March 31, 2011
Mock draft v.4.0; Mockin' in the free world
We could do another straight mock draft, and tell you again how it's looking more and more like Cam Newton for the Carolina Panthers.But where's the fun in that?
The one option we haven't touched yet is the possibility of trades. The Panthers would likely be up for it, to add draft pick currency to a wallet thinned out by previous trades. The only problem is, the only people who seem inclined toward moving up might be farther down the order than the Panthers want to drop (QB-needy teams such as Washington and Minnesota).
That doesn't mean they won't listen. So here, for hypothetical discussion-generating purposes (i.e. not based on reporting or rumors or any whispers we may have heard), is Mock Draft v. 4.0:
QB Cam Newton, Auburn
The Redskins have to give up their first and second (10th and 41st) and next year's first to move up, but they're desperate. It's clear they want to add a passer to the rotation now that flavor-of-the-month Donovan McNabb has lost his luster.
There is no more lustrous player in this draft than Newton.
DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama
Could go a number of ways here, but I just can't help thinking John Fox digs this guy the most.
LB Von Miller, Texas A&M
Popular QB destination? Perhaps, but Miller helps them more in 2011 than any passer would.
QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
They have to have someone to replace Carson Palmer, and Gabbert's the next guy in line.
DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina
Cards need pass rush and would love to get Miller here, but he's probably not going to get past three.
WR A.J. Green, Georgia
Nice target for Colt McCoy if he progresses or Jake Delhomme if he doesn't.
7. San Francisco
CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
At some point, BPA (best player available) overcomes need, and a guy some think is the best player in the draft goes.
QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
Convince yourself he's the kind of guy you can count on, and the talent is there.
OT Tyron Smith, Southern Cal
Could use a corner here, but the need for blockers dictates a bit of a reach.
WR Julio Jones, Alabama
If you're not going to take a quarterback, you make the next best move to fix the passing game. Then they can come back at 41 and dip into a deep pool of defensive tackles (maybe a Marvin Austin) and know you've got a little something for next year in your pocket.
-- Darin Gantt
March 30, 2011
Pro day at South Carolina
COLUMBIA – The Panthers were not checking out any potential prospects for the No. 1 pick Wednesday at South Carolina's pro day, but were represented just the same.
Panthers college scout Jeff Beathard was in attendance at the Gamecocks' indoor facility after heavy rains moved the proceedings from Williams-Brice Stadium.
The Panthers have taken a South Carolina player in each of the last two drafts – cornerback Captain Munnerlyn in the seventh round in 2009 and linebacker/defensive end Eric Norwood in the fourth round last year.
Left guard Travelle Wharton, another South Carolina player, went to the Panthers in the third round in 2004.
The Gamecocks' most intriguing prospects this year appear to be on the defensive side.
CB Chris Culliver had an up-and-down college career, but is fast and also has return skills.
DE Cliff Matthews drew a lot of scouts – the Lions' Jim Schwartz was the only head coach in Columbia – for his position drills. The scouts also had Matthews run routes and catch passes at tight end, a position he played in high school.
Let's just say Matthews likely will be sticking with defense.
There was a curiosity factor with another tight end. Weslye Saunders, who pulled out of the combine with a broken bone in his foot, put off surgery until Friday so he could work out.
Saunders looked to be a step slower with the injury, but he showed off the soft hands that had him ranked among the top TE prospects this year before the NCAA ruled him ineligible as a result of the agent scandal that also took down several of North Carolina's top players.
March 29, 2011
Newton creates split opinions
It's going to be a fun month.
The possibility, or likelihood, that the Panthers could draft Auburn QB Cam Newton has already made him a lightning rod, creating pre-draft conversations the likes of which have never taken place here.
But no member of the media has taken him down quite like Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki, who wrote that Newton was "very disingenuous," with an "enormous ego," and "does not command respect from teammates and will always struggle to win a locker room."
Not every scouting report is so shrill.
Rob Rang at cbssports.com opens his scouting report of Newton with a more even tone. "Despite the big media splash over Newton's comments last month about wanting to be an 'icon and entertainer,' I have no doubt that Newton is much more grounded than people think," Rang wrote.
Either way, the conversation will last another 30 days, and perhaps for years beyond.
