CHARLOTTE – Even before getting fully up to speed on the Panthers' roster, first-year general manager Dave Gettleman said he believed in drafting the best available player rather than drafting based on need.
Now that he knows the roster and has improved it via free agency, Gettleman plans to hold true to his beliefs when the NFL Draft kicks off Thursday at 8 p.m.
"I firmly believe in picking the best player available. I feel like we've positioned ourselves in free agency well enough given what we had to deal with that we are in that position," Gettleman said. "If there's a great whatever staring us in the kisser, we're going to take him."
Especially after the Panthers didn't re-sign defensive tackle Dwan Edwards and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn while releasing defensive tackle Ron Edwards and cornerback Chris Gamble, outside observers labeled defensive tackle and defensive back as top draft-day needs.
Carolina, however, since re-signed Dwan Edwards and Munnerlyn and also brought in cornerbacks Drayton Florence and D.J. Moore and safety Mike Mitchell. Wide receiver (Ted Ginn, Domenik Hixon) and linebacker (Chase Blackburn) also have been shored up.
Those additions, however, aren't the only reasons Gettleman believes the Panthers have aligned themselves to take the best available player when they turn in the No. 14 overall pick.
"We have some young, talented kids that haven't played on Sunday yet. I can't wait to get to camp," said Gettleman, a renowned talent evaluator who spent the last 15 seasons in the New York Giants' front office. "So much about a team's needs is outside perception. People sit there and say, 'OK, this guy isn't very good. That guy isn't very good.' But the disadvantage that outside people have is that they're not at practice and don't watch the development of a young kid.
"The perfect example is (undrafted Giants wide receiver) Victor Cruz. We could see that coming. The kid had terrific hands, had great quickness. He needed route work, needed to learn how to play, but the bottom line was that we saw that potential there. Of course we're getting killed up there with people saying we need wide receivers. Oftentimes, the answer is on your roster."
Gettleman, of course, is excited about improving to the roster via the draft. The Panthers currently hold mid-round picks in the first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth rounds. They don't have selections in the third and seventh rounds because of past trades, but Gettleman still likes their situation.
"Would I like to have a third-round pick? Sure, but where we are now, we're looking at good players. We're going to have quality, NFL-ready players to select," he said. "Getting more picks, obviously, would involve trading down. You've got to be careful because you can talk yourself out of a really good player.
"I've watched teams drop from the top 10 to 15th to the bottom of the first round, to the top of the second. For what? Do you want a dollar or do you want three dimes? I'd take the buck."
Gettleman, head coach Ron Rivera and the Panthers' scouting staff is continuing the process of assigning appropriate values to the draft class. The draft board is set, but it isn't set in stone.
"We're still massaging," Gettleman said. "This afternoon we'll start watching videos on guys that are real close together to try to separate them a little bit and make sure we've got them in the right order.
"We'll do that this afternoon and all day Friday, and then Saturday we'll start massaging the board. We'll do that for a couple of days, then have mock drafts like everyone does, and we'll be ready to go."
At this point, Gettleman views defensive line, secondary and offensive line as the deepest positions in the draft. When asked if that aligns with his philosophy entering the draft, he offered up a half-smile.
"Let's just say I'm not angry," Gettleman said. "I'm already on record as saying big men allow you to compete. We're certainly going to look at the big hog mollies. We have an interest in those guys. Big guys at the lines of scrimmage are game changers."
And Gettleman believes the Panthers will come out of the draft with lots of game changers on their roster – in part because he believes they already have quite a few.
"I don't see any major hole here," said Gettleman, who inherited a team that went 5-1 down the stretch to finish 7-9 last season. "You have to look the way teams finish, and you have to be careful that you're not looking at fools' gold. Winning five of the last six and winning six of the last 10, is it real or is it a mirage?
"After watching the tape and giving the circumstance the team was in, for them to finish like that, including the come-from-behind win at New Orleans, I don't think it's fools' gold. I really don't."