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Tag:LSU
Posted on: October 21, 2011 10:59 am
 

Five prospects I'll be scouting closely Saturday

Each Friday I list my "Five prospects" that I'll be focusing on for the upcoming weekend. In reality, I'm focusing on dozens of prospects each week, but the players listed below are playing in high profile games and against the caliber of competition that I believe provides us with an opportunity to truly assess how a collegiate player might fare when asked to make the huge jump to the NFL.

Typically I focus on senior prospects in this space. However, with it becoming more and more obvious as to which underclassmen are considering the jump to the pros, I'll be incorporating a few more juniors and redshirt sophomores in the coming weeks.

Sometimes it also leads to the player being featured in Draft Slant , NFLDraftScout.com and CBSSports.com's weekly NFL Draft preview. In each PDF issue of Draft Slant Senior Analyst Chad Reuter breaks down six more players in Filmroom Notes, updates our Top 64 prospects overall and offers extensive previews of the next week's action. Here is the link to this week's issue of Draft Slant. Or for the entire season click this link . Looking for a specific week? Download past issues from the past three years here.

Without any further adieu, here are the five prospects, as well as the cable provider and time you can expect to see them.

RB Andre Ellington, Clemson:  Considering the success of Clemson’s passing attack, Ellington hasn’t received a great deal of national attention. That could change, however, with a strong game against an exceedingly talented and fast North Carolina defense. Ellington has already rushed for 740 yards and seven touchdowns and is thought to be among the underclassmen running backs strongly considering making the early leap to the NFL. This game begins at noon ET and will be televised by ESPN.

CB Morris Claiborne, LSU:  The suspension of Tyrann Mathieu (as well as fellow cornerback Tharold Simon and running back Spencer Ware) is going to put that much more pressure on an LSU defense in the battle of Tigers. Claiborne has been even more impressive this season than he was last year starting opposite Patrick Peterson, recording three interceptions already. He’ll be asked to slow down Auburn’s top wideout, junior Emory Blake. This game begins at 3:30 pm ET and will be televised by CBS.

RB Lamar Miller, Miami: Like Ellington, Miller, a redshirt sophomore, is thought to already be considering making the leap to the pro level. Miller has rushed for 706 yards already this season, more than he did all of last year. He’s toting the rock more than 18 times a game, proving that he has the toughness to handle a full-time role at the pro level. Blessed with speed and  legitimate NFL size (5-11, 212), Miller could join the long list of former backs from The U to earn a top 64 grade. This game begins at 3:30 pm ET and will be televised by ESPN.

QB Russell Wilson, Wisconsin: With all due respect to a Nebraska defense limited by injuries to stars Alfonzo Dennard and Jared Crick, Saturday’s tilt on the road against Michigan State could be the toughest test for Wisconsin all season long. Wilson has the benefit of playing behind one of the nation’s elite offensive lines, but Jerel Worthy and the top-rated MSU defense could pose problems. Lucky for Wilson, one of the Spartans’ top pass rushers, defensive end  William Gholston, was suspended for this game due to throwing a punch a week earlier at a Michigan player. Scouts wish Wilson was taller, of course, but can’t help but acknowledge how quickly he’s adjusted to the Wisconsin offense, as well as his strong arm and mobility.   This game begins at 8:00 pm ET and will be televised by ESPN.

OG David DeCastro, Stanford: I’ve spoken to scouts who characterize DeCastro as the best guard prospect in the past 20 years. That’s pretty damn lofty praise. DeCastro will get his stiffest test of the season against Washington’s defensive tackle, Alameda Ta’amu, a potential first round pick, himself. If Ta’amu can get pressure on Andrew Luck, the 5-1 Huskies could surprise The Cardinal. This game begins at 8:00 ET and will be televised by ABC.

Posted on: September 23, 2011 10:23 pm
Edited on: September 23, 2011 10:25 pm
 

Mano-a-Mano, Week Four

In addition to the five players NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Rob Rang mentioned in his weekly preview, you may want take a look at these nine  one-on-one 2012 NFL Draft prospect match-ups (plus a few more receiving honorable mention) while perusing this weekend's slate of college football games.

Because players move around based on different formations, these prospects won't go against each other on every snap. Scouts will pay attention when they do, however, because they rely on a player's film against top competition to determine their readiness for the NFL.

All times Eastern.

