Scott Fowler

NFL draft: Selecting an offensive tackle could have Carolina Panthers’ offense cookin’

Drafting an offensive tackle in the first round Thursday won’t be the sexy pick for the Carolina Panthers.

But it will be the right one.

I know everyone wants Cam Newton to have an exciting rookie to throw the ball to, and I agree with that completely. That’s why the Panthers should choose a wide receiver in the second round and then again later in the draft.

But Newton won’t be completing many passes from flat on his back – even he is not that athletic. The Panthers must have another tackle – preferably a left tackle who can start on Sept. 7 at Tampa Bay in the season opener.

Look at it this way:

If you are building a house, a wide receiver is like a man cave. He’s what you want. He’s what you dream about. And if you’re going to entertain people, ultimately he’s very good to have.

But a left tackle – and by extension, the entire offensive line – is like a kitchen. You absolutely have to have one, and it has got to be a good one. Nobody ever builds a house worth living in without one.

The quarterback is the chef, making the food in the kitchen and delivering it to the folks in the man cave. When it works, he gets the praise. People don’t say, “Wow, what a kitchen!” They say, “Wow, what a chef!”

But the quarterback never makes anything good without a working kitchen. And no one in the man cave gets fed unless the kitchen is up and running and letting everybody else do his job.

OK, enough of the analogy. I asked Panthers coach Ron Rivera point blank last week which was more important: giving Newton another weapon to throw to or protecting him so he has time to throw.

Rivera smiled. At first he said, “Both.”

But then he said: “I think protecting him.”


The only caveat I would throw into this is that the Panthers believe there are more wide receivers with first-round grades in this draft than offensive tackles. Since they are picking No. 28, it’s more likely one of those wide receivers will drop to them than one of those tackles.

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said he won’t reach for a tackle if there’s simply not a good enough one there to justify the pick.

“When you reach,” he said, “you’re in trouble.”

But all things being equal, the simplest way to look at things is usually the best. The Panthers have to replace left tackle Jordan Gross, who protected Newton’s blind side for the quarterback’s first three seasons.

Carolina wanted Gross back, but he was tired of playing football, and now he is enjoying retirement. Gross has lost a lot of weight already, which, as he joked, will ensure that Carolina won’t try to talk him back out of retirement one more time.

Although he would be the No. 1 option right now, Byron Bell at left tackle is a scary proposition to me. That one position is the biggest question mark on the team.

The answer is somewhere in this draft.

The Panthers have to find it. Fast.