Carolina Panthers Mock Draft: Who Will Be the Panther's First-Round Pick?

Rick WeaverCorrespondent IApril 27, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 27: Linebacker Luke Kuechly of Boston College takes part in a drill during the 2012 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 27, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

I am assuming the Carolina Panthers are hard at work and looking to stop the run with the ninth pick in 2012 NFL draft.

The conventional thought process says Fletcher Cox or Michael Brockers may become the newest Panther.  Both may be great players in the future or could even be impact starters, however, neither of them are Ndamukong Suh.

And in the first round, it's important the Panthers take the best available player when the clock starts to tick. Although, they might pick Fletcher Cox, there are actually other areas the Panthers may need help.

If you do not believe the importance of properly working the NFL draft, just look at the difference Jason Pierre-Paul made for the New York Giants.  "JPP" was a difference maker on an already strong defensive line, as he wreaked havoc up front and helped the Giants' line dictate the outcome of important games last season.

So, what are the Panthers to do with the ninth pick? 

If the Panthers feel Quinton Coples is the next "JPP," he will be selected.  However, if the Panthers feel the Chapel Hill product took too many plays off, they will pass on him.

If Coples is not the Panthers No. 9 pick, they can always go back to the draft board and look at linebacker Luke Kuechly or guard David DeCastro.  The Panthers have liked the formula of taking the best available player in the past. 

TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 17:  Guard David DeCastro #52 of the Stanford Cardinal during the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on September 17, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona. The Cardinal defeated the Wildcats 37-10.  (Photo by C
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Both of these picks make sense.  The Panthers shouldn't count on outside linebacker Thomas Davis to come back from his third ACL surgery and pick up where he left off. 

And the Panthers must have a bit of suspicion about the outcome of their star middle linebacker, Jon Beason, and his comeback from a devastating Achilles' injury. 

Though Beason is ahead of schedule and looks to be ready for the upcoming season, there is always the "what if" scenario. 

With that said, picking Luke Kuechly at No. 9 makes perfect sense. If Beason is 100 percent, he can always play the outside position, James Anderson can play the other outside position and Kuechly can take the middle.  

Also, the Panthers did lose former starting guard Travelle Wharton, who was a salary-cap casualty in the offseason. 

Wharton was essentially an NFL guard making a tackle's salary, and that did not work for the Panthers going into free agency. With the guard slot now a question mark, the Panthers could always take the draft's best guard, David DeCastro. 

DeCastro has immediate starter written all over him and could help the Panthers already potent run game. He could also help protect quarterback Cam Newton.  The Decastro pick would be appropriate at the the ninth position.

Finally, most draft analysts and NFL general managers agree this draft basically has six "blue chip" players.  Then, there is this year's wild-card player—Ryan Tannehill. 

CHARLOTTE, NC - FEBRUARY 11:  Head coach Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers watches the game between the Charlotte Bobcats and the Los Angeles Clippers at Time Warner Cable Arena on February 11, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expre
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Tannehill may indeed be taken by the quarterback-searching Miami Dolphins or another team who feels it necessary to trade up and take Tannehill as their future signal caller.  

Should Tannehill, this year's X-factor, be taken early or if a team trades up, in front of the Dolphins to  draft the wide receiver turned quarterback, it could marginally help the Panthers in getting closer to one of the best players of this year's draft. 

The general consensus says the blue chip players in the 2012 draft are:

1—Andrew Luck

2—Robert Griffin III

3—Matt Kalil

4—Trent Richardson

5—Morris Claiborne

6—Justin Blackmon

Following the rather eclectic grouping mentioned above, the next players in line for the needy Jaguars, include Melvin Ingram, Quinton Coples, Mark Barron, Ryan Tannehill and Stephon Gilmore. 

The Jaguars pick at No. 7 is still wide-open, and any big change in the current expected order of the players chosen before the Jaguar's slot will cause them to re-evaluate their possibilities.  

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 01:   Steve Smith #89 of the Carolina Panthers catches a touchdwon pass during the game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 1, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty I
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

This draft is by no means cut-and-dry, as the variables are out there and all teams are hoping to find players who can immediately impact their team and make a difference.

Will the Panthers trade back and look for the best pick available? 

That is a possibility as there are teams who pick in the middle of the first round and may really covet a player like Luke Kuechly, David DeCastro or Mark Barron enough to give the Panthers a mid-to-late first-round pick and their third-round pick in order to move up.

The Panthers would want to recoup the third-round pick they had to give up in order to get tight end Greg Olson in last year's offseason, and this could be their last chance.

Now, there is always the chance the Panthers could trade Jonathan Stewart in order to get a high first-round pick, as well as whatever other picks or players they could muster. 

Trading Stewart may not even be in the cards at all, but there was that Panthers offseason pickup of Marty Hurney's so-called "fullback" and elite "special teamer," Mike Tolbert, from San Diego

Something tells me that Tolbert will do more than be the lead blocker going after interior defenders and will do more than run the ball six or seven times a game.

Assuming the Panthers stand firm at No. 9, one can only assume the best player available comes off the board for the Panthers. 

Also, assuming the Panthers believe the best defensive lineman available is defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, the best linebacker is Luke Kuechly and the best interior offensive lineman waiting to be called  is David DeCastro, you have to assume one of them, barring a trade back, will be the next Carolina Panther.


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