Toughest decision


There's no clear answer in No. 1 spot

Jr. By Mel Kiper Jr.

There's a reason the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft is seen as a great opportunity that nobody should ever want. For the Carolina Panthers, that old adage became very clear Jan. 6. That's when Andrew Luck announced that he'd return to Stanford for another season. Since that time, there hasn't been any consensus on who should be the No. 1 pick, and there won't be before Thursday, when commissioner Roger Goodell announces whom the Panthers have drafted.

And it's not merely the players available. There are politics, systems, trade possibilities and organizational priorities. Add it all up and you have the toughest pick on the board.

Consider some of the questions the Panthers face:

• They have a new coach, and new coaches often can come with a new direction at quarterback, but Carolina general manager Marty Hurney was high on Jimmy Clausen, and still is. If you draft a quarterback, do you pull the plug on Clausen while he's still so young?

• If you draft Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert and turn over a new leaf at QB, do you find a veteran to start in 2011 or risk running a rookie out there and picking No. 1 again next year?

• New head coach Ron Rivera is a defense guy. Do you let him target the best option for his system as a boost to what he's trying to accomplish early?

• If you decide to stick with Clausen, do you give him a legit target and get WR A.J. Green?

• If it's a defensive player, which one will it be? DT Marcell Dareus fits the system, but CB Patrick Peterson is the best player on the board. There are several defensive players who could conceivably be considered No. 1 pick options.

You could ask at least a handful of other questions on who to pick, which leads me to believe the best option for Carolina is avoiding the pick altogether. That's right -- trade down and get out of the slot. Of course, that leads to a final question that drives home the point:

If you trade down, minus a collective bargaining agreement, do you have any sense of cost certainty? What are these picks truly worth? Carolina can't know for certain, which is what makes this so hard.

Mel Kiper has been the premier name in NFL draft prospect evaluations for more than three decades. He started putting out his annual draft guides in 1978, and started contributing to ESPN as an analyst in 1984. For more from Mel, check out his annual draft publications or his ESPN home page. He can also be found on Twitter here.

Bengals in an unenviable position

McShay By Todd McShay
Scouts Inc.

It would be easy to say the Carolina Panthers have the toughest decision to make given their needs and the options available with the No. 1 pick, but they don't face the pressure of waiting around on draft day to see who will be available. They've been on the clock for months and don't have to worry about what a handful of other teams might do.

So assuming QB Cam Newton (to Carolina), DT Marcell Dareus (Denver) and OLB Von Miller (Buffalo) come off the board in the top three, the Cincinnati Bengals will be in the toughest spot in the top 10, and it all starts with QB Carson Palmer.

Palmer has demanded a trade and indicated he will retire rather than play another down in Cincinnati, so that would seem to put Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert in the mix.

However, the Bengals not only have to decide whether Gabbert is a good fit in offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's version of the West Coast offense; they also have to consider the fact that taking a quarterback in the first round would rob them of any leverage in possible trade talks for Palmer once the NFL lockout is over.

There's also a good chance that Cincinnati will end up parting ways with Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, making wide receiver another major need area, and they probably will have the option of picking Georgia WR A.J. Green at No. 4.

Some teams rate Green as the No. 1 overall player on the board, and although receiver does not have the same positional value as quarterback, Green is an elite talent, and Gabbert ranks in the second tier in this draft class.

But adding add even more uncertainty to the mix is the fact that Green is not a great blocker, and the Bengals' offense requires better blocking from its wideouts than most others in the NFL. That means Alabama's Julio Jones, the best blocking receiver in the class, could be a better fit despite ranking behind Green in terms of receiving skills and overall grade.

Does Cincinnati address the most important position on the field, fill a big need with an elite talent or take the best fit for its scheme? It's a tough call, and one I'm glad I don't have to make.

Todd McShay is the director of college scouting for Scouts Inc. He has been evaluating prospects for the NFL draft since 1998. Follow McShay on Twitter: @McShay13