1. Vanderbilt CB Casey Hayward at South Carolina WR Alshon Jeffery, 7:00 pm, ESPN2

Hayward faces the same size issue every 5-foot-10, 185-pound college corner does when lining up across from the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Jeffery. But if South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia underthrows or stares down Jeffery while Hayward is in off-coverage (two things Garcia is prone to do), Vandy's next NFL zone/nickel corner will add to his total of ten career interceptions.

2. Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon at Texas A&M Coryell Judie, 3:30 pm, ABC/ESPN2

Although Blackmon doesn't have quite the same size advantage over Judie that Jeffery has over Hayward, Blackmon's thick build, strong hands, and tough running make him no less a threat. Judie and A&M's other senior corner, Terrence Frederick, won't back down and Judie has the ball skills to make Cowboys' 28 year-old passer, Brandon Weeden, rue any poor throws. Hopefully Judie, Frederick, and their coaches watched how Weeden and Blackmon tore apart Nebraska's strong secondary last year with verticals when they did not challenge him physically.

3. Georgia LT Cordy Glenn at Ole Miss DE Kentrell Lockett/Wayne Dorsey, 11:00 am, SEC Network

Another week, another test for Glenn, a 6-foot-5, 350-pound behemoth who is trying to prove to scouts he can stay at tackle in the NFL. He seems to be improving in his lateral agility when protecting sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray's blind side, but Ole Miss' senior DE duo of Lockett and Dorsey won't give him any favors with their length and tenacity on the edge. Dorsey already has two sacks this year, and though Lockett doesn't have a tackle for loss yet, he's slowly working his way back from a knee injury that caused him miss the 2010 season.

4. Florida Atlantic DE Kevin Cyrille at Auburn RT Brandon Mosley, 7:00 pm, Fox Sports South

This could be a break-out game for Cyrille, a 6-4, 275-pound strong-side end, has not receiver a lot of pub as of yet. His production isn't remarkable (6 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sack), but he has the NFL body and armspan to test Mosley -- whose move to left tackle was scrapped after the opener.

5. Virginia Tech RT Blake DeChristopher at Marshall DE Vinny Curry, 3:30 pm CBS Sports Network

Scouts know all about Curry, the pre-season favorite for Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year honors. His strength at the point of attack and hustle allow him to chase quarterbacks and corral running backs before they get into the open field. DeChristopher could use a strong performance against Curry whether Marshall's star lines up at five-technique (where he could play in the NFL with a few more pounds) or outside. Curry doesn't have the elite speed off the edge to turn the corner, but DeChristopher must cut off the inside lane to prevent Curry from bulling past him to reach big sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas.

6. LSU RT Alex Hurst at West Virginia DE/OLB Bruce Irvin, 8:00 pm, ABC

Watching the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Irvin take on a massive right tackle like the junior Hurst (6-6, 340) is almost laughable, but that's the job WVU coaches have given him in their 3-3-5 alignment. He has one sack on the year but three TFLs, and is playing a more well-rounded game. Hurst's athleticism will be tested, as well Irvin's stamina and hustle as the game wears on.

7. Louisiana-Lafayette CB Dwight Bentley at Florida International WR T.Y. Hilton, 6:00 pm, ESPN3.com

Two Sun Belt players? Absolutely. Hilton got himself on the national radar with a huge game against Louisville two weeks ago (seven catches, 201 yards with 74, 83-yard TDs). Bentley had three pass break-ups against Oklahoma State in 2010 then picked off OSU twice in this year's season opener. Both are destined to play inside at the next level as sub 5-11, 185-pounders, but expect them to be two of the three or four SBC players likely to be drafted this year.

8. South Dakota LT Tom Compton at Wisconsin DE Louis Nzegwu, 3:30 pm, Big Ten Network

Nzegwu hasn't stood out quite as much as some thought going into the year, but he still has two sacks for the Badgers. Compton's one of the top small-school prospects in this class, but the 6-foot-5, 320-pound must prove he can handle FBS speed to be a mid-round prospect. 

9. Missouri TE Michael Egnew at Oklahoma OLB Travis Lewis, 8:00 pm, FX

Egnew has just six catches for 57 yards and a touchdown in three games, a far cry from the 29 for 257 in the first three games of the 2010 season. He'll need to separate from Lewis and any other linebackers or defensive back the Sooners put on him to get targeted more regularly by sophomore quarterback James Franklin.

