I went into the draft thinking I would target Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and Kuechly. Cox was gone before I got on the clock, so I went with Kuechly.
Why? He reminds me a lot of Dan Morgan, who the Panthers drafted in the first round in 2001. Yeah, I know Morgan dealt with injury issues throughout his career. But, when he was on the field, he was a tremendous player. Take away the injuries and Kuechly could be what Morgan never had the chance to become: a Pro Bowl regular. Like Morgan, who was a favorite of general manager Marty Hurney, Kuechly is coming off a very productive college career and is ready to play immediately in the NFL.
I know a lot of people are saying the Panthers don’t need a linebacker because they have Thomas Davis and Jon Beason coming back from injuries. But Davis is coming back from his third ACL injury and there are no guarantees he’ll be the same player he once was. The Panthers can’t afford to go through another season like last year when they were plugging in backups and special-teams players and asking them to start at linebacker.
I did give some thought to taking defensive tackles Dontari Poe, Devon Still and Michael Brockers, but I don’t think they’re as much of a sure thing as Cox. Besides, I think the Panthers are better off at defensive tackle than people give them credit for. They have Ron Edwards coming back from an injury that kept him out all of last season and they’ve got Terrell McClain and Sione Fua returning for their second seasons. I did give a little thought to taking an offensive tackle because the Panthers need to find an heir to Jordan Gross at some point.
But Carolina needs a guy that can help the defense immediately. That’s why Kuechly was the choice.