The classic debate between drafting for need versus best player available (BPA) is discussed every year by each organization and their fans. I take a look at several factors that make me believe drafting the best player available is the optimal strategy for the Carolina Panthers in the 2019 NFL Draft.
The Panthers entered the offseason with several high priority needs on the roster, most notably defensive end and left tackle. Most Panther fans hope to see one of these positions selected with pick number 16. Many mock drafts have Carolina drafting one of these positions in fact. However, the draft should be viewed with the big picture in mind. A combination of several factors, including a highly talented draft class and weak depth across the roster, leads me to believe the Panthers should take the BPA approach on draft day.
The 2019 NFL draft class has tremendous first-round talent. Some of these players are bound to slide on draft night. Limiting yourself to only a handful of players based on need is not the best way to build a team for the future. Imagine the Panthers picking at 16 last year when Derwin James was available. Now imagine passing on James to address a greater need. The Panthers would have missed out on a player named to the All-Pro team in his rookie season.
When Luke Kuechly was drafted in 2012, the linebacker position was far from a draft priority. By taking the best player available, the Panthers franchise was forever changed. If potential superstar players like Ed Oliver, Devin White, or D.K. Metcalf slide to 16, the Panthers would be silly not to draft them.
Take the talent
Mario Addison is 31-years-old and in the last year of his contract according to overthecap.com. Bruce Irvin is a short-term asset. The addition of one pass rusher would make for a decent unit for 2019, but not for the future. The Panthers realistically need to add multiple pass rushers to build a formidable pass-rushing group. Rebuilding this position will take time. Therefore, reaching for a lesser talented pass rusher early, instead of a better player at a different position, would be detrimental to the team in the long run.
An example of this that comes to mind is the Miami Dolphins drafting Charles Harris in the 2017 NFL Draft. The Dolphins had a big need at DE and reached for Harris who did not seem to be a first-round caliber player at the time. Pass rusher remains one of the Dolphins top needs entering the 2019 draft due to their flawed strategy in 2017. Miami had a chance to draft Tre’Davious White or T.J. Watt, who have both been high caliber players at their respective positions. Drafting for need over BPA often results in a less talented team overall.
Before free agency, the Panthers had urgent needs on the offensive line and pass rusher. If nothing changed, the Panthers were likely going to draft one of these positions due to the groups being so talent baron. Thankfully, Marty Hurney and the front office addressed the significant needs in free agency by bringing in Matt Paradis at center and Bruce Irvin as a pass-rusher. These moves alleviate pressure to target and possibly trade up for specific positions.
With stop-gap players at LT and pass-rusher, other positions jump up the needs list as well. The Panthers need more pass-catching talent behind Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore. The slot cornerback and free safety positions currently lack a player worthy of starting. Christian McCaffrey needs a complementary back. Depth at interior defensive line and linebacker is thin. There are so many needs that it’s likely that taking the best player available at pick number 16 would fill a need anyways.
There are a number of extremely talented players that may fall to 16 at each of these positions. Names like Byron Murphy (CB), Hakeem Butler (WR), Christian Wilkins (IDL), and Devin Bush (LB) could all be available, and any one of them could be BPA on the Panthers’ board at the time.
If Carolina wants to build their roster back into a championship level one, I believe that drafting BPA in the 2019 NFL Draft is a great way to start. Don’t reach for a position just because it is currently a weakness on the team. Bringing on the best talent ultimately makes the team better now, and into the future. I hope that the Panthers’ front office sees it the same way and I’m looking forward to seeing who they draft in April.
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