Would the Panthers rather have Washington quarterback Jake Locker going into his first year or 2010 third rounder Armanti Edwards going into his second? (Otto Greule Jr./Getty)
Continuing what turned out to be a dangerous habit of borrowing from the future to help pay for the present, the Panthers sent a second-round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft to the Patriots for their 2010 pick in Round 3 at No. 89 overall.
The choice was Appalachian State's Armanti Edwards, a local quarterback product that was promptly moved to receiver, but the 5-11, 182-pounder only appeared in three games for Carolina and didn't reel in so much as one ball for a passing offense that was desperate for playmakers all campaign long. He was even the emergency QB at times because all the other options were either out due to injury or -- worse -- totally incompetent. Fellow rookie wideouts Brandon LaFell and David Gettis each had some highlights, and they'll be expected to do even more next season if increasingly frustrated Pro Bowler Steve Smith makes a break for it in free agency, although the future for Edwards is still a mystery right now.
Because the Panthers finished the year 2-14 and are in complete rebuilding mode with new coach Ron Rivera, the Edwards decision is especially painful in retrospect since New England now has what turned out to be the first pick in Round 2 this April at No. 33 overall -- that fact may have been a bit more palatable had Edwards done anything at all as a first-year pro.
Even if this organization lands an immediate difference maker with the No. 1 pick, like Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, just look at all the talent Carolina is missing out on at the top of the second round:
Washington QB Jake Locker
Despite being dubbed the most NFL-ready quarterback in the class of 2010 due to his time in the pro-style system run by former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, Clausen completed only 52.5 percent of his passes, threw threefold as many interceptions (nine) as he did touchdowns (three) and ended the season with a David Carr-like 58.4 passer rating. As a result, Carolina finished dead last in the league in passing offense at 143.1 yards per game, almost 40 yards off the pace set by 31st-ranked Arizona (182.6). And with Andrew Luck going back to Stanford instead of entering the draft, a surefire QB of the future is nowhere to be found.
Many scouts thought Locker was good enough to be considered for No. 1 last year, so even though his stock took a hit following what turned out to be an expensive senior season in Seattle, immediate competition between he and Clausen might be the best way to get one of them to develop quickly.
Miami CB Brandon Harris
On the surface, the Panthers appeared to be solid defending the pass in 2010, as the 212.1 yards they surrendered per game through the air was 11th best in the league, plus 17 interceptions is a respectable total.
Nevertheless, a 2-14 team is going to be trailing an awful lot over the course of the season, which means the opponent is likely running out the clock in the fourth quarter and stopped throwing the ball with any sense of urgency at halftime -- Carolina was, predictably, 23rd in the NFL defending the run. Also, the team's leading interceptor was a safety, not a corner, with Charles Godfrey picking off almost as many passes (five) as cornerbacks Richard Marshall (three) and Captain Munnerlyn (three) did combined. Veteran Chris Gamble battled injury and ineffectiveness and may have his best football in the rearview mirror at this point.
Harris has pure coverage skills and probably should go in Round 1, but some first-round talent inevitably lands in Round 2 once needy teams start reaching a bit to plug their deepest holes.
Notre Dame TE Kyle Rudolph
No matter who is under center for Carolina next season, be it Clausen, a veteran free agent or another fresh-faced rookie, the easiest way to inject some life into the passing game is with a big target in the middle of the field.
The combination of Dante Rosario and Jeff King managed to record only 51 catches for 385 yards and two touchdowns in 2010, which was bettered in all three categories by 12 individual tight ends on other teams around the league. And while that's partially a product of some bad quarterbacking, neither Rosario nor King can be considered a solution going forward. Tight ends are a crucial element to any run-based offense, which is certainly going to be the case with DeAngelo Williams -- assuming he returns, as he is due to be a free agent -- and Jonathan Stewart in the backfield.
Rudolph is the premier player in this draft at his position and could very well be available in the second round because most clubs already have a quality tight end, but he'll be long gone by the time Carolina is on the clock again in Round 3.
|John Crist is an NFL Analyst for Scout.com, a voter for the Heisman Trophy and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America.|