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Brian Billick's thoughts for April 11
It is good/news bad news for the Carolina Panthers who have the first overall pick. The good news is that there is a wide variety of talented prospects at every position to choose from. The bad news is they need help with just about all of them.
The Panthers were the worst offense in the NFL last year and on defense, and will work to re-establish a new 3-4 defensive scheme with first-year coach Ron Rivera, who came over from the San Diego Chargers.
Offensively they have solidified the interior of the offensive line by putting the franchise tag on fifth-year center Ryan Kalil. They have long had one of the best one-two running back punches in the league but risk losing DeAngelo Williams to free agency. Two big issues remain: What are they going to do at quarterback and whom will he throw to. Unfortunely, neither is likely to be addressed with the first overall pick.
The drafting of quarterback Jimmy Clausen with the 48th pick in last year's draft was the first time the Panthers had selected a signal caller in the first three rounds this decade. Clausen’s play may give them pause this year, but it is likely they will address that issue via free agency, rather than the draft, even though the first pick in the second round may have some interesting names left on the board at that position.
They may also take a look at the tight ends in the second day of the draft with some good value likely still on the board in the third round. Tight end is a position that they have never really addressed in the draft, other than Mike Seidman in the third round in 2003, who never panned out.
Rivera has to rebuild a defense that will face Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman twice a year. In addition to the tough NFC South schedule, they also have to face the NFC North and AFC South in their out-of-division games which means more skilled passers in Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Jay Cutler as well. The Panthers likely will address their pass rush first after losing Julius Peppers to the Chicago Bears in free agency last year.
On paper, the New Orleans Saints looked primed to repeat as Super Bowl champions. They were one of just a few teams to ranked in the top-10 both offensively and defensively, but neither unit played as well as the year before.
Drew Brees and the potent offense was explosive, but their inability to run the ball made the major difference.
Defensively, they were much better statistically, but did not generate the pressure on the quarterback and turnovers that were the hallmark of the Super Bowl team.
Last season's first-round cornerback Patrick Robinson and second-round offensive tackle Charles Brown were not able to crack the starting lineup but might have a bigger impact in Year 2. However, third-round selection tight end Jimmy Graham may have been the steal of the draft with the 95th pick.
The Saints pick up an extra third-round selection from Washington and might be well advised to use the first and second day of the draft to load up along the defensive front seven. Among the current starters, only first round picks Sedrick Ellis and Will Smith were actually drafted by New Orleans.
Alabama's Mark Ingram is considered by many as the top running back in this year's draft. He isn't going to wow anyone with his size, speed and physical skill set, but he runs hard and with a purpose. His running style is actually very comparable to Emmitt Smith.
Ingram is a patient runner who shows great vision, staying behind his blockers before shooting through an opening. He has nifty footwork and change of direction in tight spaces that make it very difficult to get a clean hit on him. He uses jukes and cutback lanes well to set up blocks and creates running lanes down the field. Ingram runs "angry" and stays behind his pads, ensuring that he falls forward for a couple more yards after contact.
His uses his low enter of gravity to run with a strong base and a powerful stride. Even when watching him run the 40-yard dash, he runs with high knees and uses his big powerful thighs. Throughout the rest of this month, he will be on a mission to prove to teams that he can protect the passer in the backfield and also have the hands to check out in the flat and be a threat in the passing game as well.
While Ingram may be the best overall running back prospect available in the draft, teams will be evaluating his against the "value" they could get in later rounds. With passing systems becoming much more prevalent in the NFL, the value of the first-round running back might be becoming extinct.
Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure is drawing some comparisons to former Fighting Illini Rashard Mendenhall. When I watch him play, he reminds me more of Michael Turner of the Atlanta Falcons.
Like Turner, he churns his legs quickly and accelerates through the hole quickly. He puts his foot in the ground and makes one cut and then gets up field and gets as many yards as possible. He doesn't have great wiggle but changes direction well enough and then runs behind his pads in the open field.
I do like how Leshoure fights as a blocker in the backfield and has experience protecting the passer. This will help him get on the field quickly as a third-down back. He wasn't asked to catch the ball very much, so he will want to prove that he can be a threat in the passing game out in the flats.
I see him fitting in best with a team that utilizes a two-back system and reduce his overall workload. He played in a tandem backfield for Illinois and has never been asked to be the workhorse back.
Leshoure measures in at 5-foot-11 5/8 and 227 pounds. He proved he has some explosion in his legs by jumping a 38-inch vertical. I would look for Leshoure to be the second back selected, but I am not sure that he sneaks into the first round. If he gets by New England's second first-round pick, he will most likely slide into Day 2 of the draft.
For more analysis, follow Billick on Twitter at @coachbillick.
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