NFC South: marqise lee

Let's say Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman is right and there are only a combined nine or 10 offensive tackles and wide receivers worthy of going in the first round of the upcoming NFL draft.

Now let's say there are about 12 (at least by my count) teams interested in drafting a player at one of those positions ahead of Carolina at No. 28. And one or two teams without a primary need at those spots might go there because the player is too good to pass up among the top five.

Do the math.

[+] EnlargeKyle Fuller
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIDon't be surprised if the Panthers draft a defender like Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller rather than reach to fill a need on offense.
There is a very good chance a first-round worthy wide receiver or tackle -- both great needs for the reigning NFC South champion -- won't be around when Carolina picks.

This is why Gettleman isn't married to a position with his first pick. This is why the man who introduced us to "hog mollies" a year ago when he drafted defensive tackles in the first two rounds, introduced us on Tuesday to the term "blue goose" when referring to pass-rushers and defensive tackles with a talent as rare as the bird.

Gettleman didn't spend the past few months sending his scouts all over the country looking at players and racking up frequent flier points just so he could select in the first round a player the staff rated as a second- or third-rounder.

So when he says he'll take the best player available, bank on it.

To reach for a player at a position just because you have a need to fill, Gettleman reminded over and over, "more often than not you're going to make a mistake." General managers that make mistakes, particularly with first-round picks, often lose their jobs.

What we don't know is how many of those nine to 10 players Gettleman has at tackle or wide receiver. Does he have six wide receivers and four tackles, or five of each?

What if it's really a combined nine and not 10?

For the sake of argument, let's go on the conservative side and say five wide receivers and four tackles. Based on what most of the so-called draft experts project, the surefire first-rounders at wide receiver would be: Sammy Watkins, Clemson; Mike Evans, Texas A&M; Odell Beckham Jr., LSU; Marqise Lee, Southern Cal; and Brandin Cooks, Oregon State.

The surefire offensive tackles would be: Greg Robinson, Auburn; Jake Matthews, Texas A&M; Taylor Lewan, Michigan; and Zack Martin, Notre Dame.

And many project Martin as a guard.

If you want to stretch it to five each, add Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, whose stock has been downgraded by many because of medical reports on his knees.

Now let's look at the competition. Among the teams that appear to be looking at wide receiver: Pittsburgh, New Orleans, New York Jets, San Francisco, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Philadelphia. Those interested in tackle help: Baltimore, Kansas City, Miami, New Orleans and Cincinnati.

There is overlap here as you can see.

But if each of those teams goes for a tackle or receiver, where do the Panthers turn? They could get a top cornerback. Gettleman said he wouldn't be "sad" to see one of those fall to him.

Among the possibilities could be Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech or Jason Verrett of Texas Christian.

Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy could be there if Carolina decides to go with a "blue goose" defensive end. There is no guarantee the Panthers sign Greg Hardy to a long-term deal, and Charles Johnson is going into his eighth season. Johnson also had knee issues last season.

You never can have too many great pass-rushers.

Or what if there is a top defensive tackle on the board such as Notre Dame's Louis Nix III? Or Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman? Dwan Edwards and Colin Cole both are getting up there in age and have deals that expire after this season.

"If there's a great player there [defensive tackle] were going to take him," Gettleman said. "Everybody's got a philosophy of how they're going to construct their team, and you guys have figured out that we believe in defense."

They also believe in taking the best player available in the draft, and this one will be no different, no matter how great the needs are at tackle and wide receiver.

Bank on it.
In my first attempt to predict the New Orleans Saints' 2014 first-round draft pick, I’m going with TCU cornerback Jason Verrett.

Although Verrett is “undersized” for a cornerback at 5-foot-10, 189 pounds, I like what I’ve seen and read about his physical and feisty nature. He is blazing fast, strong in man coverage and an asset in run support. He is the kind of player that could fit well in Rob Ryan’s versatile defense, which usually features five or more defensive backs on the field at once.

