Originally posted on Fox Sports Carolinas  |  Last updated 4/24/12
Suspense was absent in the Carolina Panthers camp the week of the NFL Draft a year ago. Everyone knew the franchise was going to take Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with the top overall selection. And it worked out well, as Newton set numerous records during his rookie season. This time around, however, the Panthers check in with the No. 9 overall selection, and the team can go a myriad ways with the pick when the draft commences Thursday night: It can keep the ninth overall pick and hope wide receiver Justin Blackmon drops or get some defensive help; it can package the pick and trade up to have a better chance at getting Blackmon; or the team can trade down, acquire some more picks to stock up on needed defensive players. As exciting as it is for fans when their team has the top overall pick, this years situation might be more fun to consider because nobody knows what the Panthers will do, not even general manager Marty Hurney or second-year coach Ron Rivera. Right now, it appears the team will seriously consider dropping down to add additional draft picks. We do all think its a deep draft, Hurney said late last week. So if the right situation comes along and you can move back and collect more picks, then you do so. Before exploring what Carolina can get for the ninth overall pick, what options does the team have staying put? If Blackmon is there, its a no-brainer. Steve Smith is getting older and Blackmon could be the future with Newton. Smith could mentor him, and even if the defense doesnt improve, Carolina can outscore its opponents en route to a spot in the playoffs. At least that might be the thinking. According to the more notable mock drafts, Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is most frequently associated with the Panthers and that ninth pick. Cox is certainly a player the team needs, but it could also go for Boston College linebacker and tackling machine Luke Kuechly, South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples, or Alabama linebacker Donta Hightower. Each player would be a nice addition and likely play a ton right away. But the Panthers thinking is that if Blackmon isnt available, trading down to accumulate more picks might be the best course of action. They consider this a deep overall draft and that teams can acquire similarly talented players in the bottom of the first round as it can in the middle. The second and third rounds are heavy, as well, but the Panthers have just one second round pick (40th overall) and none in the third round. They traded that pick to the Chicago Bears a year ago to acquire tight end Greg Olsen. If the Panthers can trade the 9th overall pick with some team in the early or mid-20s and also get a 3rd round selection, it might be wise to do so. Despite the many young players that saw action on defense a year ago, this team needs to stockpile defensive talent. Carolina has picks in the fourth round (104th overall selection), fifth round (143), sixth (180), and seventh (216) rounds. If it can snag a player such as Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd in the early-mid 20s and essentially use the other six picks, including a newly-acquired third-rounder, on defensive players, this could be one of those drafts that looks a lot better several years down the road than it might by the end of this weekend. Other possibilities from either side of the ball in the early-mid 20s: Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright; Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill; Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe, Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy; Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw; Clemson defensive end Andre Branch; and Boise State linebacker Shea McClellin. Even if Carolina doesnt land Blackmon, it can still draft a highly regarded receiver with huge upside and also add a quality defensive player from the 3rd-round. Given the franchises needs, that might be the best option.
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