There’s two decisive needs for the Carolina Panthers and general manager Dave Gettleman as they head into the 2014 NFL Draft: offensive line and wide receiver. Though I am giving the offensive line a slight nod, which is why I chose Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio with the 28th overall selection.
Carolina’s offensive line improving stupendously from 2012 to 2013, despite the slow start in the past season, allowing 37 sacks, good for 21st in the NFL. Yet, it will take a hit with the retirement of cornerstone left tackle Jordan Gross. The likely in-house for Gross’s replacement is 2011 un-drafted free agent Byron Bell, but his level of play does not validate the move to the offensive line’s most-prized position. His footwork is poor and his lack of mobility is exploited against faster ends off the edge, but Kouandjio is torn off a different cloth.
Sure, the knee is a big-time issue, maybe even too big of a red flag for others to tab him at No.28, but when Dr. James Andrews speaks, I listen. And he gave the 6-foot-6, 311 pound’er his medical blessing, which suffices for me. Plus, he struggled during his last season in Tuscaloosa, at least compared to the expectations that we set for him as he headed into his junior campaign, including a rough performance in the 2014 Sugar Bowl against the Oklahoma Sooners.
Rest assured, I still believe that Kouandjio is going to be a solid addition to Carolina’s offensive line. For one, he has the prototypical size for an NFL offensive lineman and the brute strength to go along with it. Not to mention, he has a great first step on run plays, as he engages and continuously drives opposing defenders into the second level. The run game is where he shines by and large, and I am more than confident that offensive coordinator Mike Shula will call up way more running plays than passing plays in ’14. In particular, his performance against the Auburn Tigers cements that his run blocking is superior, a huge contributor to the Tide’s 218 rushing yards.
His isn’t particularly strong in pass coverage simply because he gets beat off the far edge far too often. His footwork is good for the first couple seconds of the play, but they collapse at the last second. The burning reason why the selection of Kouandjio is validated: he has the potential to succeed at the next level, which should be the driving force of every NFL draft pick.