CHARLOTTE -- What happens today will be important, but if a draft's going to decide the fortunes of the 2008 Carolina Panthers, it's going to be the one from 2006 or 2007.
Because getting those players on the field and contributing will have much more to do with the success or failures of the Panthers than any of the guys they take today.
The Panthers have plenty of cards on the table, and they're ready to deal. If you want a safe bet, go with the proposition that the Panthers won't leave Sunday with the same 10 picks they walk in with this morning. They've done eight draft-day deals since 2002, and this year seems ripe for more.
But when they pick, they can't let themselves fall in the trap of trying to hit home runs. When you do that, you strike out a lot.
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That's what they can't afford, falling for someone at a position of need who's not poised to be a productive player. Think safe, think about guys you can see definitely not failing rather than guys who might-just-maybe turn into phenomenal players.
That's because they already have two years' worth of potential to tap into now, and it's time for those players to earn the money.
If the Panthers are going to win this season, it's going to be because linebacker Jon Beason takes the next step, taking over not only the defense, but perhaps the locker room.
If the Panthers are going to win this season, it's going to be because running back DeAngelo Williams and defensive end Charles Johnson prove to be ready for bigger roles.
If the Panthers are going to win this season, it's going to be because center Ryan Kalil anchors the middle of the new line.
If the Panthers are going to win this season, it's going to be because cornerback Richard Marshall keeps getting better, because tight ends Jeff King and Dante Rosario prove to be enough, and because they finally get something from guys such as Stanley McClover, Nate Salley, Dwayne Jarrett and Ryne Robinson.
Of course, getting quarterback Jake Delhomme -- not Matt Ryan -- back in the huddle's going to help, too.
The potential's there. This week's about adding parts.
They still need a tackle, even with the half-ton of free agent guards they signed on the cheap. If it were me, he'd come in the first round, because that's where you find the good ones.
They still need a running back, because this bunch has already witnessed what happens when you run out of them at the wrong times. If it were me, he'd come later, because there are enough to go around this year.
They still need three or four defensive linemen, because they're down on numbers and need some young ones to bring along. If it were me, I'd start in the second round and keep going, because you can't wait too long.
What they don't need is the false pressure that comes with faulty perceptions.
The notion that general manager Marty Hurney and coach John Fox are drafting for their lives this afternoon is as stilted as it is silly, and comes from the folks who assumed they were getting fired last year, even though the owner told them otherwise before the season ended.
But to watch them work, you'd never know that's not the assumption under which they're working.
Fox was out as much as usual, but Hurney was the one putting rubber on the road, making the trips, talking to the prospects, getting a feel for what's happening today.
Although he'd deny it or its importance, the unspoken message is two-fold and clear -- they're going to make sure they're ready, and don't let the boss out-work you.
"I just feel like if I can get out there, it's one more person to help," Hurney said with the first of a hundred shrugs, trying to downplay the significance of it all. "It's not a big deal that I'm out there, I just felt like going out. It helps get a feel for the overall process.
"Really, it goes back to constantly evaluating how you do things. When it comes to draft day, John and I are the ones who make the final decisions, so anything you can do to get a better feel helps you. It has nothing to do with the scouts, they do a great job. You don't have to do that with these guys. Every one of us is in here because we're competitive people. Everybody involved in the process has done a terrific job."
That's fine, but the message has filtered down the chain of command.
"They can say it's not that different," one staffer said this spring. "But it's different."
With the boss out doing the legwork, everyone up and down the organization knows things are more important this time of year.
But it's not because jobs hinge on what happens this weekend.
The pressure comes from that for whatever reason, the Panthers have come up short the last two seasons. They've stacked 7-9 on top of 8-8, and that's not acceptable to anyone.
Fixing that's not going to have all that much to do with today, no matter what.
But getting things turned around might have everything to do with the last two drafts, and how well they did then.
Be sure to visit Herald reporter Darin Gantt's Panthers blog throughout the day for draft updates at community.heraldonline.com
• What: 2008 NFL Draft
• When: Starts at 3 p.m. today
• TV: ESPN (cable channel 25 in Rock Hill)
• What the Panthers have: Ten picks, with one in each of the seven rounds, plus an extra third-rounder and two extra seventh-rounders. They hold the 13th, 43rd, 67th, 74th, 109th, 141st, 181st, 221st, 241st and 250th selections.
• What they need: Lots of stuff, but primarily, they could use starting-caliber help at OT, DT, RB and DE.
• What's new this year: The later start. They're only going two rounds today, and the time's getting compressed -- 10 minutes per pick in the first round, seven in the second. For the third through seventh on Sunday, teams get five minutes per pick.
• What to expect: The Panthers to move around. They've done eight draft-day deals since 2002, and this year figures to be ripe for trades, more so than past years.
2008 NFL DRAFT ORDER
2. St. Louis
5. Kansas City
6. New York Jets
7. New England (from S.F.)
10. New Orleans
17. Kansas City (from Minn.)
20. Tampa Bay
22. Dallas (from Cleveland)
27. San Diego
29. San Francisco (from Ind.)
30. Green Bay
31. New York Giants
• Note: New England's own selection was taken away by Commissioner Roger Goodell for spying against the New York Jets.