Wednesday, May 20, 2009

2009 NFL Draft Grades: Carolina Panthers

Did you know that the Carolina Panthers - entering their 15th season in 2009 - have never had back-to-back winning seasons? It's true. The year following a season that saw the Panthers emerge victorious nine or more times, the team won eight games or fewer. They won 12 in 2008. Does that mean they're bound for a .500 or lower record in '09? Not necessarily but it is an eery omen. Fortunately the team hasn't won less than seven games since that awful 2001 season. Will the recuperated QB, nasty running game, and rejuvenated defense prevail in 2009? Or will it be the end of John Fox and Jake Delhomme?

Force Carolina to get away from their running game and their in trouble on offense. Unfortunately for opponents that was easier said than done in 2008. Carolina ranked 3rd in rushing yards per game last season which completely overshadowed their dismal passing attack that wallowed in mediocrity (19th, 197.4 yards per game). Not only do opposing defenses have to stop the pounding style of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, they have to account for big plays from each back as well. Because despite the crappy passing game, seemingly making the Panthers one-dimensional, Carolina was 7th in points scored per game at 25.9. Much like divisional foe Atlanta, their defense was rather ordinary. They gave up a lot of yardage (18th in total yards allowed per game) but were able to contain their opponents to mid field. Basically, opponents were less likely to score on Carolina. Teams marched back and forth but couldn't quite come through when it mattered. The Panthers were 12th in points allowed per game, utilizing a "bend-but-don't-break" approach.

Must John Fox win a playoff game this season to keep his job? After all this is his eighth year as head man in Carolina and what do they have to show for it? Sixty-three wins, two divsional titles, five playoff wins, and a NFC Championship. If Carolina has a home game in the playoffs and doesn't win I think he is gone. It goes without saying that a mediocre 8-8 type season will get him canned too.

2/11/43 - Everette Brown, DE, Florida State
2/27/59 - Sherrod Martin, CB/S, Troy
3/29/93 - Corvey Irvin, DT, Georgia
4/11/111 - Mike Goodson, RB, Texas A&M
4/28/128 - Tony Fiammetta, FB, Syracuse
5/27/163 - Duke Robinson, OG, Oklahoma
7/7/216 - Captain Munnerlyn, CB, South Carolina

  • DL - Check!
  • CB - Check!
  • WR - Try again.
  • QB - Try again.
  • OL - Check!
The Panthers needed to work the draft with the mindset that they'd be without two important performers in 2008: Julius Peppers and Jake Delhomme. The Peppers situation is simple; he wants out. Whether or not he gets his wish remains to be seen. But Carolina must believe he won't be around so finding a replacement was key. Why Delhomme, then? Well his age and past health issues mean he may have seen his best days. If John Fox wants to be a coach that lasts decades then he needs to start finding an heir. Of course he may just try to fill holes for a run this year. Which is what he kind of did. No QB was taken nor was a young WR found. The team lacked a first round selection (and will be without one in 2010 as well) but made the normal seven picks.

GRADE: 70/100

Pick 1 - The Panthers didn't make a pick until #43, and that was actually earlier than scheduled. The team traded up to grab the sliding Everette Brown. No one seems to be saying why he slid; he was considered not only a first round talent but a possible Top 15 pick. His availability at 43 was one of the highlights (or lowlight for him) of Day One. Regardless, Carolina got one heck of a player at a position of need. Brown should push Tyler Brayton or will replace Peppers if he is ever traded. He has the potential to rapidly boost the Panthers pass rush. Grade: 10

Pick 2 - The Panthers were in need of a CB or two and may have gotten one in Martin. I say may because many scouts though he'd fit best at FS. Well last year the Panthers drafted a CB that turned into starting FS Charles Godfrey. Either they want to replace Godfrey or think Martin can play CB. If it is the latter then great, the only better player available for that need was Sean Smith, who I can ecstatically say fell to Miami. With the high selection I hope Martin can at least play dime back this season. Better yet, be the nickel back. I'll base this grad on Martin being a CB. Grade: 8

Pick 3 - Not much to say about Irvin. The Panthers needed help inside their d-line and Irvin was arguably the best DT left. Need? Check! Value? Check! Irvin is reunited with former Georgia teammate Charles Johnson. Irvin will most likely be the 4th DT in the rotation this season. Grade: 8

Pick 4 - Off the top of your head you probably were thinking "why the hell does Carolina need another RB?" I know, I did it too. But then I looked at their statistics and depth chart and realized that, outside of Williams and Stewart, there isn't much. Goodson was arguably the best RB left on the board and easily could have been the best player left on the Panthers board. This gives them even more insurance should Williams or Stewart - both of which have had injury concerns - go down. You would have liked to see a WR or QB here but getting Goodosn gives them possibly the best RB trio in the league. Grade: 7

Pick 5 - A second FB may be a luxury this team didn't need. Unless Brad Hoover is going somewhere I'm not so sure taking Fiammetta - the best pure FB in the draft - was wise. Again they could have grabbed developmental guys at WR or QB. This is probably their worst pick so far. Grade: 5

Pick 6 - Wow. Steal? You betcha. Robinson was goin in the first round in some mocks and was never outside of the top 48 in any I looked at. Getting him at 163? Priceless! Sure he needs some technique work - he tends to overextend - but he has a massive frame that works right into the Panthers smash mouth style. He'll push Wharton and Vincent within a year. Grade: 10

Pick 7 - Another young CB and another good value. He was the best defensive back left and probably should have been drafted in round five. He's a somewhat local guy having played at South Carolina. He'll make the roster and, if Martin is the nickel, Munnerlyn could become the dime. That's bad news for Dante Wesley and C.J. Wilson. Grade: 8

GRADE: 56/70


Everyone has a flash judgment on, well, everything. I do it for all the draft classes. I came into the Panthers thinking I didn't like the way Carolina worked. But after evaluating it it looks pretty darn good. They missed on two needs but didn't really reach anywhere. They addressed their defensive line and secondary plus added more backs to their loaded arsenal. They could have gotten the biggest steal in the draft with Robinson that late. If Delhomme stays healthy Carolina may stay on top of the NFC South.


WHY: This would have been an 'A' class if Fiammetta was traded for a QB or WR, preferably the latter. But, as it is, when you combine what positions they filled with the value at each pick there's no way I can say this is anything less than an ~85. No reaches. Good players. Hopefully Fox can stick around to see these guys reach their potential. That's three good drafts in a row for Carolina. Now all they need is a young QB of the future...

NOTE: My "final grade" is weighted and is not a simple combination of "needs" and "talent".

Best Pick: Brown
Worst Pick: Fiammetta
Sleeper: Robinson
Instant Impact: Brown
Developmental: Robinson

OTHER DRAFT GRADES - Carolina Panthers
CBS Sports (Prisco): C+
CBS Sports (Rang): B
ESPN (Kiper): C (Brooks): B- (Fan's): B
Walter: B-



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