Posted on: February 24, 2011 10:52 am

Rivera: Carolina evaluating options

The Carolina Panthers are on the clock.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Carolina has a pool of prospects under considerationf or the No. 1 overall pick. He said roughly seven prospects and as many as 10 could be in play and the team is considering "all positions."
However, Rivera said the team philosophy is that they need to identify a franchise quarterback who can lead the Panthers for the next "six, seven, eight years." According to the first-year coach, the first step is an ongoing evaluation of the options on the current roster: 2010 second-round pick Jimmy Clausen, clearly, is the only player the team would consider a contender for the job. Tony Pike, a rookie last season, isn't ready for NFL action and Matt Moore, who opened the '10 season as the team's starting quarterback, is a free agent.

Cam Newton (Auburn) and Blaine Gabbert (Missouri) are the only worthy candidates if the Panthers spend the top pick on a quarterback. The Panthers dealt their second-round pick to the Patriots during last year's draft for project WR Armanti Edwards.
The options for Carolina in free agency and via trade could be plentiful -- including Kevin Kolb (Eagles), Kyle Orton (Broncos) on the trade market and free agents such as 49ers' former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith. Smith's candidacy would seem to be marginal at best -- he was 9 of 19 against the Panthers in a 23-20 Week 7 loss and 19 of 29 against Rivera's Chargers' defense in a Week 15 loss. Stopgap options Matt Hasselbeck (Seahawks, unrestricted free agent), Vince Young (Titans, likely to be released) and Tarvaris Jackson (Vikings, unrestricted) could be added if the Panthers draft a quarterback at No. 1 overall.
--Jeff Reynolds

Category: NFL Draft
Posted on: January 11, 2011 11:00 pm
Edited on: January 11, 2011 11:53 pm

Judging Fairley

The Auburn Tigers won the Bowl Championship Series thanks to the play of two juniors, Heisman winning-quarterback Cam Newton and All-American defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Typically, the quarterback gets most of the credit for a win like this. But in a surprising 22-19 defensive battle, Fairley is the one being talked about the most.

His stat line of five tackles, three for loss, a sack and forced fumble is very impressive. He played a fine game on the college game's biggest stage. But despite all of the headlines and proclamations about his future as the number one pick, scouts breaking down his performance found plenty of things that need to improve before considering him a dominant NFL player.

Fairley certainly flashed the upper body and hand strength that he used all season to make 24 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks against sophomore Carson York and seniors center Jordan Holmes and guard C.E. Kaiser. Multiple times he pushed York or Kaiser aside using pure strength to reach a running back coming through the hole. On a handful of other plays, he used violent hands and quickness to swim over and swipe his man aside to penetrate into the backfield.

His most impressive play came with 10 minutes left in the third quarter. A simple but strong swipe vs. York, who got caught leaning and lost his balance, allowed Fairley attack Thomas, planting him in the ground and forcing fumble that was recovered by Oregon.

The first-team All-SEC showed versatility by playing inside or outside, depending on the situation. Hie stood up against Holmes playing the one-technique spot, walking down the line while engaged to get into plays. He did this to create traffic on the play that resulted in a safety, as well as the team's big fourth-and-one to stop Oregon from scoring on one possession in the second half.

He even showed some nimble feet dropping into coverage on zone blitzes twice during the game, though a lack of fluidity and flexibility made it tough for him to make tackles in space.

The first series of second half, showed the good and bad of Fairley's game. He exploded off the snap on one play but left tackle Bo Thran (the line's only pro prospect), stood him up then pushed him back a couple of yards. Fairley did eventually stand his ground to swallow up RB LeMichael James, who was running with his head down in traffic instead of looking for the available cutback lane. Then Fairley looked what some call a "dirty" side, turning James helmet into the dirt after the play was over, receiving a personal foul penalty.

