NFC South: Zack Martin

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.

Versatility should help Zack Martin

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
8:11
AM ET
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Zack Martin is going to his hometown this weekend, but that doesn’t mean he’s going home.

Aside from dinner with his family Saturday night, the trek to Indianapolis is purely a business trip. Martin will be taking part in the scouting combine and trying to help his draft stock.

The Notre Dame product already is considered one of the top offensive linemen in the draft. But there are differing schools of thought about which position Martin should play. He spent his college career at left tackle, but some teams envision him as a guard

“It doesn’t really matter to me,’’ Martin said earlier this week during a break in his combine training at IMG Academy. “I just want to be on an NFL team. I’m most comfortable at tackle, but I feel I could make the transition to guard fairly easily.’’

Martin started to make that transition at the Senior Bowl. Multiple teams asked to see Martin work at guard, so he spent part of his practice time there and played about 15 snaps at guard during the game.

“Zack can play tackle and he also can play inside,’’ IMG Academy director of football operations Chris Weinke said. “He’s one of the smarter guys I’ve been around. This kid can process information. He’s probably one of the quicker linemen I’ve been around. When you put him in a box, he’s as quick as they come and he’s powerful. He just has a great combination of quickness and power. He’s going to translate nicely, wherever they use him at the next level.’’

Martin could be on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' radar. The Bucs could be looking to overhaul their offensive line after it underachieved last season. The Bucs could be looking for upgrades at guard and tackle and Martin might be an answer at either position.

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