Sunday, January 22, 2012

NFL Draft analysts don't know what they're talking about. The 2012 NFL Draft is three months away, and leading sports reporters are beginning to publish their mock drafts (, Bleacher Report, ESPNHuffPost Sports). They'll update their lists over the next several weeks after more factors become certain, such as how the remaining four teams finish in the playoffs (teams draft in the first round based on how they finish the previous season, from worst drafting first to best drafting last) and how draft prospects perform in the NFL Scouting Combine (February 22-28). The only thing that's probably not likely to change is the analysts' assertion that the Indianapolis Colts will draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick.

But here's why I say NFL Draft analysts don't know what they're talking about. Most of them are suggesting that the Carolina Panthers will draft a defensive tackle or defensive end with the No. 8 or 9 pick in the first round (next month, a coin flip between the Panthers and Miami Dolphins will determine who drafts eighth and who drafts ninth). The Panthers' most important needs are on defense, analysts say, pointing to the fact that the team allowed franchise records in points, touchdowns, total yards, and passing yards this past season. The Panthers will likely draft defensive end Quinton Coples from North Carolina, defensive tackle Devon Still from Penn State, or cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick from Alabama with their first-round pick, analysts say.

Well, I disagree. The Panthers' defense will automatically become better in 2012 because starting linebackers Jon Beason (injured week one and missed remainder of season) and Thomas Davis (injured week two and missed remainder of season) will be back. And other defensive needs can be addressed in the second and third rounds and through free agency.

In the 2011 draft, when the Panthers had the No. 1 overall pick, despite them coming off of a 2-14 season that featured horrible quarterback play by Jimmy Clausen and others, analysts were suggesting they should pick a defensive player like Von Miller from Texas A&M, Marcell Dareus from Alabama, or Nick Fairley from Auburn. Every time the conversation came up last winter and spring, which it did often because it was a hot topic around Charlotte, I would say the Panthers should draft Cam Newton. "The Panthers need to put an exciting offense on the field, even if it takes a little longer to win," I said. "Fans will be patient with the team rebuilding if the team is fun to watch, because they were a bore to watch during the 2010 season."

Fortunately, the Panthers listened to me and drafted quarterback Cam Newton in the first round. And what did he do in his first NFL season?:

  • Broke the rookie record for passing yards in a season (4,051).
  • Broke the single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (14).
  • Broke the rookie record for most touchdowns accounted for in a season (35; 21 passing + 14 rushing).
  • Led the Panthers from being ranked dead last in total offense at 32nd in 2010 to being ranked 6th in 2011, as the team scored 210 more points.

Now, in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft in April, the Panthers should keep the offensive momentum going and draft wide receiver Alshon Jeffery from my alma mater, the South Carolina Gamecocks. Alshon's productivity dropped in 2011 from the monstrous season he had in 2010, but that was because USC's quarterback situation was less stable (the starting quarterback got kicked off the team midway through the season). Still, Alshon is one of the best two or three receivers coming out of college, and because of his size he will make the biggest impact.

The Panthers should draft Alshon to further intimidate defenses. He's 6-4, 230 pounds, so when you pair him with Cam, who's 6-5, 248 pounds, they'll have a one-two passing attack that's larger than half of the players defending them. Speaking of one-two, both Cam and Alshon wear jersey No. 1. If Alshon becomes a Panther, he should wear No. 2 (give it up, Jimmy Clausen).

The Panthers should draft Alshon because there have been too many seasons with Steve Smith not having another wide receiver to complement him--not since Muhsin Muhammad. Not during the 2005 to 2007 seasons when Muhammad played for the Bears (he played 11 of his 14 seasons for the Panthers) and not since he retired from the Panthers after the 2009 season. Cam revitalized Smitty this past season, as No. 89 caught 79 passes for 1,394 yards and is playing in next week's Pro Bowl for the first time in three years. (Cam could also play in the Pro Bowl if Eli Manning advances to the Super Bowl; Cam is the NFC's first alternate at quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.)

The Panthers should draft Alshon because they need to start grooming a successor to Steve. He'll be 33 years old when the 2012 season begins and I believe he's capable of having at least two more highly productive seasons like he had like this past one. But not many NFL teams have a 33-year-old as their number-one receiver.

And finally, the Panthers should draft Alshon because look at what the New York Giants have done this season. As I wrap up typing this blog post, the Giants vs. 49ers NFC Championship game has just begun. One of the main reasons the Giants are one win away from playing in the Super Bowl is because Eli Manning had two top receivers to throw to this season: Victor Cruz (1,536 yards) and Hakeem Nicks (1,192 yards). Hakeem is a Charlotte native and Independence High School grad who I blogged about three years ago: "Hakeem Nicks Is Making A Mistake." I'm glad to see he's proved me wrong.

But, about Alshon Jeffery, I am right. (I also mentioned this briefly two weeks ago on 282.)

As a Gamecocks fan, I'm admittedly bias. But I've also watched Alshon play in nearly every game during his three-year college career. So I know what he's capable of, just like the cornerbacks and free safeties who will fear him in the NFL. Watch this Alshon Jeffery Career Highlights reel a fan put together on YouTube, but you might want to mute it due to explicit lyrics.


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