Two other players I really like for the Saints are USC receiver Marqise Lee and Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, but I’m less confident that either player will fall to the Saints at No. 27.

I didn’t produce a true mock draft. However, I did rank the 26 players most likely to be gone before the Saints are on the clock -- which is just as valuable for the purpose of predicting what they will do.

Here’s my top 26, followed by the five most likely scenarios for New Orleans:

1-10 (in no specific order):
OLB Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack
WR Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans
OT Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan
QB Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles
TE Eric Ebron

11-20:
DT Aaron Donald
OLB Anthony Barr
ILB C.J. Mosley
CB Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard
WR Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks
S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor
G/T Zack Martin

21-26:
WR Marqise Lee
QB Teddy Bridgewater
DT Timmy Jernigan, Louis Nix
LB Ryan Shazier
CB Bradley Roby

Five most likely scenarios for Saints:

1. TCU CB Jason Verrett: See above.

2. Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller: I don’t think the Saints need to reach for a cornerback, and I don’t think they will. But this position might produce the most value late in Round 1 since there are so many quality options to choose from. Verrett, Fuller and Roby all could be possibilities. Fuller (6-0, 190) is another corner who could help in both coverage and run support. He’s not as fast as the other two guys, but he might have the best all-around combination of size, speed and coverage ability.

3. Trade up for receiver: I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Saints trade up in this year’s draft. They have an aggressive history under Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton (see my recent mailbag), and they have already shown a willingness to be aggressive this offseason with the Jairus Byrd signing in free agency. If the Saints do trade up, I believe they would most likely target one of the dynamic speed receivers in this year’s class -- either LSU’s Beckham, Oregon State’s Cooks or USC’s Lee, all of whom could also be assets in the return game.

4. Take their pick of pass-rushers: Several pass-rushing outside linebackers could sneak into the first round, though analysts seem to be all over the map on how to rank them. If the Saints have a high grade on any one or two of them, they might have a lot of to choose from. Among the possibilities are Auburn’s Dee Ford, Missouri’s Kony Ealy, Boise State’s Demarcus Lawrence and BYU’s Kyle Van Noy.

5. Indiana WR Cody Latimer: Latimer has been gaining a lot of attention lately by analysts like ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, who admit they didn’t take a close enough look at his college tape earlier in the draft process. But he turned heads when he proved he was both healthy and fast at his pro day, which made many analysts take a closer look. And they love the 6-3, 215-pounder’s total package of size, athleticism and skills.
The NFL draft is just under a month away and representatives from the Carolina Panthers are all over the country checking out prospects.

Wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl alone has tweeted pictures of stadiums at Indiana, Vanderbilt, Ball State, Wyoming, Fresno State, Southern Cal and Oregon State since March 31.

The Panthers had representatives at LSU's pro day on Wednesday to evaluate wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., among others.

I can't tell you everywhere the Panthers have been, but I compiled a list of players reportedly brought to Charlotte, N.C., for a visit, scheduled for a visit or scheduled for a private workout.

Beckham
You don't see Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, Tennessee tackle Ja'Wuan James or Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin on the list, but that doesn't mean Carolina isn't interested and hasn't set up something.

It's no surprise there are a lot of wide receivers and offensive tackles on this list. Both are need positions. There also are a couple of athletic quarterbacks here, which is interesting with Cam Newton coming off ankle surgery and three other quarterbacks on the roster.

Most of the draft analysts predict Carolina will take an offensive tackle or wide receiver with the 28th overall pick. General manager Dave Gettleman insists they'll take the best player available.

Here's a preview of some the Panthers are looking at for the May 8-10 draft:

Wide Receivers

Cooks
Brandin Cooks (5-foot-9, 189) Oregon State: This was the early popular pick by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. to wind up in Carolina. He won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver this past season. He set single-season Pac-12 records with 128 catches for 1,730 yards. He is nicknamed "Sonic Boom" and reminds many of Steve Smith, Carolina's all-time leading receiver who recently was released.

