He Said/He Said

This week, South Charlotte Weekly Sports staffers Aaron Garcia and Andrew Stark answer the burning question: How would you grade the Carolina Panthers’ NFL Draft last week?

Panthers’ draft solid with chance of great

by Aaron Garcia

Thanks to the lack of game-changing talents in the first round at either defensive tackle or cornerback (you think General Custer needed backup), the Carolina Panthers chose the one guy who can help in both spots.

The most exciting thing about first-round selection Luke Kuechly is his versatility. At 6 foot 3, the Boston College standout has the size to attack the run game yet is speedy and instinctual enough to provide help in pass coverage, an important fact in the NFC South that includes tight ends Kellen Winslow Jr., Tony Gonzalez and Jimmy Graham. The pick also gave the coaching staff some much-needed options with Jon Beason and Thomas Davis both hoping to return from serious leg injuries suffered in 2011. Kuechly’s drawn comparisons to the Chicago Bears’ Brian Urlacher, and a player with those kinds of talents can patch a lot of holes.

But the rest of the Panthers’ draft class has a boom-or-bust feel to it, which is why I’ve given it a B.

The thing that’s going to make this bunch exciting to watch is the same thing that underwhelmed so many fans watching the draft – the newbies’ relative anonymity. Amini Silatolu, a Division II offensive lineman whose highlight reel resembled a montage from the movie “The Blind Side,” looks dominant but is unproven. Fourth-rounder Frank Alexander, the Panthers’ answer to their leaky defensive line, could form the other half of a formidable defensive end duo with Charles Johnson. Or he could play like a fourth-round pick (that cost the team a pair of draft picks next season, mind you. At least he’s bigger than Everette Brown). Fellow fourth-rounder Joe Adams, a speedy receiver/return man, has a chance to provide needed excitement in the return game. The final three selections – cornerback Josh Norman, punter Brad Nortman and safety B.J. Campbell – all have chances to earn starting spots, which says more about the returning personnel.

Kuechly gives this class a solid base, and if one or two more picks develop the way the Panthers believe they can, it could be special. Thanks to Kuechly, I’m betting on the boom.

Carolina filled most of its pressing needs

by Andrew Stark

The Panthers’ 2012 draft fills most of their immediate needs but leaves one of their biggest areas of concern, a run-stuffing defensive tackle, unfilled.

Luke Kuechly, a linebacker from Boston College, seems to be a relatively safe pick. If either Jon Beason or Thomas Davis aren’t ready to go when the season begins, he can easily step in. But with Beason, Davis, James Anderson and now Kuechly, there might’ve have been more pressing needs. Kuechly’s a tackling machine, though, and has the tools to be a solid NFL linebacker.

Amini Silatulo, a guard from Midwestern State, comes with rave reviews. But selecting an offensive lineman when receivers Stephen Hill and Alshon Jeffrey, and defensive tackles Kendall Reyes and Jerel Worthy were still on the board could be a mistake.

Carolina didn’t have a third-round pick because of the trade for tight end Greg Olsen last season, but Olsen’s certainly worth vacating the selection.

The Panthers traded next year’s third-round pick to take Oklahoma defensive end Frank Alexander in the fourth round and took Arkansas’ explosive punt returner/receiver Joe Adams with the next pick. Adams could wind up being one of the Panthers’ best selections. But Carolina doesn’t have a great track record trading up in the draft, having done so in the past to select Armanti Edwards and Everette Brown.

Fifth-round selection Josh Norman, the Coastal Carolina cornerback, is a great selection. Along with last year’s fourth-round pick Brandon Hogan and incumbent starter Captain Munnerlyn, Norman will be given a chance to compete as a starter opposite Chris Gamble.

I don’t ever like drafting a punter, but Wisconsin’s Brad Nortman, a sixth-rounder, fills a need after the Panthers cut Jason Baker. Fellow sixth-round pick D.J Campbell, a defensive back from California, will make the roster as a reserve and contribute on special teams.

Overall, the Panthers filled most of their pressing needs and have 2011 draft picks Simone Fua and Terrell McClain, along with veteran Ron Edwards, to play defensive tackle. I would’ve liked to have seen another defensive player taken early, but overall it was a solid draft.

My grade: B+

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