The 2012 NFL Draft ended a week ago, but we haven't looked back at how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' division rivals did. We'll go through the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints the next few days. First up: the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers went into the draft with seven draft selections. They didn't have a third-round selection, as they traded that last year for tight end Greg Olsen. However, they had a compensatory pick at the end of the sixth round.
First Round, Pick 9: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded down, it looked like they were targeting either Alabama safety Mark Barron, or Boston College linebacker Kuechly. They ended up taking Barron, leaving the Carolina Panthers to select the extremely productive Boston College linebacker two picks later. Kuechly had a ridiculous amount of tackles in college, owing to good overall athleticism and skills, but most of all his ability to recognize a play quickly. When watching games of Kuechly, his quick reactions to developing plays always stand out. Another aspect of his game that stands out: coverage ability. He's not a great blitzer, nor a great hitter, but he has a very good feel in coverage and at times ran with tight ends down the seam. Overall, Kuechly is not a classic thumper, but a smooth, sideline-to-sideline linebacker who will get to the ball and make the tackle.
For the Panthers, he should be an immediate three-down starter. They have a good overall linebacking corps, but that group has been ravaged by injuries over the years. Thomas Davis is ridiculously talented, but can't ever stay healthy, having played just 9 games the past three seasons. Jon Beason is one of the best 4-3 linebackers in the NFL, but he's coming off an Achilles injury. Kuechly could play on the inside or the outside, and he and Jon Beason should form the core of a very good group of linebackers.
Second Round, Pick 8 (40th overal): Amini Silatolu, G, Midwestern State
Silatolu is best-known for his run-blocking, and he should make an immediate difference on the ground, where the Panthers surprisingly struggled to get things going early last season. The Panthers have a big, punishing offensive line, but one that has struggled with depth and consistency. After letting Travelle Wharton walk, they needed a new right guard to anchor the running game. Silatolu could be that player for the Panthers. The question, of course, is how much running this team will really do. Last year, the offense revolved around Cam Newton's arm. This pick makes no sense if they don't plan on running the ball, a lot. Is that the way to go with a young, talented QB like Newton? And how will Silatolu do if he's asked to pass-block, a lot?
Third-round pick: traded for TE Greg Olsen in 2011
Fourth round, Pick 8 (103rd overall): Frank Alexander, DE, Oklahoma
The Carolina Panthers traded up with the San Francisco 49ers for this pick (who got it from the Miami Dolphins). The Panthers gave up their sixth-round selection, and their 2013 third-round selection for this pick. They used it on Frank Alexander, the first time the Panthers really addressed their depleted defensive line this offseason. Alexander looks like a base defensive end who plays the run well, but isn't necessarily an impact pass rusher. He should still compete for an immediate starting position, though, as the Panthers don't have much at defensive end outside of Charles Johnson.
Fourth round, Pick 9, (104th overall): Joe Adams, WR, Arkansas
Joe Adams is a fast slot receiver who could work as a nice complement to Steve Smith and whoever wins the starting job opposite Smith. Adams is fast and elusive, but tiny at 5'10", 174 lbs. Looks a typical, shifty slot receiver, really. But his biggest contribution may come as a punt returner, as he was absolutely electric in college when fielding punts.
Fifth round, Pick 8 (143rd overall): Josh Norman, CB, Coastal Carolina
I know some Bucs fans wanted to see Norman on the team in the fifth round, when they took LB Najee Goode instead. Norman, meanwhile, was picked up by the Panthers. Norman is a very talented and physical but also extremely raw cornerback. The Panthers don't have a lot of depth at cornerback, and Norman could compete for significant playing time in his rookie year.
Sixth round, pick 38: Brad Nortman, P, Wisconsin
The Panthers traded their first sixth-round selection for the right to select Frank Alexander, so they were left with just this pick. Which they used on a punter. They didn't have one on the roster, so yeah, this works.
Seventh round, pick 9: D.J. Campbell, S, California
At this point, every player is just a prayer, really. The Panthers' secondary isn't great, but Campbell isn't exactly likely to compete for playing time as a seventh-round pick. He's supposedly versatile enough to possibly cornerback, so that's good for him.
Needs they didn't fill: defensive tackle, secondary
The Carolina Panthers were pretty good on offense coming into the draft, yet two of their top four picks were used on offense. Meanwhile, they were horrendous on defense, but failed to consistently address a lot of the holes on their team. They added two players to their secondary, but from the fifth round on you can't really count on players to be major contributors. Frank Alexander looks like an okay player, but they have no one at defensive tackle they can count on. The Panthers offense scares me, but overall, their defense could very well hold them back once again.