Recently, I partook in a Twitter mock draft (hashtagged #ExpertsMock, run by NFLDraftWizard.com) where I played the part of the Carolina Panthers GM, and had to select a player with the number nine selection.
I took Devon Still, and fairly quickly, saw many claiming it was wrong to select Still both that high, and above another highly coveted defensive tackle, Fletcher Cox. So, I decided to explain the selection of a pick that I have mocked before, and will continue to mock if the board shakes out like it did in the “Experts Mock”.
For one, the players selected in the eight picks before me were Andrew Luck (QB), Robert Griffin (QB), Matt Kalil (OT), Morris Claiborne (CB), Justin Blackmon (WR), Riley Reiff (OT), Dontari Poe (DT) and Melvin Ingram (DE/OLB).
So as the Panthers GM, I’m looking for defensive help. With the worst run defense in the league last year (along with me personally not approving of the Terrell McClain, Sione Fua draft selections a year ago), the focus needs to be on the defensive line, unless an overwhelming prospect at a different position is too good to pass up.
My Top 5 draft board based on my system fit is as follows:
1. Matt Kalil
2.. Morris Claiborne
3. Dontari Poe
4. Devon Still
5. Dre Kirkpatrick
With Carolina not needing a quarterback, and only Matt Kalil worth taking as a non-need offensive prospect, it came down to four of my top five prospects being available at the number 4 spot. If Claiborne had been there, I would have easily taken a better man coverage cornerback than last year’s elite prospect in Patrick Peterson. After he was gone, Dontari Poe, an outstanding athlete with room to grow got the slight edge over the less athletically dominant but better fit Devon Still.
However, when the Kansas City Chiefs traded up to secure Poe, the pick was all but sealed: Devon Still would be the pick.
But why Still over the highly touted Michael Brockers, or the now highly viewed Fletcher Cox? Two reasons: needed position, and system fit.
The Panthers need a nose tackle in my eyes, and Brockers nor Cox are guys who fit that need. Still has been able to generate pressure as both a nose and in situational 3-technique spots. Brockers likely needs to play the 5-technique (and not a fit for the Ron Rivera’s system), while Cox is more of a pass rushing 3-technique/5-technique mix, something the Panthers would obviously love, but already have a pass rushing presence in Charles Johnson.
Along with simply playing nose tackle, Devon Still is the best run defending defensive tackle maybe in this draft class. His vision of the play while engaged, his reach and tackling ability when a runner does get through the hole, and his ability to take him two blockers consistently and allow for linebackers too fill blocker-less gaps makes him a perfect fit for the 32nd ranked run defense. While Brockers and Cox both add more value as a pass rusher, neither are as developed in reading and reacting to blockers nor finishing tackles on the interior as Still is.
Devon Still doesn’t have quite the ceiling of a Brockers or Cox maybe thanks to his lack of expected sack totals and production that way. But he very well could have an impact similar to Marcel Dareus did this year for the Bills when he was switched to nose tackle, setting up other defenders on a young and still lacking talent defense.
Still may not be the sexy pick, and in all likelihood, I would have tried to trade down 5-10 spots (as long as I stayed ahead of the Broncos and Chiefs) and secure Still later. Regardless, I have faith in the receiving corps and offensive line for Cam Newton, we’ll look at add linebackers and defensive backs throughout the rest of the draft, and a nose tackle with outstanding run support skills seems too good to pass up.