With a new general manager, a head coach hanging on by a thread and holes on both sides of the ball, this was a critical draft for the Carolina Panthers. The bad news was the franchise had just five picks and needed maximum effect from all their selections.
Star Lotulelei/DT/Utah (Round 1, pick #14): We reported the days leading to the draft Lotulelei was the player Carolina wanted and they would consider moving up to acquire the dominant tackle. Hence, when he slid to the 14th pick it was an easy decision. Heart condition or not, this selection represents great value. Lotulelei controls the line of scrimmage but is more than just a space eater and easily gets outside the box to make plays. Expect him to be a day one starter and the steal of round one.
Kwann Short/DT/Purdue (Round 2, pick #44): Carolina flooded the defensive tackle position and picked Short in round two. At the top of his game he offers Lotulelei-type qualities and is a dominant force in his own right. Short does not consistently play at a high level, which is a problem. Considering there were few defensive ends, right tackles, receivers or other positions of need available with this pick, Short represents good value and helps solidify the Panthers interior defensive line.
Edmund Kugbila/G/Valdosta State (Round 4, pick #108): The fourth frame was a bit early for Kugbila on our boards but there’s no denying he’s a terrific developmental prospect with great upside. A massive blocker and underrated athlete, Kugbila offers potential in a variety of blocking schemes. If he develops at a quick rate Carolina will be set at the guard position with Kugbila and Amini Silatolu, the teams second round choice in 2012.
A.J. Klein/ILB/Iowa State (Round 5, pick #148): From a value standpoint we love the pick of Klein in round five. The dominant run defender is smart as well as tough, forcing the action in the box. Exactly what will Carolina do with this pick? That’s our concern. They’re loaded at middle linebacker with rookie sensation Luke Kuechly as well as free agent pick up Chase Blackburn. In our opinion Klein is a two-down defender who will struggle on the outside. If the Panthers give 3-4 looks on occasion, he will be a natural fit on the inside.
Kenjon Barner/RB/Oregon (Round 6, pick #182): Barner was another value pick and a good way for the Panthers to round out the draft. He’ll offer depth and speed at the running back position and potentially an alternative if Carolina chooses to release or not sign one of their veteran ball carriers in the near future.
Grade: B. The downside of this draft is the fact Carolina did not come away with a receiver despite the fact the draft was deep at the position. Then again the Panthers filled needs and did a sensational job drafting for value. It would not be a surprise if all these picks but Kugbila end up on the 53 in September, and at worst he’s a practice squad player. These are not sexy picks rather meat and potatoes players with long NFL careers ahead of them.