Honorable Mention

Kansas State ILB Arthur Brown at Miami RBs Lamar Miller/Mike James, 3:30 pm ESPNU
LSU WR Rueben Randle at West Virginia CB Keith Tandy, 8:00 pm, ABC
Cal Poly CB Asa Jackson at Northern Illinois QB Chandler Harnish, TBA
Florida RB Chris Rainey at Kentucky LB Danny Trevathan, 7:00 pm, ESPN


--Contributed by NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Chad Reuter, follow Chad on Twitter @ChadReuter   

Posted on: August 15, 2011 10:23 am
 

Mallett, Ridley impress in Patriots rout of Jags

Over the past few days, I've played catch-up, watching as much preseason tape as possible to get a feel how the rookies played in their first NFL games.

There were some impressive performances from rookies across the league. The Rams may have a young star at tight end in Lance Kendricks. The Seahawks' young right side of the offensive line (RT James Carpenter, RG John Mofffitt) effectively cleared holes against the Chargers. Wideout Dwayne Harris, one of my favorite "steals of the draft," certainly looked the part against Denver in his preseason opener, catching five passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns.

Despite Tom Brady not taking a snap, there were plenty of highlights for the Patriots in a dominating 47-12 victory over the Jaguars. Among them was the play of the team's two third round picks -- former LSU running back Stevan Ridley and Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett.

The Patriots leaned heavily on Ridley, giving the rookie 16 rushing attempts (for 64 yards, two touchdowns) and also completing seven passes to the 5-11, 225 pounder for another 47 yards. Ridley showed enough burst laterally to escape defenders and showed off the leg drive to get the tough yards.

Mallett's stat line is impressive (12 of 19 for 164 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions), but even moreso was Mallett's poise. The rookie played the entire second half and led the Patriots to touchdowns on each of his first four drives.  Of course, the tall quarterback proved that the strong and accurate right arm he had shown while at Arkansas (and previously at Michigan) was very much still there. Mallett took the vast majority of his snaps out of the shotgun, but also showed some mobility in escaping the pocket, even scrambling when the pocket broke down around him. Most impressive, of course, was his velocity. Mallett recognized holes in the defense and zipped passes through narrow gaps. Fans often equate arm strength with the deep ball. Mallett certainly has that skill, as well, but was most impressive about his ability to drive the football was on slants and crossing routes -- critical routes in the Patriots' offense.
 
Posted on: July 15, 2011 12:15 pm
Edited on: July 15, 2011 12:23 pm
 

Some surprises in Coaches Preseason All-SEC team

For the purposes of scouting for the NFL, whether a player makes an all-conference team or not is less important than how I personally grade a player off tape, how a player performs in an all-star game, and many other factors.

It is, however, a tool that scouts can and often do use to ascertain which players rival coaches feel are legitimate difference-makers.

This is especially true in the SEC. The reasons are simple. There is a great deal of individual talent in the conference and a high number of the elite talent leaves early for the NFL as underclassmen, often creating quite a turnover on the all-conference list.

The SEC announced their official Coaches Preseason First, Second and Third all-conference lists this week. There were some surprises.

Here were the five that raised my eyebrow...
  1. Alabama cornerback 'Dre Kirkpatrick, a Second Team All-SEC pick last year, only made the Third Team preseason polling this summer. Kirkpatrick, entering his junior season, is considered a potential elite prospect for the NFL and is currently NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated CB for the class of 2013.
  2. True sophomore Aaron Murray from Georgia was named the First-Team quarterback. This is a reflection of two things. For one, Murray flashed some serious talent last year and looks like he could be the next big thing at the position from this conference. Secondly, he has little proven competition. 
  3. Some will find it interesting that defending national champion Auburn and perennial talent hotbed Florida had zero 1st team selections. LSU, another annual contributor to the NFL, had only one player (junior CB Morris Claiborne) make the team. Quite frankly, after reviewing tape this summer of these three teams, I'm not surprised. While the schemes that have made each of these teams successful in recent years remain intact, the plethora of elite talent that had resulted in recent national championships simply isn't there... or at least hasn't proven itself yet.
  4. Don't look now but Steve Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks are loaded. They boast four first-team All-SEC picks in running back Marcus Lattimore, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, defensive end Devin Taylor and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. None of whom are seniors. Each looks like a potential high round NFL prospect.
  5. The talent at running back in this conference is staggering. Typically, all-conference teams feature two running backs per team. There must have been a tie among voters, however, as the SEC lists three running backs for the Second-Team (only two for the First and Third teams, respectively). Hard to blame the coaches when you take into consideration the three backs that made the Second Team are Arkansas' Knile Davis, Florida's Jeff Demps and Auburn's Michael Dyer. Each of those who be a shoo-in for First-Team honors in most other conferences, though I agree with the coaches that South Carolina's Lattimore and Alabama's Trent Richardson deserve top-billing. 


