A year ago I had the chance to write an article about my the first selection of the draft being made by my favorite NFL team, the Carolina Panthers. (voices) With the first selection the Panthers went with a severe need at defensive tackle selecting Star Lotulelei, the powerhouse lineman out of the University of Utah. (wikipedia) In his rookie season Star made a splash, locking himself in along the Panthers defensive front, filling a void that’s been vacant aside from a rotation of different players over the years since the exit of the dominant Kris Jenkins. (wikipedia) In some years I’ve stared at the screen and shook my head at the picks made by Carolina, but recently they’ve made some great selections, players who have become stalwarts of the roster and faces of the franchise in Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly. (sportsillustrated) Coming into this years draft I knew I wanted to work another piece about whoever Carolina selected in the first round, and I’ll admit I had my personal favorite selection, but the New Orleans Saints decided to rain on that parade by taking Brandin Cooks, the man I felt was the second coming of Steve Smith. (charlotteobserver)
At the end of last season it seemed as if Carolina had finally put it all together, they were just a few pieces shy of being ready for a Super Bowl run, and possibly even a championship. (charlotteobserver) The fans of the franchise were happy, looking forward to a bright future for their team, if the Panthers landed a solid cornerback, safety, and maybe a little more depth on the offensive line they would be a contender for the next few years and could be the top of the heap in the NFC South for the foreseeable future. (sportsillustrated) Then the offseason happened and the entire thing was thrown into disarray, what was a solid team was left as a shell of itself, making the draft a very important date on the calendar for the Carolina Panthers fanbase. The team has a lot of money tied up in players from bad contracts created by their previous general manager, making it tough for them to make any moves in free agency, forcing them to use the franchise tag on Greg Hardy in order to keep him around. (cbssports) As if that wasn’t difficult enough to handle the team lost two massive parts of franchise history in the best offensive lineman to ever suit up as a Panther (espn), and the best overall player to ever play in Carolina (wccbcharlotte), in Jordan Gross and Steve Smith.
Offensive line looked to be one of the most dire needs for Carolina with the loss of Gross, even with a talent like Smith being sent away, until you realize they also lost their other two primary receivers from a year ago. (yahoo) As a diehard fan, I immediately focused on a player who had captured my attention during the prior college football season, even making me comment on Facebook how he reminded me of Smith and that Carolina needed to find a way to draft him, Brandin Cooks. While watching the draft I kept my eyes on every team that came up, with my biggest fear being that the New York Jets would take him, as that was the biggest rumor of the day. (nfl) When the Jets selected Calvin Pryor at safety I thought that my choice was safe, I didn’t see any teams between 19 and 28 that desperately needed someone at wideout, so it seemed like Cooks could very well fall to Carolina. (nfl) Two picks later a shocker occurred, the New Orleans Saints moved all the way up to number 20, trading with the Arizona Cardinals, they selected Brandin Cooks from Oregon State essentially as a replacement for the departed Darren Sproles, looking to use his speed and ability to open up their passing game. (nola) With Cooks off the board, I had to turn my attention elsewhere, and that attention immediately went to my favorite NCAA football team, the Florida State Seminoles.
Carolina desperately needed someone to catch passes from Cam Newton, after losing all of their wideouts from a year ago they made the baffling decision to pick up as many players as possible that would be second or third receiver options on any other roster through free agency. (espn) When the Saints took Cooks, I decided the best option available for Carolina was Kelvin Benjamin, the big, powerful receiver from Florida State. Yes, I’m a bit biased in that thought as a lifelong Seminoles fan, but even Mike Mayock of the NFL Network stated it was a great selection, and he’s become one of the most respected men in relation to the NFL Draft each year. (247sports) Benjamin is an explosive player, he has good hands, he’s a great route runner, he’s powerful, and he’s dedicated to getting better every single day, as noted by Michael Irvin when the Panthers selection was announced, even drawing a comparison to Brandon Marshall. (charlotteobserver) Cam Newton hasn’t really had a huge target at receiver in years past, this will now give him that target, some people aren’t fans of him due to his lack of burning speed, but the last less than swift wide receiver out of Florida State to make an impact in NFL has done pretty well for himself. Maybe you’ve heard of him, Anquan Boldin?