A year ago in this space, I advocated the Carolina Panthers taking an offensive tackle in the first round. Jordan Gross had just retired, I wasn’t sold on Byron Bell at left tackle and I worried about protecting Cam Newton’s blind side.
My advocacy didn’t work, even though Panthers general manager Dave “I Love My Hog Mollies” Gettleman practically lives in the trenches himself. He loves big guys. He has chosen an offensive or defensive lineman with five of his first six picks in his two years running the Carolina draft, when you look at his top three choices in 2013 and 2014. But the one exception was last year in the first round, when he took wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
That pick worked out just fine. But the mistake Gettleman made was not picking a tackle during the 2014 draft (and not signing a good one in free agency that year, either).
Indeed, Bell didn’t play well and is now gone. Gettleman recently hired Michael “The Blind Side” Oher to protect Newton for the 2015 season, but that’s a short-term fix – probably two years at best.
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The next Gross is not on this roster. That’s why I think the Panthers should take an offensive tackle at No. 25. Get a wide receiver and a cornerback (a “conner,” in Gettleman-speak) somewhere in the second through fourth rounds.
There is only one exception I would make to this rule: Georgia running back Todd Gurley. I think he is a game-changer – assuming he is cleared medically.
Gurley at No. 25? Even in a league where the running-back position has been devalued, that is a place to go against the grain and actually take one. Jonathan Stewart won’t last forever.
But I don’t think Gurley will be there at No. 25. And I think several offensive tackles will be in what is a deeper draft at the position than 2014 was.
Offensive tackle is not a sexy choice with your first pick. But this year for the Panthers it will probably be the right one.