Posted on: April 26, 2011 10:28 pm
 

Arizona Cardinals Draft Preview

Arizona Cardinals 2010 record: 5-11, fourth place NFC West

2011 draft rundown - Eight total picks (round): 5 (1); 38 (2); 69 (3); 103 (4); 136 (5); 171 (6); 184 (7); 249 (7)

Top needs:   

Outside linebacker: Last year's starters, Clark Haggans and Joey Porter, will be 34 by the time the season is scheduled to start. Haggans could return, but Porter, whose salary is due to increase to $5.75 million probably is gone. Von Miller would be a nice replacement. With Daryl Washington and O'Brien Schofield, the Cardinals would have three young, promising linebackers. Brooks Reed from the University of Arizona would make sense in the second round. He's bigger and would be a good fit on the left side.

Quarterback: It's the top priority this offseason, but the Cardinals would prefer to address it through free agency or trade. Those options obviously aren't available to them, but they will be at some point, if the 2011 season is to be played. In John Skelton, the Cardinals already have a young quarterback. But there are some intriguing quarterbacks in this draft. Whisenhunt likes smart, tough gym-rat type of guys. Andy Dalton of Texas Christian falls into that category, as does Washington's Jake Locker. Both likely will be gone by the second round, however.

Inside linebacker: Gerald Hayes, the starter for the past five seasons, probably will be released at some point. The Cardinals don't have a big, inside linebacker on the roster, and could use a physical presence. Illinois' Martez Wilson would make sense in the second round. The starting two inside linebackers, Paris Lenon and Daryl Washington, weigh between 230 pounds and 240 pounds.

Guard: The starting guards, Alan Faneca and Deuce Lutui, are not under contract, and there are no young players behind them. Cannon is huge, 6-5, 358, and the Cardinals love to have large, road-grader type guys inside. Cannon has the size to play tackle, too, which is attractive.


First-round focus  5th overall -- The general consensus among league insiders is that the Cardinals would much rather land their next starting quarterback via free agency or trade, rather than invest in a rookie. Despite this notion, Arizona could have a hard time passing up Missouri's Blaine Gabbert -- rated by many as the top quarterback of this class -- if he were available to them at No. 5. With several attractive would-be free agents potentially available, the Cardinals could elect to look at other positions of need, however. Chief among them is pass rusher. The Cardinals feature two aging outside linebackers in Clark Haggans and Joey Porter and could be in prime position to nab the top pass rusher of the draft in Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller. The Cardinals kept close eye on the former Aggie throughout the week of practice at the Senior Bowl and could certainly use his speed off the edge. Arizona is so needy at the position that some theorize the club would "reach" for North Carolina's Robert Quinn should Miller already be gone. Perhaps a safer move would be to stick to the best player available strategy. LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson wouldn't fill as big of a need, but could present a big play threat opposite Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Similarly, if Georgia wideout A.J. Green were to still be available, he would provide the Cardinals with a vertical threat to help Larry Fitzgerald. With two receivers of that quality, veteran quarterbacks would likely be lining up at the door to play in Arizona, especially considering that the Cardinals play in the very winnable NFC West division.

Five names on Cardinals' board:   
OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M
QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
WR A.J. Green, Georgia
CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
OLB Robert Quinn, North Carolina
Posted on: April 26, 2011 10:14 pm
 

Cincinnati Bengals Draft Preview

Cincinnati Bengals 2010 record: 4-12, fourth place AFC North

2011 draft rundown - Eight total picks (round): 4 (1); 35 (2); 66 (3); 101 (4); 134 (5); 167 (6); 207 (7); 246 (7)

Top needs:   

Quarterback: With Carson Palmer stating that he is done playing in Cincinnati, the Bengals have to address the position early. Jordan Palmer and Dan LeFevour are on the roster but they have thrown a combined 15 passes in regular-season games and are not the long-term answer. Whoever they draft, it won't be a situation like 2003 where Carson Palmer got to sit for a year and learn the offense. He will be expected to play immediately.