Projected round: 1

Robert Herron (5-9, 193) Wyoming: Had a team-best nine touchdown catches this past season. Had 72 catches for 937 yards. A good athlete who can stretch the field. The Panthers need somebody to stretch the field with Ted Ginn Jr. gone.

Projected round: 3

Cody Latimer (6-2, 215) Indiana: Caught 72 passes for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Rising fast on a lot of draft boards. Had foot surgery in January and was unable to work out at the NFL combine in February, but ran a 4.44 40 in late March at Indiana's pro day. Excellent blocker, which Carolina likes at the position.

Projected round: 4-5

Jarvis Landry (5-11, 205) LSU: Had five 100-yard receiving games in 2013. Makes the tough catches and is a solid blocker. A team captain, so good leadership skills.

Projected round: 2-3

Marqise Lee (5-11, 192) Southern Cal: Missed three games last season with a knee injury, but is good to go. Won the Biletnikoff Award given to the nation's top receiver in 2012. Had 118 catches. Can be dynamic after the catch, and the Panthers are looking for a dynamic receiver.

Projected round: 1-2

Kevin Norwood (6-2, 198) Alabama: Had seven touchdown catches in 2013. A solid route-runner with good hands. I had a prospect from another SEC team tell me Norwood will surprise and have a major impact once he gets into the NFL.

Projected round: 4-5

Offensive line

Dakota Dozier (6-3, 313) Furman: He didn't come from one of the big-time programs, but against big-time programs Florida State and Clemson this 6-4, 315-pound prospect more than held his own. A solid run-blocker, and the Panthers like to run. Had a good showing at the Shrine Bowl. Played guard, but could be a nice fit at tackle on the right side.

Projected round: 2-3

Cameron Fleming (6-4, 323) Stanford: Played on the right side for Stanford and helped the team rush for a school-record 2,904 yards in 2013. In 2011 helped protect Andrew Luck, who threw for a school-record 37 touchdowns.

Projected round: 4-5

Morgan Moses (6-6, 313) Virginia: Moved from right to left tackle for his senior season. Solid run-blocker with good first step, but has been questioned for his ability to redirect in a short area. Could sneak into the late first round.

Projected round: 2-3

Billy Turner (6-4, 315) North Dakota State: Good build but needs to carry more weight. Aggressive as a run-blocker, but inconsistent in leverage as a pass-protector. Would be a good fit for a power offense like Carolina.

Projected round: 2-3

Defensive line

Kony Ealy (6-4, 273) Missouri: First-team All-SEC selection who is big and quick off the snap, which makes him an effective pass-rusher off the edge. Still needs work as a run-stopper. There are no guarantees the Panthers sign Greg Hardy to a long-term deal, so Ealy could be insurance.

Projected round: 1-2

Cornerback

Kyle Fuller (5-11, 190) Virginia Tech: He missed six games last season with a sports hernia, but at 6-0 and 190 pounds he can play any kind of coverage.

Projected round: 3

Verrett
Jason Verrett (5-9, 189) TCU: Slightly undersized at 5-9, but ran a 4.38 40 at the combine and is polished product. Could be a nice fit in the slot, where the Panthers are looking for an option.

Projected round: 1-2

Quarterback

Garrett Gilbert (6-4, 220) SMU: Had a strong pro day, completing 87 of 88 pass attempts to see his stock rise. The son of former NFL quarterback Gale Gilbert. An athletic quarterback with Cam Newton-like size who could turn into a nice protégé for Newton.

Projected round: 7-FA

Brett Smith (6-3, 206) Wyoming: One of the more athletic quarterbacks in the draft, running the 40 in 4.51 seconds at his pro day. Had 76 career touchdown passes and 97 touchdowns overall during his college career.

Projected round: 6-7
The New Orleans Saints are packing in a lot of draft research this week at one of their top positions of need -- wide receiver.

On Tuesday, USC’s Marqise Lee was at the Saints’ practice facility for a pre-draft visit. On Wednesday, the Saints will travel an hour up the road to Baton Rouge for LSU’s pro day, where they’ll get a closer look at Tigers receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, among others.

