Pick #30 — Carolina Panthers
The Panthers blazed through 2015 with just a single loss before getting obliterated by the brick wall known as the Broncos’ defense.
One bad game should not preclude us from recognizing this team as a long-term contender, however.
Despite having to deal with the worst cap situation in the league beyond whatever is happening in New Orleans, this team has somehow managed to keep themselves on a steady climb while slowly replacing horrendous overpays with undeniable value across the roster.
They showed their allegiance to value again just this past week, letting a top-tier cornerback in Josh Norman leave for nothing instead of relenting to pay him the the premium he was demanding (and may or may not actually deserve). That move may have opened a hole, but with the way the team is built and the value structure in place, it makes sense; they’ll find somebody here in this draft for a fraction of the price, and continue relying on the front seven to do the heavy lifting.
It is a hard pill to swallow on the outside looking in, but it is further proof that this team has a concerted plan they are determined to stick to and won’t let the complaints of the public determine their course of action. It has tended to work well in keeping Green Bay in constant contention, so it seems to be a pretty smart way to conduct business at the end of the day.
Looking at what the team might actually need, there isn’t really that much pressing for concern. The offense has the reigning MVP at QB, a quality RB, two hopeful building blocks at WR (and another decent piece in Philly Brown), and outside of one bad game an offensive line that had to be the most surprisingly good unit of any in the league.
Defensively, they are strong on the DL and LB, plus have some workable-or-better pieces in most of the secondary.
Of any team, the Panthers are suited for going with the best player available mantra everybody always talks about, and have proven to follow it even when they have had needs previously (remember, they grabbed Shaq Thompson despite having Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis already, the move being made for the future not the present).
Expect them to do the same again.
They have a decent rotation at defensive end to supplement their dominating interior guys, but it wouldn’t be strange to see them aim for the future here, planning ahead for when the released-then-resigned-cheaper Charles Johnson moves on; if they have a replacement ready, that could be next year.
The guy in my mind there is Ogbah. With yet another showing of symmetry among potential replacement that I keep coming across in this draft, his best player comparison is in fact the soon-to-be-replaced Johnson; if he can live up to that comparison, the move to him in the coming years would be potentially seamless.
Seamless moves are almost always smart moves, and this team makes smart moves. When they make another one, don’t be surprised; expect it.