Wide receiver: Cincinnati needs to draft a young playmaker who can stretch the field because Chad Ochocinco, Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell are all entering the final year of their contracts. With Ochocinco's production declining the past three years and scheduled to make $6 million this year, the odds of him being on the opening-day roster are slim. The Bengals haven't drafted a receiver in the first round since 2000 but they have squandered nearly $25 million in free agency the last two years in trying to find someone to line up opposite Ochocinco.

Safety: The Bengals could go into the season with Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson as the starters (Roy Williams is an unrestricted free agent), but could get caught short for the third straight year due to injuries. They could find a safety or two in the middle rounds but Lewis has already said that the quality in this year's class is not good.

Offensive line: Guard is an immediate need with Bobbie Williams entering the final year of his contract and Nate Livings inconsistent. Depending on if Andre Smith can come back from his third foot surgery since being drafted two years ago, there could also be a need at right tackle. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander has done a solid job developing linemen, but those have been mostly undrafted players.


First-round focus  4th overall -- Like the Buffalo Bills picking immediately before them, the Bengals are in the unenviable position of reading the tea-leaves with their current quarterback. Should the Bengals take Carson Palmer at his word and believe that he will never play for them again, they'll feel the pressure to select either Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton, should either be available to them at No. 4. If neither is, the Bengals are expected to select Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green with the fourth pick. Not only would he help the Bengals' passing game (and potentially help convince Palmer to come back), he also would provide Cincinnati with some flexibility at the receiver position -- something they need desperately considering the precarious status of their current receiving corps. Alabama's Julio Jones is a more physical blocker and ran faster at the Combine. He is viewed by some as a better in the West Coast Offense due to his size and strength, but isn't nearly as consistent as Jones in the all-important categories of route-running and catching passes with his hands. Though the Bengals have rarely moved on draft day (they've been apart of only three first round trades since 1992), this could be the year to do it. There will be plenty of interest in Green and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, as well as Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller should he still be on the board. The Bengals may be forced to trade back into the late portion of the first round if they're unable to trade back from No. 4 as they desperately need a quarterback -- and potentially one who could contribute immediately. Most view Florida State's Christian Ponder and TCU's Andy Dalton as the most pro-ready quarterbacks of this year's draft. There is no guarantee that either will be available when the Bengals select in the second round (No. 35 overall).

Five names on Bengals' board:   
QB Cam Newton, Auburn
QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
WR A.J. Green, Georgia
WR Julio Jones, Alabama
CB Patrick Peterson, LSU

Posted on: April 26, 2011 9:14 pm
Edited on: April 26, 2011 9:19 pm
 

Buffalo Bills Draft Preview

Buffalo Bills 2010 record: 4-12, fourth place AFC East

2011 draft rundown - Nine total picks (round): 3 (1); 34 (2); 68 (3); 100 (4); 122 (4); 133 (5); 169 (6); 206 (7); 245 (7)

Top needs:   

Defensive line: The Bills' 2,714 rushing yards allowed was second most in team history and they allowed eight 200-yard rushing games. Aside from Pro Bowl nose tackle Kyle Williams, blue-chip talent required to stop the run and rush the passer is sorely lacking. Alabama's Marcell Dareus and Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers are in the discussion.

Quarterback: Ryan Fitzpatrick's career-high 23 touchdown passes provides a level of comfort. The question is whether Auburn's Cam Newton or Missouri's Blaine Gabbert are "franchise" talents too good to pass up with the No. 3 overall pick. Or is there a prospect to take in Round 2 (No. 34) and develop? Florida State's Christian Ponder is a candidate for that scenario.

Linebacker: The Bills are in need of run stoppers and pass rushers at this vital position. Even with free agent Shawne Merriman in the fold, there is a general lack of star power on both the outside and inside and Paul Posluszny could be declared a free agent. The team is paying dearly for drafting Aaron Maybin 11th overall in 2009; he has yet to record a sack.

Offensive tackle: The Bills like four of their five starters, but right tackle was a revolving door in 2010. Mansfield Wrotto, Cordaro Howard and Erik Pears are expected to compete for the starting right tackle job but the team will add to the mix.


