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2015 NFL DRAFT

Finding the Fits: Returner Adams could be key to Carolina playoff run

By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
Over the next several weeks, NFLDraftScout.com will be reviewing some of the more intriguing picks made during the 2012 NFL draft through a series called "Finding the Fits." The goal of the series is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and therefore more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.

Though some would argue that help in the trenches would have filled a bigger need, the Carolina Panthers' selection of Boston College inside linebacker Luke Kuechly competes only with the Indianapolis Colts' picking Andrew Luck with the first overall choice and the fortuitous Pittsburgh Steelers having David DeCastro fall into their laps at No. 24 as the safest and savviest pick of the first round.

One year after general manager Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera gambled and won big with quarterback Cam Newton with the first pick of the 2011 draft, the team added their quarterback of the defense with the instinctive and reliable All-American middle linebacker.

Kuechly's awareness and reliable open-field tackling could help him post impressive numbers as a rookie. If helped by further development from a young (but talented) rotation of defensive tackles, Carolina might be able to improve significantly on a run defense that finished 25th in the NFL a year ago.

While there is no question that Kuechly is certainly a "fit" in Carolina's defense, it is another Panther rookie who deserves recognition for this series - return specialist and wide receiver Joe Adams - whom the Panthers invested the ninth pick of the fourth round (No. 104 overall) in large part due to the former Arkansas Razorback's potential to instantly improve a special teams' unit that finished dead last in 2011.

While Adams left Arkansas ranked second in school history with 164 catches for 2,410 yards and 17 touchdowns over his career, make no mistake about it, his primary role early on for the Panthers will be as a punt returner. Adams has the talent to see the field relatively early in his career as a slot receiver, but frankly, his production at Arkansas was enhanced by Bobby Petrino's aggressive scheme as well as some pretty unique talent in former All-American (and current New England Patriot) Ryan Mallett and current Arkansas standout Tyler Wilson, regarded by NFLDraftScout.com as the No. 2 senior quarterback prospect in the country at this point, behind only Southern Cal's Matt Barkley.

As a returner, however, Adams shows immediate impact ability due to his instincts, elusiveness and much better game speed than he demonstrated in running 4.55 second time in the 40-yard dash at the Combine.

Arkansas produces NFL-caliber athletes every year so Adams had to wait until his junior season before taking over as the team's starting punt returner. He simply broke the record for the longest punt return for a touchdown (97-yards vs. Mississippi), finishing second only to Patrick Peterson (16.08) in the SEC in average per return (15.66) in his first year of duty. Adams followed that up this season by leading the SEC (and finishing second to Texas A&M's Dustin Harris for the national crown) by averaging 16.89 yards per return as a senior, returning a twice as many for touchdowns (four) as anyone else in the FBS. Adams returned two punts for scores in the season opener against Missouri State on September 3, took another back against Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl and, in between, posted the dazzling return you see below against Tennessee that some feel might have been the most electrifying play in college football a year ago.

Excited about the success Newton enjoyed as a rookie and the direction their defense is going, the Carolina Panthers might be an improved special teams unit away from realistic playoff contention in 2012. Considering that Carolina both drafted (Brad Nortman) and signed post-draft a punter (veteran Nick Harris), added quality veterans with special teams experience (like former Baltimore Raven Haruki Nakamura) and added the scariest punt returner available in April's draft, an improved special teams might be precisely what the Carolina Panthers may have in 2012.

The rest of the Panthers' picks:

1st Round - No. 9 overall - Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
2nd Round - No. 40 overall - Amini Silatolu, OG, Midwestern State
4th Round - No. 103 overall - Frank Alexander, DE, Oklahoma
4th Round - No. 104 overall - Joe Adams, WR, Arkansas
5th Round - No. 143 overall - Josh Norman, CB, Coastal Carolina
6th Round - No. 207 overall - Brad Nortman, P, Wisconsin
7th Round - No. 216 overall - D.J. Campbell, FS, California

Read more about all of the Panthers' picks here.


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