1. GETTLEMAN STICKING TO SUCCESSFUL SCRIPT: One day after parting ways with cornerback Josh Norman, general manager Dave Gettleman called the cornerbacks in the 2016 NFL Draft class "a nice group of players" but added that the departure of Norman doesn't mean he'll depart from his typical draft approach.
"We'll just have to see how the board falls," Gettleman said. "We're going to take the best player available."
Gettleman offered a candid look at how he's tried to stick to that approach over his three drafts, readily admitting to a "rookie mistake" when he drifted away in 2013. That year, he passed on linebacker A.J. Klein in the fourth round and instead selected guard Edmund Kugbila, who never played a down for the Panthers. Klein, fortunately for Carolina, was still available come the fifth round.
"The only time that we have kind of reached for what I thought was a little bit of a need was actually my first draft. We had a third-round grade on A.J., and we're sitting there in the fourth, and I couldn't help my hog molly self. We took Edmund," Gettleman recounted. "Unfortunately it didn't work out with Edmund because of the injuries, but I thought Edmund would be a great fit for us.
"We're going to go with the best player. We did it in the first draft – Star (Lotulelei) was the top-rated player on the board – and in the second round we had a first-round grade on K.K. (Short). And then the next year, Kelvin (Benjamin) was the best guy on the board. We have stayed very, very true to our board, again last year with Shaq (Thompson) as the guy we had targeted and Funch (Devin Funchess) had a first-round grade.
"We've been pretty disciplined, except that one time my first draft. I made a rookie mistake."
2. HOG MOLLY MADNESS: Gettleman's love of linemen is the stuff of legend, but his commitment to drafting the best available player has led him to pass on offensive tackles in the first round of his first three drafts with the Panthers.
That trend could continue this year.
"There are probably four first-round offensive tackles," Gettleman said.
At least five offensive tackles have been selected before the 30th overall pick – which the Panthers hold this year – in each Gettleman-led draft. That's not certain to continue (just two were picked in the top 29 in 2012), and even if five or more are gone, one of Gettleman's top four could still be on the board.
Still, that shifts the odds in favor of Gettleman picking a first-round defensive end rather than an offensive tackle for the first time. He didn't offer a number of first-round grades he has at defensive end, but an average of just three defensive ends have been gone before pick 30 the last three years.
"It's a really good group along the defensive line," Gettleman said. "If you need hog molly help, you're not mad about this draft."
3. ROOTING INTEREST: Whatever position the Panthers end up picking at No. 30, the quality of prospect they can get could be helped by early runs at the few positions that don't make sense for the Panthers. Already executed draft trades mean quarterbacks are likely to be selected with the first two picks.
"When you're in our situation and at the bottom of the draft, it's, 'Go quarterbacks, go!' You want them pushed out," Gettleman said. "Also we're a 4-3 defense, and there are some really good 3-4 guys. Take those guys in front of us, please.
"You take that mentality. But we're in a position where you have to be patient in the first round. We'll see what happens."
4. CAM HAS ENTERED THE BUILDING: The reason the Panthers wouldn't mind a run on quarterbacks, of course, is that they have former No. 1 overall pick and reigning NFL MVP Cam Newton at the reigns of their offense.
Head coach Ron Rivera said he expects Newton to take part when the Panthers begin their offseason workout program Monday.
"He's back in town," Rivera said. "He was here yesterday hanging out with the guys, and the energy level went up a couple of octaves just from having him back.
"It's good to see him. He looks good. You get that sense he's focusing in."
5. ON THE CLOCK, ON THE BALL: Gettleman got a late start on preparing for the draft with the Panthers making it all the way to the Super Bowl, but he was better able to make up for lost time thanks to the inordinate amount of time the Panthers' scouts have put into the process.
"I want to publically commend (director of college scouting) Donny Gregory and the college scouting staff for where we're at. Donny, Ryan Cowden (assistant director), Jeff Morrow (senior scout) and the rest of the guys have done a great job," Gettleman said. "We just finished 12 days of meetings. We sent the scouts home yesterday because we're all tired of looking at each other, and we were starting to smell bad. It gives everybody a chance to clear their heads and take a step back.
"We've also had great input from the coaches. We have coaches go out and do private workouts. We did do the full 30 visits (by draft prospects to Bank of America Stadium) this year, and we had our local workout for the college draft eligibles. I really like where we are in our process."