The Saints always bring their full contingent of coaches and scouts to LSU’s pro day because of the proximity and their close relationship with the school. But they might be even more interested this year than most because of the receiver duo.

[+] EnlargeLSU
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesLSU's Jarvis Landry ran the 40-yard dash in 4.77 seconds at the NFL combine in February. He'll try to improve on that time at LSU's pro day.
Buzz around Beckham: Beckham would seem to be an ideal fit for the Saints, since he could add a much-needed explosive element to both their offense and their punt return game. The only problem is that Beckham probably won’t last to New Orleans’ first-round pick at No. 27.

Beckham (5-foot-11, 198 pounds) cemented his status as a first-round pick -- and possibly even a top-20 pick -- with an impressive performance in February at the NFL scouting combine. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds.

Chances are, Beckham will stand on most of his workout numbers there and simply use the afternoon at LSU’s campus as a meet-and-greet session.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Beckham has a lot going for him. In addition to being an “explosive talent” who causes problems for defenses because of his ability to accelerate, Kiper Jr. said everything from Beckham’s “hands, his character, his attitude, his approach is outstanding.”

Beckham caught 59 passes for 1,152 yards and eight touchdowns last season, setting the LSU single-season record with 2,222 all-purpose yards.

Lee under the radar? While the buzz seems to be growing with Beckham, it has seemed to fade around Lee ever since his sensational sophomore season of 2012.

That year, Lee was a first-team All-American and the winner of the Biletnikoff award as the nation’s top receiver. He caught an astounding 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns two years ago, while also serving as an explosive kickoff returner.

However, the 5-11, 192-pounder had a quiet junior season in 2013, in part because of a nagging left knee injury that sidelined him for three games. Lee caught just 57 passes for 791 yards and four touchdowns last season, and struggled at times with dropped passes.

Then Lee posted a decent but not-so-dynamic time of 4.52 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine, which seemed to move him a few spots down in everyone’s mock drafts.

The Saints would probably love it if Lee fell to them at No. 27 -- though that still seems like a long shot based on what Lee has proven he can do on the field. He has drawn comparisons to the New York Giants’ Victor Cruz.

“Lee is the kind of receiver you draft with slight questions on ceiling but a high degree of certainty regarding immediate impact,” Kiper Jr. wrote.

Another receiver expected to be drafted in the mid-to-late first round is Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, another dynamic speedster who projects as more of a slot receiver because of his size (5-10, 189).

And Florida State’s bigger, more physical receiver Kelvin Benjamin (6-5, 240) is projected by many analysts as a first-round possibility.

If the Saints don’t land a receiver in Round 1, however, LSU’s Landry could be an attractive option at the end of Round 2.

Big day for Landry: Landry (6-0, 205) was the first receiver Kiper Jr. mentioned when asked about second-round possibilities on a recent conference call.

Landry hurt his stock when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.77 seconds at the combine. But he showed a good combination of speed and physical toughness in college and was actually more productive than Beckham last season, with a team-high 77 catches for 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Landry will certainly use today’s showcase as a chance to run a faster 40-yard dash and try and raise his stock heading into next month’s draft. ESPN analyst and former general manager Bill Polian said during the combine that it would be important for Landry to do so.

“It’d be hard for me to believe that’s his real time, having seen him play,” Polian told The Advocate at the time. “That aside, it’s only important if he doesn’t come back and do a lot better at his pro day.”

Mettenberger on display: The biggest buzz from LSU’s pro day will likely be generated by quarterback Zach Mettenberger. The 6-5, 224-pounder will show off his big arm in front of scouts and coaches for the first time since his January surgery to repair a torn ACL.

Mettenberger isn’t completely recovered yet, but he hopes to impress teams with how well he’s progressing. And he could help boost his chances of becoming a second-round draft pick. Stay tuned for reports from his workout Wednesday.

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