Amid all the in-person interviews with prospects and evaluations of 40-yard dash times at next week's NFL scouting combine, the Carolina Panthers' draft outlook could change depending on the flip of a coin.
A coin flip on Feb. 24 at the combine in Indianapolis will determine whether the Panthers or Miami Dolphins get the 8th or 9th picks. Carolina and Miami finished with 6-10 records and with an identical strength-of-schedule (.504) percentage - the first tie-breaker used by the league in determining draft order.
At least one prominent draft analyst believes the difference between 8 and 9 is substantial.
"I think the first seven or eight picks are pretty solid, then after that there are some questions," NFL Network's Mike Mayock said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters. "So they're right on the cusp of that with that coin flip."
Mayock - like ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. - believes the Panthers could take LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers with their first pick. The Panthers drafted a pair of defensive tackles in the third round last year - Sione Fua and Terrell McClain - but had trouble getting consistent penetration and an interior pass rush in 2011.
Brockers did not start for LSU until last season as a redshirt sophomore. He finished with 54 tackles, including 10 for loss, and added an interception and three pass breakups.
The 6-5, 306-pounder blocked a field goal in the Tigers' BCS championship game loss to Alabama.
He will be asked often in Indy whether he is more than a one-year wonder - the same question posed to Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley last year before Detroit drafted him 13th overall.
"I think he's a potential top-10 pick, and I think he's a logical guy who could play even outside if you needed him to," Mayock said of Brockers. "He's a really explosive, 6-foot-5, 300-pound defensive tackle. So I think Brockers is real logical for (the Panthers) right there."
Besides defensive line help, the Panthers could be in the market for a cornerback after Captain Munnerlyn struggled in coverage in his first season as a full-time starter. According to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks completed 73.8 percent of their passes throwing toward Munnerlyn last season - the worst percentage of any corner in the league.
With LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne expected to be off the board when the Panthers pick, Mayock said Carolina would be taking the second- or third-best corner if the Panthers go that route.
Mayock said that likely would be Alabama junior Dre Kirkpatrick, a 6-3, 192-pounder whom most analysts believe has better run-support skills than shut-down, coverage ability.
"He's big and he's long. I'm not sure what he's going to run (in the 40). Some people might even think he could convert to safety down the road," Mayock said. "He's a kid I really like a lot, but is that too high for him? Because sitting there at 8 or 9, you've got to get the best football player on the board."