Let me just preface this by saying that by nature, some people refer to me as a ‘hater’. I don’t know if this is due to my cynicism in many applications having finally eclipsed my passion or fanship, or whether ‘hater’ is just an easy label for someone who is realistic, but either way the term follows me. The reason I am making a note of this is because with it being said, contextually, the following can actually be received with a higher degree of excitement.
Before I grade the Panthers work in the draft this year as a whole, let’s just briefly go over everyone who comprises the Panthers 2012 NFL Draft class:
- First round, 9th pick- Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College. Honestly, Kuechly is so versatile at the position, it is almost easier to list the things he does not do well rather than compile a hefty book of a list of his many attributes. Kuechly is around 240 lbs and measures 6’3’’; he is a hybrid specimen built to move, ball hawk, and hit. Expect Kuechly to make an immediate impact on the field at Bank of America Stadium, the defensive playbook may even grow a little bit with a presence like Kuechly available on most downs.
- Second round, 40th pick- Amini Silatolu, OG, Midwestern State University. Silatolu is a tenacious force on the offensive line, and many scouts characterized him as being one of the “meanest, nastiest” players in the Draft. Amini weighs in at just over 300 lbs. and measures 6’4’’ and, as Mark Jackson would famously say, “Momma, there goes that man”. Silatolu amassed a whole host of accolades while at Midwestern State, which is actually a junior college. The only criticism against Amini is that the competition level of his collegiate opponents is sub-par, and thus his production numbers could be skewed. However, Ron Rivera, Marty Hurney, and the rest of the brain trust in Charlotte didn’t seem to think be too concerned with those critics, and neither am I. Silatolu will couple nicely with recently acquired offensive lineman Bruce Campbell to help protect Cameron Newton for years to come.
- Fourth round, 103rd pick- Frank “The Tank” Alexander, DE, University of Oklahoma. Firstly, if you’re name is ‘Frank’, and you play a sport, you will at some point inevitably be referred to as ‘Frank “The Tank”, so I am going to go ahead and coin that as far as the Panthers are concerned. Frankly, Frank is an absolute tank. He is 6’3’’, 270 lbs. and although many Panther fans expected the team’s first round pick to go towards a defensive end like Fletcher Cox, drafting Alexander all the way at 103rd is both a value pick and a monster steal. Alexander is a former Big 12 co-player of the year, has nice agility for his size and position, and more importantly comes from a tradition of winning. Alexander’s high character was evident as he was remarkably grateful and humble in his first interviews with Charlotte media on Saturday, and he is a much needed and welcome addition to the defensive line.
- Fourth round, 104th pick- Joe Adams, WR, University of Arkansas. Another great pick, Adams is a walking highlight reel. Although he is only 5’10’’ and 179 lbs., there is another receiver in Charlotte that was never the biggest guy but worked out quite fine. What was his name again? Oh yea, Steve Smith, a player Adams indicated he was excited to learn from upon arriving in the Queen City. In today’s NFL where dynamic kick-off returns are less common due to a rule change last season, the Punt Returner position has increased in value. Adams provides an incredible spark as a Punt Returner and can be an immediate weapon in the field position game, however he will also compete for time at the slot as a receiver. Lots of Panther fans were clamoring for offense earlier in the Draft than this, but fans, I implore you, go watch some tape of Joe Adams and quench your thirst for another offensive threat because this is the guy.
- Fifth round, 143rd pick- Josh Norman, CB, Coastal Carolina. The Panthers addressed some vital needs at corner back with this pick, as Norman is a package deal. He is a quick, hard hitting, durable cover-corner, with a knack for throw-anticipation. By all accounts he has a high football IQ, a trait highly valued in Charlotte, and he has impressive natural instincts, another important characteristic of a successful corner back. Norman should be expected to step in and compete, as corner back is a thinner position on the Panthers’ depth chart.
- Sixth round, 207th pick- Brad Nortman, P, University of Wisconsin. I know what you’re saying, “great, a punter”, but hold fast before devaluing this pick. Brad Nortman is nearly 6’3’’ and is every bit of 213 lbs., an athletic Punter to say the least. Nortman will force opposing defenses to game plan more, as he is quite capable of various fake plays and gadget punt formations, which are nice, because I can’t remember the last time special teams were exciting in Charlotte, with the single exception of Pilares last season.
- Seventh round, 216th pick- D.J. Campbell, Safety, University of California. The Panthers looked westward to address needs at Safety, although the position has gained some depth in recent weeks. Campbell not only shares Head Coach Ron Rivera’s alma mater in the University of California, but also his hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada. Rivera admitted Saturday that the connection didn’t hurt, as Campbell was not a player a lot of teams were investigating. He is self admittedly more of an intellectual, heady football player, also with a superb instinct for the game. In his first interviews with Charlotte media he mentioned one of his greatest assets being the ability to see or predict plays before they happen, a characteristic only very smart and naturally gifted players possess. Campbell occupied the Panthers’ last pick in the Draft, and rounds out the team’s 2012 Draft class.
Other than the obvious excitement last year’s NFL Draft brought Panther Nation, this writer can honestly admit that he has never been so excited for an incumbent Panthers’ draft class. This year, the team addressed a myriad of needs, took best available talent on the board, and drafted players capable of affecting the game immediately. The first 4 picks are especially stimulating, and overall, this admitted cynic and perceived hater has to give the team’s coaching and administration an A-.
The Panthers could still use a Defensive Tackle, a need that was not confronted in the Draft. Additionally, some people have argued that taking Silatolu so high was a bit of a reach, however time will tell. Conclusively though, this draft was superb.
Panther Nation rests a little easier as the Cam Newton era continues to materialize. Bravo Panthers, bravo indeed.