NFL Draft: New Panthers GM gets it

Wants to re-create his experience with Giants
Apr. 30, 2013 @ 10:56 AM

As much as the NFL has tried to make the draft into an event, it's not really for the fans.

Last weekend's draft reminded us of that.

If you want to kill a sports conversation, start talking about linemen and watch the eyeballs glaze over.

The first six picks of the first round were all linemen, and more than half of the first-round selections (18 of 32) were linemen.

Sleepy yet?

Carolina loaded up on linemen in this year's draft, and it was long overdue.

The Panthers made an unprecedented move when they drafted linemen with their first three picks.

It will be hard to measure the impact of first-rounder Star Lotulelei (6-3, 317) and second-rounder Kawann Short (6-3, 308) because they're defensive tackles.

But a lineman that requires a double team changes the complexion of a defense, and Lotulelei is expected to be one of those guys.

When Carolina made its only Super Bowl appearance in 2003-04 (a 32-29 loss to New England), the Panthers probably had the best defensive line in the NFL.

They had three Pro Bowlers on that defensive front.

Kris Jenkins was the most dominant defensive lineman in the league at the time, and Julius Peppers was quite possibly the best pass rusher.

Both had to be double-teamed, so the Panthers were an offensive coordinator's nightmare.

Jenkins suffered a string of injuries after that season and was never the same, Pro Bowl defensive end Mike Rucker retired in 2007 and Peppers is now entering his fourth season with the Chicago Bears.

Carolina drafted Peppers in the first round, while Jenkins and Rucker were second-round picks.

The Panthers drafted just one defensive lineman in the first or second round since their Super Bowl run (until last week), and he was a bust (Everett Brown, 2009).

They caught a break when third-rounder Charles Johnson (2007) emerged into a Pro Bowler.

Greg Hardy was drafted (2010) as a sixth-round project and has developed into a good defensive end as well, but the interior has been awful for almost a decade.

Because the NFL passes more than it runs, having depth and athleticism on the defensive line is more critical than ever, and a run-stuffer like Lotulelei will give the Panthers a much better chance of getting stops in short-yardage situations.

Short projects as the first lineman off the bench for the Panthers, and he's considered the best pass-rushing D-tackle in the 2013 draft.

The selection of offensive guard Edmund Kugbila (6-4, 318) seems the most questionable of all the 2013 picks, simply because they probably could have gotten him later than the fourth round.

Carolina has been criticized for drafting linebacker A.J. Klein in the fifth round and Oregon blazer Kenjon Barner in the sixth.

But drafting for need in the late rounds is a mistake, and the Panthers had Klein and Barner at the top of their value board when they picked them.

Klein is a stout, 6-1, 250 pounds and versatile. If Jon Beason or Thomas Davis get hurt again this season, Klein could play a significant role.

Barner joins a crowded backfield, but the Panthers need more speed on offense and he brings that (4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash). Barner is an insurance policy in case DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart go down.

The Panthers didn't take a defensive back or a receiver, and it's understandable why many fans would question that.

Let me repeat: The draft isn't for the fans.

New GM David Gettleman focused on the defense, and that was the right move. After that, he took a project with a lot of upside to bolster the offensive line and rounded out with the two best players he had left on the board.

Previous GM Marty Hurney was a disaster, and ran the franchise into the ground with wasted picks and regrettable trades.

Of the seven players Hurney drafted in 2009, only seventh-round cornerback Captain Munnerlyn remains on the roster.

Gettleman helped the New York Giants build a team that won the Super Bowl in 2008 and 2012, and he wants to follow the same model.

He can't do any worse than the guy he replaced.