And two of his three tackles for loss came on busted assignments. In the first half, when York thought he had passed Fairley onto the already-engaged Holmes on one play. QB Darron Thomas was a sitting duck, but got rid of the ball for an incompletion. The second TFL came when Thomas failed to read an unblocked Fairley correctly, getting planted into the turf for a red zone sack instead of handing to RB LaMichael James, who would have walked into the end zone.

NFL teams won't be running that sort of play, and Fairley shouldn't count on too many missed assignments from veteran pro linemen. York and Kaiser are also not NFL-caliber players, which scouts will also note when grading this performance.

Fairley missed a couple of opportunities to make plays in the backfield once beating his blocker because he lacks the ability to bend. In fact, he stands straight up after the snap quite often, which will cause him leverage problems against NFL linemen. He also looked inconsistent in his ability to recover from cut blocks around the line of scrimmage.

On two occasions, it looked while watching live that Fairley exploded into the backfield with impunity, but Oregon's blocking schemes had actually taken advantage of his aggressiveness to allow him through while a screen pass made big yardage -- the second time resulted in the Ducks' first touchdown for James to the left side.

Fairley's stamina will also be questioned, because although he sat out a few series, he got lazy in fourth quarter. He stood around on multiple plays, including a crucial on third-and-10 on Oregon's final touchdown drive.  He also guessed at the snap instead of reacting because he was tired, getting offsides call to put the ball on the two-yard line.

He was a non-factor on Oregon's late touchdown, and found himself on the ground for fifth time (once with help of a blitzing teammate) on the two-point conversion.

None of this changes the fact that Fairley will be a top ten pick because of his potential as a strong 4-3 defensive tackle or 3-4 five-technique. He had a very good game, using his strength and closing ability to take advantage of the opportunities Oregon gave him to make plays. It's not necessarily for a player to win every down to have a fantastic effort.

Fairley should be congratulated, and quite proud, of his play this year and his team's BCS title. Considering where the program was a couple of seasons ago, this was quite an accomplishment—and he has plenty of good tape for scouts to peruse. 

But the things I've pointed out, watching this game through scouts' eyes, must be examined when the Panthers consider him for the number one overall selection in April. Sometimes the hype surrounding a performance overwhelms the truth of what was done on the field.

As for that comparison to Ndamukong Suh: 
Early in the year, I thought maybe we'd be talking about Fairley in those terms, but the Auburn star simply does not have the consistent motor or special agility to stand side-by-side with the former Nebraska All-American if lined up by draft grade.

When at his best, Fairley could be a Kevin Williams-type difference-maker at the next level. If he lacks the penetration ability to play the three-technique like Williams, he could be a very successful Jay Ratliff-type nose tackle. But some scouts consider him a potential one-year wonder, potentially make him the next Ryan Sims.

But that's a gamble teams will be lining up to take.

--Contributed by NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Chad Reuter
Posted on: January 6, 2011 9:19 pm
Edited on: January 6, 2011 9:20 pm

With Luck returning, Carolina's option turn to D

While fans and media may have been stunned with Andrew Luck's announcement that he'll be returning to Stanford for at least the 2011 season, league insiders and scouts had quietly been acknowledging this possibility for weeks.

It is, some scouts have told me, the primary reason many in the NFL believe that Carolina Panthers' owner Jerry Richardson announced that if Luck would be his team's first pick had he entered the draft. Richardson was hoping, scouts suggest, that by publicly touting Luck he might convince the Cardinal redshirt sophomore quarterback into declaring early.

Now that the consensus No. 1 pick has announced his decision, however, the Panthers won't waste time worrying about their bad Luck (sorry, couldn't resist). They'll focus on the next best available players - of which there are plenty of qualified options.

The option that I (and scouts) do not expect the Panthers to strongly consider are the other quarterbacks. Missouri's Blaine Gabbert is the only junior who has announced his plans to enter the draft early, but there is a league-wide belief that Arkansas' Ryan Mallett and Auburn's Cam Newton will be joining him. These three, along with Washington's Jake Locker, comprise the four QBs scouts believe will be taken in the first round. None, however, rate nearly as highly as Luck and therefore wouldn't be a big enough improvement to consider adding to a Carolina team that spent last year's 2nd round pick on former Notre Dame standout Jimmy Clausen.

