Imagine this: it’s a perfect world. The sun is shining, it’s a balmy 72 degrees, there are bikini-clad women catering to my every need as I sit in my lounge chair by the ocean on my private island without a care in the world.
Wait. Sorry, I got carried away there for a moment. Let’s try this again.
Imagine this: it’s a perfect world. The 2012 draft is upon us, and the Carolina Panthers are on the clock at #8 overall. Amazingly, it just so happens that fate has intervened and allowed both Morris Claiborne and Justin Blackmon to fall through the cracks. Both of them are sitting there on the draft board, calling out Marty Hurney’s name saying “Pick me! Pick me!”.
For the purpose of this column your name is Marty Hurney. (Or, if you don’t like the name Marty Hurney you can keep your own name, but you’re the Panthers’ GM.) Jerry Richardson has entrusted you with making the right draft choice for the franchise, and two players who could make an immediate impact — one on offense, one on defense — are both on the draft board. You have both of them rated equally.
Which one do you draft, and why?
Before you skip down to the comments section to blurt out your decision with a “BLACKMON BECAUZE HE SCOREZ TDZ” comment, take a moment and think about it. Which one — Blackmon or Claiborne — would bring more impact to the 2012 Panthers, and which one would be a better fit in the long run?
Let’s take a closer look at each one before we make a decision, shall we?
First, let’s take a look at Justin Blackmon. We all know what he brings to the table. He’s a big, strong, sure-handed receiver from Oklahoma State who could possibly be the best WR in the entire draft class. He’s rated as the best one by most every draft expert, and here are many who will question why he’s still available at #8/9 overall because of his skillset and lack of major off-field issues. But, like I said earlier, this is a perfect world, and it just so happens that the teams drafting in front of the Panthers all felt that they needed impact players at positions other than WR, so they decided that they would let Blackmon fall to a team who needed him more.
The Carolina Panthers happen to be one of those teams who need a second WR. I know what you’re thinking. We do have David Gettis and Brandon LaFell. We do have Greg Olsen at TE. We are able to draft someone like Ryan Broyles in the 4th round because he tore his ACL last season. We did have the 5th best offense in the NFL last season with spare parts from other teams at WR. But, we don’t have a legit #2 receiver who could be the heir apparent to the #1 spot currently taken by Steve Smith. We need that guy. We need someone other than Smitty who can take over games, and he’s not on our roster yet. We have all the complimentary pieces you could ever ask for, but we don’t have that one last piece that completes the puzzle. At least not yet anyway.
We could have that guy if we drafted Blackmon. Sure, we need a lot of help on defense, but we also need to strengthen our strengths as well as improve our weaknesses. Did we need a 1st round RB when we drafted Jonathan Stewart? Did we need a center when we drafted Ryan Kalil? Not really. But those two moves seem to have worked out for us, at least so far. That’s what drafting Blackmon would be like.
There’s really no need to go over his stats because by now you’ve seen them. The validity of Blackmon as a top pick in the draft is a point that’s been discussed plenty of times here at CSR. So, I’m not going to waste your time with stats, because you’ve already made up your mind whether you want to draft the kid or not, and there’s most likely nothing that can be done to change it, so why try?
As impressive as Blackmon has been on the offensive side of the ball, Morris Claiborne has been equally as impressive on the defensive side of the ball. The cornerback from LSU has been touted by some as “better than Patrick Peterson in every area except for punt return ability”. That’s good, right? I mean, we wouldn’t be drafting him to return punts anyway, because we seem to already have that position sorted out. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
If you read the player recap for Chris Gamble and Captain Munnerlyn, you’d realize that we desperately need help at CB. We have Gamble and a bunch of guys who are either incapable of being a #2 corner, or haven’t proven their ability to hold down the position. Adding a guy like Claiborne solves that problem, and it strengthens a major weakness on the defense.
Like Blackmon, Claiborne is an immediate upgrade to what we have on the roster. However, he would have a bigger impact on the team as he would be improving a weakness instead of building up a strength. The fact that Claiborne is clearly the best CB in the draft is another wrinkle that should be accounted for. What it really comes down to is what is more important: having an heir apparent to Steve Smith, or having two shutdown corners in the secondary to allow the defense to be more blitz-happy?
Since I’m asking the question I think it’s only fair that I answer it. I would take Claiborne every single time, because having two shut down corners in a league that’s catering more and more to the passing game is very crucial if teams want to find success on defense. Plus, it’s easier to find a quality receiver in the later rounds of the draft than it is to find a shutdown corner. And finally, I think Claiborne is better at his position than Blackmon is at his.
But enough about what I think. This is supposed to be about what you think. So, Panthers fans: If you were GM, and both Blackmon and Claiborne were on the board, who would you take?