Monday, November 8, 2010

Panthers should trade down, try to stockpile talent

The last time the Carolina Panthers had the first pick in the NFL Draft was the first time they participated, back in 1995. The Panthers feinted interest in Ki-Jana Carter, then traded from No. 1 to No. 5 to draft quarterback Kerry Collins of Penn State.

They picked up a second-round pick in the deal and landed defensive end Shawn King of Northeast Louisiana, a decent pass-rusher who had a marginal career.

But this is a time Carolina must again consider trading down. Watching the Panthers this season is painful, and you can't help but be jarred by how little talent the team has.  It didn't help Monday when the Panthers announced that quarterback Matt Moore (shoulder) and linebacker Dan Conner (hip) are out for the season.

The only other Carolina season to rival this one came in 2001, when the team finished 1-15 and George Seifert got fired.

Jerry Richardson hired John Fox, and the turnaround began with the 2002 draft. Carolina had the No. 2 pick and passed on quarterback Joey Harrison to take Julius Peppers.  The rest of that draft was unremarkable,  but Peppers teamed with a terrific 2001 draft - Dan Morgan, Kris Jenkins and Steve Smith were the first three picks - to spark a Carolina turnaround.

The Panthers are not one or two players - or even one good quarterback - from being a winner. The offense is just brutal, even with Pro Bowl level players in DeAngelo Williams, Jordan Gross and Smith. How they can fail to find an effective second receiver to Smith is unexplainable. Carolina's touchdown-to-interception ratio of 6-to-14 is unheard of in this era of the NFL.

All this means a huge load for the defense, and this is a unit that is substandard as well. Say what you want about Peppers, but at least he demanded double-teams. No NFL line is scared of the current Panther front of Charles Johnson, Ed Johnson, Derek Landri and Tyler Brayton. Carolina has only 12 sacks all season.

Carolina needs talent, and plenty of it. If the Panthers keep their top pick, they need a real force on the defensive front like De'Quan Bowers of Clemson or Marcell Dareus of Alabama. Andrew Luck of Stanford would be tempting, but defense is the better play here.

The smart move, though, would be to trade down and gather good players. UNC's Robert Quinn might be available a few steps below the top selections. And smart teams can find good receivers in the second round - Carolina did just that once with Muhsin Muhammad. This disaster of a season needs a strong 2011 draft if the Panthers want to be viable any time soon.

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