Panthers need to avoid repeat of the disastrous 2005 draft

Darin GanttApril 12, 2008 

CHARLOTTE -- The ghosts of the 2005 draft are still echoing through the Panthers' war room.

Not because the structure's the same, but because the needs are so similar since that worst draft of the current administration.

First-round linebacker Thomas Davis finally looks like the significant defensive player they anticipated. He'd better, since he's the only thing that saved that year from being a complete disaster. The Panthers had nine other picks, and the best of the lot was the second of their three fifth-rounders, offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner, who's proven to be a dependable sixth-man and a surprisingly good kick returner.

Otherwise, the draft was horrendous. Second-round running back Eric Shelton may well be the worst pick in franchise history; a big back who didn't run big, who chose to pout rather than bow up when challenged. Third-round guard Evan Mathis has started and isn't awful, but seems miscast in their new style of bigger linemen and will have to make the team as a backup tackle this year. A fellow third-rounder, defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison, was the highest-drafted player cut his rookie year.

Their problem was that they were drafting replacements in 2005: Davis was going to be the next Mark Fields, Shelton the next Stephen Davis, Ellison the next Brentson Buckner, etc. Though they're loathe to admit it, they got suckered into drafting by position, and left better players on the board at several slots as they reached for positional need.

Not to rub salt in a wound, but if they'd have used the second on receiver Roscoe Parrish (the very next player chosen) instead of Shelton, they at least wouldn't have spun wheels in the return game for a few years.

Of course, spinning it to the upcoming draft, it's hardly a coincidence the Panthers' needs are at the spots at which they missed so badly. Were Shelton not a waste, they wouldn't need to draft another back so high. If Ellison could have played at all, they would be more comfortable at the position than the current threadbare state of their defensive interior. They'll also look for help at tackle early, though that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with Mathis.

The Panthers have made changes since then. Former college scouting director Tony Softli has since left for St. Louis, replaced by Don Gregory. Softli remains a good evaluator, but wasn't the same personality fit with general manager Marty Hurney and coach John Fox that Gregory is. Still, to blame Softli alone for the mess that was 2005 would be unfair, and Hurney disputed the notion that they're still scrambling to fill the needs unmet three years ago.

"I don't look at that way, there's more than one reason," Hurney said. "I don't think it serves a lot of purpose to look at it that way. We have our needs. You put most of your attention at filling them. That's not to say you don't look back and say we made a mistake here, but you look back and say how did we do it and not make it again. That's what you focus on.

"Anybody can make a mistake, but if you don't look at it and you make a mistake twice, there's nobody but me to blame."

• CLOCK TICKING: New England signed free agent linebacker Victor Hobson last week, but the Patriots are still believed to have interest in Panthers restricted free agent Adam Seward. He visited New England last month, but didn't get an immediate offer.

The deadline for RFA offers is Friday, and teams have until the 25th (the day before the draft) to match.

The Panthers would receive New England's fifth-round pick, the 164th overall, as compensation if they didn't match. That's no sure thing, since they have some viable emergency candidates, but no true backup to middle linebacker Jon Beason on the current roster.

• EXTRA POINTS: Not that there's anything wrong with him, but there was nothing unusual about the throwing or the equipment used by quarterback Jake Delhomme last week. There were reports that he had thrown a regulation ball for the first time last Monday, but that happened nearly a month ago. There were also no major shifts in what he was doing.

Next Friday will be the six-month anniversary of his Tommy John surgery (performed Oct. 18, 2007), and by all accounts, he's still on target in his recovery and on schedule to be ready for the regular season opener. ...

Last week's signing of defensive tackle Steve Williams didn't generate much interest, but he's got a decent shot of making the team. He probably would have last year, except the Panthers had some people at his spot who are now gone --after trading Kris Jenkins and letting Kindal Moorehead walk. Williams was initially placed on injured reserve last year at final cuts because of a shoulder problem, but was given a three-week settlement, meaning he wasn't that hurt. He could have come back and played somewhere, but didn't latch on. As what-the-heck roster-fillers go, it was a decent move, giving them a guy who's at least good opposition for a new offensive line in practice. ...

After entering an initial plea of not guilty last week, wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett's trial on drunk driving charges was set for June 23. By that point the Panthers will have finished their minicamp and coaching sessions. The good news for him is he has a chance to make an impression in those workouts that could be as important to his future here as anything that happens at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse.

The Panthers have been willing to give second chances to guys who get arrested, but the added depth at receiver (D.J. Hackett, Muhsin Muhammad) along with plenty of promising wideouts (Ryne Robinson, Jason Carter and even former first-rounder Travis Taylor) make it imperative for Jarrett to have a good spring on the field.

daringantt@carolina.rr.com

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