The Panthers are playing a lot of big games down the stretch. At least if you’re an NFL draft junkie.
While we spend most of our time in December dissecting the teams in the playoff hunt, we’ll also spend some of our time looking at the teams racing to the bottom of the standings, teams vying for the first overall pick in the 2013 draft. And that pick is almost certain to come down to the 2-10 Chiefs, the 2-10 Jaguars, the 3-9 Panthers, the 3-9 Raiders or the 3-9 Eagles.
The Panthers, in particular, have been a factor in the race for the first pick. By beating Philadelphia last week and then losing to Kansas City this week, Carolina tightened things up considerably in the Top 5 of the draft order (which is to say the Bottom 5 of the standings). The Panthers also have a game remaining against the Raiders, and the Raiders also have a game coming up against the Chiefs, so those are the biggest games to watch if you want to see how the top of the draft order will look in April.
In recent years, the first overall pick has almost always been a quarterback. The last four first picks were quarterbacks, and going back to Peyton Manning in 1998, 12 of the last 15 first overall picks have been quarterbacks. But that could change this year for a couple of reasons.
The first reason is that if Carolina ends up with the first pick, the Panthers would definitely not take a quarterback, with 2011 first overall pick Cam Newton already in place. Carolina could trade the first overall pick to a quarterback-needy team, but that leads to the other reason a quarterback probably won’t go first overall.
The other reason is that — even though the Chiefs, Jaguars, Raiders and Eagles all might consider drafting a quarterback — this year’s draft doesn’t appear to have a quarterback worthy of the first overall pick. The two quarterbacks most often mentioned as the best prospects for 2013, West Virginia’s Geno Smith and USC’s Matt Barkley, both saw their stock decline with inconsistent play down the stretch this season.
The players who are more often mentioned as potential first overall picks include Notre Dame inside linebacker Manti Te’o, Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, Alabama guard Chance Warmack, Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore, Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel and LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo. For fans in Kansas City, Jacksonville, Carolina, Oakland and Philadelphia, dreaming about one of those players in the home team’s colors can brighten up an otherwise dreary December.