-- Darin Gantt
March 28, 2011
Dodging bullets on a Monday morning
There's not much anyone can be sure of in the NFL right now.
But this one I'm pretty sure of.
Despite a throwaway line in a Minnesota column, the Panthers aren't interested in being the next installment in quarterback Brett Favre's reality show.
In a Sunday column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Charley Walters wrote a lot about Gophers business and Minnetonka High, and then threw in the following:
"Don't discount the possibility of Brett Favre, who turns 42 in October, returning next season, but not with the Vikings. Maybe Carolina."
In a word (OK, three words), that's not happening. Ran it up the flagpole early this morning, and the response was swift and sure. Maybe somewhere. But not here.
-- This would be bigger than VCU and Butler in the Final Four.
Results will be announced today in the first-round matchups of the bracket to decide the next cover boy for EA Sports' Madden '12 video game. Panthers LT Jordan Gross was the 15 seed against No. 2 Matt Ryan, the QB of the Atlanta Falcons.
Now, I'm not sure if being on the cover of Madden is anything anyone aspires to, but guessing Gross will be OK if he doesn't pull the upset.
-- Darin Gantt
March 25, 2011
Panthers load up on comp picks
Fans who grumbled last offseason when the Panthers let a dozen veterans walk and did not replace them with any significant acquisitions can take solace in Friday's announcement by the NFL that the Panthers will receive three compensatory picks in next month's draft – more than any team.
The Panthers get a third-round selection (97th overall) for Julius Peppers, who signed a $91.5 million deal with Chicago after eight seasons in Charlotte.
The Panthers, who lost free agent A.J. Feeley when the quarterback signed with St. Louis last year, also received sixth- and seventh-round picks. The Panthers, who own the top pick in the draft, now have eight picks overall.
They traded their second-round pick to New England last year to take Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards in the third round.
March 24, 2011
Mock draft v3.0: New QB name at the top?
We're down to five weeks before the draft, and if you look at mock drafts elsewhere, they're all over the board with the Panthers' pick.
It's not surprising. The Panthers likely don't know who they're picking, yet.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said at the NFL owners meetings this week the team is 60 percent through its evaluation process. The Panthers will start bringing in candidates for the No. 1 pick in the next week or so, including 'the big three' among quarterbacks: Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Mallett.
Rivera insisted the Panthers are serious about positions other than quarterback. And while he said Jimmy Clausen received too much of the blame for last year's 2-14 finish, Rivera was hardly effusive with his praise of Clausen, saying only coaches and the front office would see if last year's second-round pick fits somewhere in the Panthers' plans.
We're doing things a little differently this week, getting the beat writers and/or columnists that cover the teams holding the top five picks to make the selections below.
Another difference? The quarterback at the head of the draft.
1. Carolina: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Maybe it was a case like figure skating judges of saving the best marks (or remarks, in this case) for last. But Rivera seemed to rave about Gabbert, whom team officials worked out and met with last weekend in Missouri before Rivera attended the owners meetings.
Rivera mentioned Gabbert's size, arm, touch and footwork, but said he was most impressed with Gabbert's presence. When coaches start talking like that, it usually means they like the whole package.
--Joseph Person, Charlotte Observer
2. Denver: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
It's early and either Nick Fairley or Marcell Dareus could go here, but John Fox was a long-time defensive backs coach as a college and NFL assistant and said he's "never seen a corner'' with the size-speed combination Peterson has.
-- Jeff Legwold, Denver Post
3. Buffalo: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Ryan Fitzpatrick is a serviceable starter, but not the long-term solution. Despite more pressing needs on defense, the Bills roll the dice on Newton in hopes he'll develop into the franchise signal caller the team has longed for since Jim Kelly retired in 1997.
-- Allen Wilson, Buffalo News
4. Cincinnati: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
With the odds of Chad Ochocinco coming back being extremely slim and Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell going into the final year of their contracts, the Bengals are going to need a game-breaking receiver and top target for whomever throws the ball.
-- Joe Reedy, Cincinnati Enquirer
5. Arizona: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
Ken Whisenhunt has tried to implement a Steelers-like 3-4 defense now for four years. He's on his third defensive coordinator, having fired the first two. One of the biggest reasons for the failures is that the team hasn't been able to develop outside linebackers. If scouts are right, Miller would fill an immediate need as a pass rusher off the edge. Last year's starting outside linebackers, Joey Porter and Clark Haggans, will be 34 when the season starts. Both are under contract but Porter probably will be cut because of money ($5.75 million) and performance (5 sacks last year.).