Carolina's recent draft picks serves as at least one strong reason why the team may look past Georgia wideout A.J. Green, widely considered to be the elite offensive prospect potentially available, now that Luck is returning.

The Panthers have invested heavily at wide receiver in recent years, including drafting three last year -- Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards with Top 100 picks (78 and 89, respectively) and David Gettis -- who led the team with three touchdowns receptions -- in the sixth round.

Carolina does have significant concerns at defensive line -- expected to be the strongest positions in this year's draft once all of the underclassmen make their intentions known.

Three defensive linemen - Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers, Alabama's Marcell Dareus and Auburn's Nick Fairley -- each possess the size, experience and upside to warrant consideration.

LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, another junior who has yet to declare his intentions, also should be in the mix. Carolina is as strong at cornerback as any position on their entire roster, but could lose veteran Richard Marshall, who is scheduled to be a free agent after this season.

With questions about the consistency and schematic fit for the defensive linemen, Peterson may be the safest - and perhaps, therefore, best - fit for Carolina with the first pick. It would be the first time in league history in which a cornerback was drafted higher than 3rd overall (as Shawn Springs was for the Seahawks in 1997), but if ever there was a corner worthy of this high of a pick it is Peterson -- who won the Thorpe and Bednarik Awards, as well as the SEC Defensive and Special Teams Player of the Year.

Posted on: March 30, 2009 2:35 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2009 2:36 pm

OT Joel Bell, CB Brian McCain Flying up boards

Each year there are relative unknown players whose eye-popping workouts in February and March force scouts back into the film room. Many times scouts are quick to acknowledge the impressive athleticism of prospects to local media covering the event, but once they review the players on film, realize that the speed, agility and strength shown on the track or weight room doesn't translate onto the field. 

And then, sometimes, there are players whose workouts go well and scouts return to the film room to discover that perhaps they had simply overlooked or undervalued the prospects. Two such players moving up the charts this year are Furman offensive tackle Joel Bell and Utah cornerback Brian McCain.

Bell, a three-time all-conference selection at left tackle, was invited to the Combine and put forth one of the more impressive all-around workouts, earning top-ten marks in the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical, broad, 3-cone, and 20-yard shuttle at a shade under 6-7, 315 pounds. His workout was good enough that he didn't need to workout at Furman's Pro Day, though an eye-popping 25 teams still showed up to see him go through positional drills. 

Indianapolis Colts' scout Bob Guarini put Bell through a 20 minute workout while the other team scouts' watched. Besides the Colts, the teams represented were the Eagles, Titans, Saints, Jaguars, Browns, Steelers, Seahawks, Dolphins, Texans, Patriots, Lions, Chiefs, Falcons, Cowboys, Bears, 49ers, Rams, Raiders, Vikings, Bills, Giants, Panthers, Chargers, and the Packers.

Like Bell, Utah's McCain is hardly just a workout wonder, though the workout he put forth at the Ute's Pro Day could technically classify him as one. McCain was clocked in the low 4.3s and the buzz around scouting circles is that he's been timed even faster before. McCain's 20-yard shuttle (3.99) and 3-cone (6.74) drill times would have ranked among the best among the cornerbacks tested in Indianapolis. McCain, however, was not invited to the Combine, despite earning All-Mountain West accolades each of the past three seasons. While fellow defensive Sean Smith has the size scouts covet, McCain is the more athletic of the duo and has the rare speed and agility for man to man coverage. Among the estimated two dozen teams represented at McCain's workout were the Panthers, Lions, Dolphins and Seahawks. Considering the lack of speed shown by this year's cornerback class, some believe McCain could continue to rise as the draft approaches -- perhaps all the way to the 5th round.




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