The teams picking at the top of drafts are always hoping for immediate impact.
But for teams deeper in the order, patience is a necessity, especially with a growing sense that players entering the NFL aren’t as ready as they used to be. Whether it’s because of increased early entrants or the systems college teams are running, more and more teams end up drafting players who can’t be immediately useful.
Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman invoked former 49ers coach Bill Walsh saying he had a “two-year rule” to see if a player had a future with the team, but said it now has to be a three-year process.
“We’re not getting instant oatmeal anymore,” Gettleman said. “And you’ve got to understand there’s going to be growing pains. Nothing’s easy. A guy can have all the talent in the world. But this game is about fundamentals and when we’re getting them they don’t have it. So our coaches have to really coach and teach, and it takes longer.”
Gettleman illustrated his willingness to take the long view last year, drafting linebacker Shaq Thompson with the 25th pick, choosing a guy who might eventually replace Thomas Davis. Thompson started 10 games but played a fairly limited role for the Panthers this year (only 34.3 percent of their defensive snaps), as they try to get the college utility player ready to contribute more.
And the guy Gettleman might have preferred to Thompson also illustrates that principle. The Panthers would have taken Florida offensive tackle D.J. Humphries, but the Cardinals chose him a pick before. Humphries wasn’t ready to win a starting job out of training camp, and was inactive for all 16 games this season.
“We drafted D.J. last year knowing we were going to redshirt him because we had so much to teach him,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “If he threw him out there, he was going to fail. Once they fail, it’s hard to get those scars off. He didn’t dress a game purposefully just to get better and better.”
For teams like the Panthers and Cardinals which have had success recently, it’s easier to give a guy time to learn, since the staffs have a sense of security that allows development. Bad teams with coaches under pressure don’t have the luxury. It also takes a roster talented enough that rookies aren’t forced into situations they’re not ready for.