--Kent Somers, Arizona Republic
March 22, 2011
Fox says 2-14 debacle will make him better coach
NEW ORLEANS -- John Fox called his final season with the Panthers a debacle, but took the high road Tuesday when asked whether the Panthers' 2010 personnel purge had led to a lost year for the lame-duck coach.
Fox, attending his first owners meetings as the Broncos' head coach, believes he left Charlotte as a better coach for enduring the 2-14 season -- and pointed out he also left with his winning record intact.
"It's one of the harder things I've ever done. There's a lot of head coaches in this league that don't even have winning records. And even after that debacle, we had a winning record," said Fox, who was 73-71 in nine seasons at Carolina.
"You never know what people are going to do. I know I never lost confidence in myself, whether it was this year, next year. I'm real blessed to be sitting here right now with such a great organization as the Denver Broncos.''
Asked about the roster turnover when the Panthers cut ties with about a dozen veterans and did not replace them with any significant acquisitions, Fox declined to break out the "personnel department" comments that enraged many in the front office last season.
"It's hard to say (it was a wasted year)," Fox said. "I think sometimes setbacks are set-ups for better things in the future. Sometimes your best lessons come from tough times. I think I'm a better coach today with that experience. Not the record, but I think it made me better as a coach.''
Rivera sees himself in Proehl
NEW ORLEANS -- Ron Rivera looks at Ricky Proehl and sees a former NFL player who was willing to do about anything to break into the coaching profession.
Kind of like himself.
Rivera hired Proehl, a former Panthers receiver who played 17 NFL seasons, as an offensive consultant after Proehl got in contact with him.
"Just listening to his passion when he talked, Ricky reminded me so much of myself when I got into it," Rivera said Tuesday. "That was probably the biggest thing that attracted me."
Since retiring in 2006, Proehl has been the owner and operator of a training facility in Greensboro.
After Rivera retired from the Bears, he spent a couple of years helping out on the Bears' broadcast team before realizing he wanted to coach.
"I really got a big kick out of how much he reminded me of myself – wanting to start, saying, 'Hey, look, I'll do whatever. I'll start at the bottom,'" Rivera said.
"I used to want that opportunity because I really thought I could help. We were really intrigued by that."
And Proehl showed recently he can help in other ways.
When there were only a few available receivers at Blaine Gabbert's private workout with the Panthers, Proehl jumped in and caught passes from the Missouri quarterback.
Rivera: Clausen got too much blame
NEW ORLEANS -- For more than an hour Tuesday morning, Panthers coach Ron Rivera talked a lot about quarterbacks – ones the Panthers might draft, ones the Panthers could get in a trade.
Finally, he fielded a question about a quarterback currently on the Panthers' roster – one who was generating his own buzz this time a year ago before a dreadful rookie season.
And Rivera said Jimmy Clausen received too much of the blame for a 2-14 season that gave the Panthers the No. 1 pick this year.
“I tried to listen to as many people and tried to figure out what had happened. Tried to watch as much tape and really take everything that was said to me, and evaluate it and decide what I believed. What I agreed with, what I disagreed with and draw my own conclusion,” Rivera said at the coaches' breakfast at the annual owners meetings.
“And I think he got too much of the blame. I think he shouldered too much of the responsibility. We have to – as I said before – continue to evaluate the process and see if there is somewhere that he fits for us. And we'll go through and see.”
It certainly wasn't a ringing endorsement of Clausen, who was the NFL's lowest-rated passer last season and went 1-9 as a starter.
The Panthers will have another QB in camp – assuming there is one – to compete with Clausen, whether it's Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert or Kevin Kolb.
Rivera spoke glowingly of Gabbert on Tuesday, praising the former Missouri QB for his “presence” and his various physical skills. Don't read the tea leaves too deeply: At the combine, Rivera raved about Newton, the Auburn QB whom many observers believe is the Panthers' top target.
But Rivera's comments were a reminder of how highly Marty Hurney thought of Clausen last year – and evidence that at least some folks in the organization still have his back.
March 21, 2011
VIDEOS: Blaine Gabbert pro day workout
Video of Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert's pro day workout: