Draft Review – Carolina Panthers

by Tommy Lawlor  –  http://www.ScoutsNotebook.com

Carolina Panthers

1 – QB Cam Newton – 6’5, 248 – Auburn
3 – DT Terrell McClain – 6’2, 297 – USF
3 – DT Sione Fua – 6’2, 308 – Stanford
4 – CB Brandon Hogan – 5’10, 192 – West Virginia
5 – WR Kealoha Pilares – 5’10, 199 – Hawaii
6 – LB Lawrence Wilson – 6’1, 229 – UConn
6 – OL Zach Williams – 6’3, 309 – Washington State
7 – OT Lee Ziemba – 6’6, 317 – Auburn

The Panthers had the #1 overall pick and they used that to land QB Cam Newton. I think we’re all pretty familiar with his resume. Newton led Auburn to an undefeated season and the National Title. He won the Heisman Trophy. He would have cured cancer, but Tim Tebow was already busy on that project.

Newton is a boom or bust player. He’s got rare physical skills. He did things at Auburn that I’ve never seen a QB do. It’s one thing for Vince Young to run wild in the Big 12. They don’t have the kind of defensive players the SEC does. You wonder about Tebow vs Newton. Tim had a great supporting cast. Guys like Aaron Hernandez and Percy Harvin are NFL playmakers. Heck, Riley Cooper is a promising NFL receiver. Newton had a stud Freshman RB, but other than that his skills players were just solid college players. Newton did have a good O-line, but none of them are great NFL prospects. Tebow had top NFL guys clearing the way for him. Newton also had a bad defense to work with. Auburn gave up 43 points to Arkansas. And won. By 22. I never saw Tebow or VY do something like that. Cam led one of the craziest comebacks I’ve ever seen. Alabama had total control of the Iron Bowl this year, leading 24-0. Auburn won 28-27. You don’t come back like that on ‘Bama. But Newton did.

So how about him in the NFL? We all agree Cam was a great college player. That doesn’t guarantee him anything in the NFL. He’s got the talent to be an elite player. Does he have the focus/drive? Does he have the quick mind? Newton isn’t a polished passer, but he’s sound mechanically. He’s light years ahead of VY and Tebow in this area. He played in a spread offense like those two guys and will face the same challenges they did – reading defenses, finding the open guy, and then getting him the ball. And all of that takes place in 2 to 4 seconds. To use Ron Jaworski’s favorite phrase, Newton “must be able to process information quickly”. He wasn’t challenged in that area in the Auburn offense. This will change greatly in the NFL. Newton’s not a dumb guy, but not all productive college passers can handle the speed of the NFL game.

Newton has done and said the right things since getting drafted. His head seems to be in the right place. Let’s hope it stays there. Young players are easily distracted. They have money for the first time in their life. They have access to all kinds of crazy women. There is no NCAA to deal with anymore. Players can live the good life. It’s easy to get caught up in that stuff. If that happens, it does affect on-field performance. You can’t study the playbook and game tape if you’re out having fun every night. Newton needs to dedicate himself to the game of football if he expects to have a top flight career. He’s got the potential. I hope he learns from the failures of JaMarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf.    I think the Panthers were right to make the pick. Coach Ron Rivera was in Philly when Donovan McNabb was picked. He saw how you can win with a good defense and athletic QB. Develop the QBs skills over time and let the offense evolve with him. That formula worked great for the Eagles and could do the same for the Panthers. Really all comes down to Newton. Does he want it bad enough?

The 2nd round pick had been traded from the previous year so Carolina had to wait for the 3rd round. They addressed a huge area of need by taking DT Terrell McClain from USF. He is a relentless 1-gap player that will instantly bring a lot of energy to the DL. McClain lacks ideal size, but plays with great leverage and a non-stop motor. He was very good at the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl. He isn’t a big playmaker (17 career TFLs), but is regularly disruptive. Good value in the 3rd round.

The Panthers used their other 3rd round pick to add another DT, Stanford’s Sione Fua. He fits in really well with McClain. Fua isn’t a huge guy at 6’2, 308, but he’s very powerful. He can play the role of 4-3 NT. Fua is willing to take on double teams and eat up blocks. That will free up McClain to fire off the ball and get into the backfield. Fua did have 4.5 sacks and 2 FFs last year so he can make plays when given a chance. I’m sure his primary role will be to clog the middled. That protects the LBs and lets McClain do his thing. Fua was another solid value pick and fits in perfectly. I like what Carolina did by adding the 2 DTs that complement each other. Smart.

In the 4th round the team added CB Brandon Hogan. This was the first head scratcher for me. Hogan tore his ACL late in the 2010 season. That’s going to make him a longshot for 2011. I have no problem with teams taking a chance on injured players in the draft, but you don’t spend a mid-round pick on a player like Hogan. He’s talented, but wasn’t a great college player. Strange. Hogan began his West Virginia career at receiver, but then made a smooth conversion to CB for his final 3 years. He picked off 7 passes and broke up 24 more. Hogan has good speed when he’s 100 percent. He does have NFL ability. I’m just not sure about the value. Real key here is his ability to recover from the torn ACL. Good luck.

Carolina took a player I liked a lot in the 5th round, Hawaii WR Kealoha Pilares. He doesn’t exactly pass the eyeball test. Pilares is 5’10, 199, which is an odd build for a WR. Put on the game tape and you’ll absolutely be impressed. He’s got the toughness you want in a slot receiver, but Pilares is also a good athlete. He had a great Pro Day workout. The athleticism shows up on game tape as well. He posted great numbers in 2010, 88-1306-15. Part of Pilares toughness comes from the fact he was a RB early in his career. I don’t know if he’s starting WR material, but he could be a great slot receiver. Should also be a terrific STer. I hope he gets good enough QB play that he can show what he’s capable of.

The Panthers had a pair of 6th round picks. First up was UConn LB Lawrence Wilson. He is a versatile, productive player. Wilson started inside and out in his time as a Huskie. He made lots of tackles no matter where you lined him up. He also made his share of plays. He had 10 TFLs, 3 FFs, and an INT as a Senior. That should give you an idea of what he can do. The question with Wilson is where he fits best. There are times when he looks terrific at MLB. He’ll take on blockers, shed, and go get the ball. Other times he gets lost in traffic. Sometimes he looks really good playing out in space. I’ll be interested to see where he lines up for Carolina. Could be good backup across the board. Should be very good STs player. Very good value in the 6th.

Carolina next went for OL Zach Williams. The Washington State Senior impressed me when I watched tape of him. He was a 2-year starter for WASU. Williams has some athletic ability and okay size. He can play G or C in the NFL. This was a weak year for late round interior blockers, but Williams was one guy that fascinated me.

The Panthers stayed on the O-line with their 7th round pick. They took OT Lee Ziemba from Auburn. Real interesting player. Ziemba was a 4-year LT for Auburn. He lacks the kind of athleticism needed to play LT in the NFL. Heck, at the Senior Bowl they gave him some snaps at Guard. Ziemba is real tall at 6’6 and didn’t look all that comfortable inside. I think he’s pretty much RT or bust. Ziemba is smart and highly experienced. He’s tough and feisty. I just don’t know if he’s got the ability to handle edge rushers in the NFL. I don’t blame the Panthers for trying a 7th round pick on him. And Ziemba is a good fit in Carolina’s run oriented offense. Let him attack off the ball and he’s got a chance to succeed. Maybe he is able to be a capable backup.

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