There are some who say it’s too early to make predictions on the 2012 NFL Draft. Hogwash, I tell you. Sure, there’s a lot of rising and falling to be done with the Combine having yet to convene, personal interviews/workouts and such, but it’s never too soon to stir the pot of imaginative speculation. Plus, let’s face it; we’ve got to get our mid-February NFL kicks somehow. In that spirit, let’s take a ride in the 2012 NFL Draft Delorean for a peek at 1.21 gigowatts of Carolina Panther possibilities. Where we’re going, we don’t need roads..
Round One – Melvin Ingram – OLB – South Carolina: Defense was the weakest link for the Panthers in 2011, and the linebacker position was a complete scramble for most of the year. Not only would Ingram infuse the position with some young talent and depth, but he would allow for Ron Rivera to incorporate more of a 3-4 scheme that could better suit Carolina’s current personnel situation. His great versatility and ability as a 3-4 rush end are also hard to pass up. He’s got a great motor, excellent upper-body strength and leverage, ridiculous closing speed for his size, and a spin move straight out of the Robert Mathis handbook. Plus, it’s always nice to draft a guy who grew up an hour away from the stadium (Hamlet, NC).
Round Two – Mitchell Schwartz – OT – California: While Panthers’ C Ryan Kalil’s little brother, Matt, will be off the board before the Panthers get a shot at him, there’s still a good chance we see two brothers holding the line in Carolina next year. Mitchell’s older brother, Geoff Schwartz, is currently on the Panthers’ roster. Granted, he’s a restricted free-agent in 2012, but the Panthers are likely to re-sign him after he proved himself well beyond his initial worth as a seventh-round pick in 2008. Having his brother to work with should only serve to help them both, as well as the overall depth and chemistry of the o-line. Mitchell is projected as a second or third-round pick, but he had an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl which is likely to raise his stock. An aging Jordan Gross and an unreliable Jeff Otah really puts the pressure on GM Marty Hurney and company to invest a quality pick at the offensive tackle position. The fact that he and Rivera share an alma mater does not exactly hurt his chances either..
Round Three – Traded to Chicago Bears in 2011 for TE Greg Olsen: Not a terrible decision, as Olsen is more valuable than just about anyone they could have gotten at this point in the Draft.
Round Four – Alameda Ta’amu – NT – Washington: If the Panthers are going to move more to a 3-4, they’re going to need a mountain in the middle. At 6’3, 341 pounds, Ta’amu could very well be their guy. A lackluster showing at the Senior Bowl may give them a shot at him in the fourth round, but it might be a stretch to think he’ll fall that far given that there aren’t a lot of nose tackles to be had in front of him. The only option the team currently has on the roster is Jason Shirley, a fifth-round pick of the Bengals in 2008 who simply hasn’t proven he can carry the load as a starting nose tackle. Ta’amu would give them some depth there at the least, if not a legitimate starter moving forward.