First-round focus   3rd overall -- The direction the Buffalo Bills go with the No. 3 overall pick all depends on their true feelings for veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The journeyman enjoyed a career year in 2010, passing for 3,000 yards and a respectable 23 touchdowns (against 15 interceptions) despite starting only 13 games. Considering the significant struggles the team had on the defensive side of the ball (including allowing eight 200 yard rushers last year), it might seem obvious that the Bills would look to address their defense. However, GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey eschewed their defensive needs last year to draft playmaker C.J. Spiller with the ninth overall pick and might be similarly tempted to draft a premier young signal-caller like Blaine Gabbert should he still be on the board. Having a year to learn the NFL ropes behind Fitzpatrick and IGabbert could prove an NFL star. The upside of the athletic Gabbert (or even more athletic Cam Newton, should he be available) would also be a wise move for a franchise looking to rebuild their fan base. If, on the other hand, the Bills like what they have in Fitzpatrick or decide to push off their concern for a young quarterback into the second or later rounds, there is plenty of defensive talent likely to be available at No. 3 that could fill areas of need. A stout run defender like Alabama's Marcell Dareus would seemingly be a perfect fit for the Bills and almost surely would be the pick if he were available. Experienced inside and out in Nick Saban's 3-4 defense while with the Crimson Tide, Dareus would make an immediate impact. So too would outside linebacker Von Miller, whose ability to rush the quarterback would help ease the suffering of the huge disappointment that has been former No. 11 overall pick Aaron Maybin. Cornerback is one of the team's relative strengths so LSU's Patrick Peterson would be a surprise, but the Bills have already shown their willingness think outside of the box with the selection of Spiller last year.

Five names on Bills' board:   
QB Cam Newton, Auburn
QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama
OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M
CB Patrick Peterson, LSU

Posted on: April 25, 2011 8:00 pm
 

Carolina Panthers Draft Preview

Carolina Panthers 2010 record: 2-14, fourth place NFC South

2011 draft rundown - Eight total picks (round): 1 (1); 65 (3); 97 (3); 98 (4); 132 (5); 166 (6); 203 (7); 244 (7)

Top needs:   

Quarterback: The Panthers finished last passing in 2010, so it doesn't take much to figure out their biggest need this offseason. In fact, even new coach Ron Rivera has come out and said his team's biggest goal is finding a franchise quarterback.

Defensive tackle: The Panthers have an equally pressing need on the other side of the ball at defensive tackle entering this year's NFL draft. Last year, the Panthers rotated Derek Landri, Nick Hayden and Ed Johnson in at the defensive tackle spots. All three might be considered decent role players, but none are exceptional and might not start for many other teams around the league.

Wide receiver: Yes, the Panthers drafted three wide receivers last year, including two in the third round in Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards and one in the sixth in David Gettis. But if the team decides to trade unhappy veteran Steve Smith, which is a possibility, they will need to replenish this position with a top-end talent.

Cornerback: Richard Marshall has said he doesn't think he'll be back and fellow starter Chris Gamble (who is owed $6 million) is coming off a poor season in which he was benched.


First-round focus   1st overall -- The Carolina Panthers are widely expected to select quarterback Cam Newton with the top overall pick, but some believe the team is struggling to come to grips with the thought of investing the first pick on a player with only one season of starting experience at the BCS level. It is easy to understand why the Panthers might be tempted by some of the other players in this draft class. Alabama defensive Marcell Dareus, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson and Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green also play positions of need and are widely viewed as considerably safer prospects. North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn could prove a Pro Bowl caliber pass rusher -- something the Panthers could use considering their loss last year of free agent Julius Peppers -- and would be a popular selection given his close regional ties, as well. Ultimately, however, the way to improve in the NFL is to improve at the quarterback position. Considering the relative talent of the other quarterbacks in the NFC South division (Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa Bay), the only way for the Carolina Panthers to realistically get back into contention for the divisional crown, they need improved play at quarterback. Newton is a gamble, but his 51 touchdowns against SEC competition and poise both on and off the field in driving Auburn to the BCS Championship, is the stuff of legend. At this point, it would be an upset if Carolina selected anyone other than Newton with the first pick -- though with no second round selection and holes throughout the roster, they'll be working the phones to the last second in an effort to trade down.

Five names on Panthers' board:   
QB Cam Newton, Auburn
QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama
CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com