Although Panthers GM Marty Hurney has remained steadfast expressing interest in a quarterback, the way we hear it, the Panthers' decision at the top of the draft will come down to three players — Alabama DT Marcell Dareus, Georgia WR A.J. Green and LSU CB Patrick Peterson.
"Marty wants everyone to believe he is taking a quarterback," said one rival executive. "He would love to get his second-rounder back (traded to the Patriots last year to land Armanti Edwards in the third round). Marty does not like taking quarterbacks in the first round out of principle — there is too much boom or bust. Look at his history — he has been there (nine) years, he has never had a great (quarterback), and he has never done it."
That's not to say he would never in a division with three legitimate passers — Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman. Stanford's Andrew Luck was a slam-dunk selection had he declared early.
If the decision comes down to filling the greatest need, Dareus could get the nod, a welcome addition for defensive-minded head coach Ron Rivera.
"They need inside (defensive line) help. Dareus fills the biggest need," the executive continued. "They need an interior presence to keep the linebackers clean. That is one of their weakest links right now. They have young ends — Charles Johnson has come on. The goofy kid from (Mississippi) (Greg Hardy) has talent. And they moved up for Everette Brown a few years ago. ... Green complements Steve Smith — and his arrow is going down. Peterson is not going to give you the flash production you can see right away."
Character will be weighed heavily.
"The owner (Jerry Richardson) wants clean," said an inside source. "He struggled taking Julius Peppers because of (rumored) issues."
Of the three prospects, Dareus' lack of support structure makes him the riskiest selection. A cornerback has never been drafted first overall in the history of the game. Not since 1996 has a receiver been selected first overall, and some decision-makers around the league scoff at the idea of selecting a player with the top pick who only stands to touch the ball 5-7 times on average throughout a game, as Al Davis partly used to justify his selection of JaMarcus Russell over Calvin Johnson.
Hurney has been very aggressive trading up, as he has done to land Jeff Otah, Brown and Edwards the last three seasons. If the Panthers cannot move the top pick, the odds are favorable that they will still seek to move back into the second round with an eye on quarterbacks. Rivera made the Chargers' defense go with a lot of spare parts and does not need a lot to show considerable improvement defensively.
Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski brings an offense from San Diego that favors big receivers with wide-catching radiuses. To support the development of Jimmy Clausen, a legitimate receiving talent such as Green could make the most immediate impact and would fit very well into Chudzinski's plans, addressing the greatest area of need on offense outside the QB position.
The most ideal scenario for Carolina would be to drop back a few spots and still be able to land Green, while adding a second-round pick that could be used to provide more competition with Clausen, yet not creating the pressure to play right away that comes with selecting a quarterback first overall. If the Panthers are forced to sit still, however, it will not be a surprise if Green becomes the first receiver selected at the top of the draft since Keyshawn Johnson 15 years ago.