn't debatable is financial impact (or lack thereof) of Barner. Because of the rookie wage scale, the sixth-round pick won't at all negatively impact the salary cap situation.
The Panthers like Barner's big-play ability and believe that initially it should translate well to third-down situations and special teams. Barner can be a game-changer as a return man, and he also has experience as a gunner on punt returns.
How different was this year's draft process, compared to previous years? It seems that there was more input and Gettleman's skill set was what we were missing. – Dale in Murietta, Calif.
Obviously, a different general manager is likely to approach things somewhat differently, but the goal remains the same – to put the Panthers in the best possible position to succeed.
Under Gettleman's guidance, the Panthers put prospects through more individual workouts than in the past. They still took part in pro days, but following a bit of a league trend this offseason, they recorded the measurables but doubled back for one-on-one time with prospects they were particularly interested in.
Come time to make the draft picks, Gettleman clearly was in charge, but he got to that point through a very democratic process that included the coaching staff in addition to the scouting department. He selected players that can help right away but also had an eye on the future, particularly with the later picks.