What hap­pens if 2 top de­fen­sive prospects fall to Carolina at 16?

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Panthers / Nfl - BY JOURDAN RODRIGUE jro­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071, @Jour­danRo­drigue

We talk a lot about what hap­pens as a backup plan if the Carolina Pan­thers miss out on the top guys on their board dur­ing the NFL draft.

But what hap­pens if two of the NFL’s best prospects are both avail­able when Carolina makes its pick at No. 16 next month?

What if those play­ers also fill one of the team’s most im­me­di­ate needs? What if Carolina re­ally, re­ally likes them both?

Sure, it’s un­likely that Mis­sis­sippi State de­fen­sive end Mon­tez Sweat and Clem­son de­fen­sive end Clelin Fer­rell both fall to the Pan­thers in the first round. Heck, both of them might be gone by pick No. 16.

Carolina’s draft board will even­tu­ally be set up on a su­per-grid of sorts, with team needs on one axis and best avail­able play­ers by po­si­tion on the other, as ranked by the coach­ing staff. As play­ers are se­lected by other teams through the draft and names get crossed off, the Pan­thers match the top need on one axis with the top player at that po­si­tion on the other.

It’s all pretty me­chan­i­cal. But there’s an emo­tional as­pect to it, too. Coaches and scouts get a few min­utes each round to ar­gue their pick to and with gen­eral man­ager Marty Hur­ney. That can change things, if the case made for a cer­tain player is com­pelling enough.

And both Sweat and Fer­rell are plenty com­pelling. Both are long, ex­plo­sive and strong. Both have a plethora of great moves in their reper­toire that keep of­fen­sive line­men con­stantly guess­ing. Both can de­fend the run well, and have a pas­sion for the tech­ni­cal points of the po­si­tion.

Both were extraor­di­nar­ily im­pres­sive dur­ing their me­dia ses­sions Sat­ur­day af­ter­noon at the NFL scout­ing com­bine. Sweat was re­laxed, po­lite and thought­ful, while Fer­rell was very open and drew re­porters in con- ver­sa­tion­ally with hu­mor and in­tro­spec­tive anec­dotes.

They both seem like the com­plete pack­age.

So, what if the plan­ets align, Jamie Lee Cur­tis wakes up in­side Lind­say Lo­han’s body or a ge­nie snaps his fin­gers, and both Fer­rell and Sweat are avail­able at No. 16?

What kind of ar­gu­ment might ei­ther side make?

Let’s start with Sweat’s ver­sa­til­ity. Sweat can do just about any­thing up front, whether it’s rush­ing from a three-point stance or as a stand-up rusher, an in­te­rior line­man or off the edge. He can play in a 3-4, a 4-3, and even has ex­pe­ri­ence in a wide-9.

“I’m blessed to know both (a 3-4 and a 4-3),” he laughed. “What­ever team takes me, I’ll be blessed to do that.”

Oh, and when he met with the Pan­thers this week in In­di­anapo­lis, they even dis­cussed drop­ping him back to cover, sort of like what we saw the Pan­thers do with now-re­tired Julius Pep­pers at times. At 6-foot-6 and 252 pounds, Sweat is built like the type of player Carolina wants to find when re­plac­ing Pep­pers.

“Those are some big shoes to fill,” Sweat said. “Julius Pep­pers, soon-tobe gold jacket ... I watch his game a lot, too. That would be a big step­ping stone.”

The ar­gu­ments for the 6-foot-5, 260 pound Fer­rell could also start with his ver­sa­til­ity in a very mul­ti­ple Clem­son front. A staff mem­ber could dis­cuss Fer­rell’s skill against the run, his never-say-die mo­tor on every play, or his cham­pi­onship game ex­pe­ri­ence (Fer­rell helped Clem­son win two na­tional ti­tles).

But that staff mem­ber may also try to call at­ten­tion to some­thing that is ex­tremely im­por­tant in head coach Ron Rivera and Hur­ney’s minds: Lead­er­ship qual­i­ties.

Fer­rell was born into a mil­i­tary fam­ily to a mother who served in Desert Storm, and a fa­ther who served in Viet­nam.

“It was a gift and a curse, for me,” Fer­rell said with a laugh. “They loved the as­pect of in­tegrity. They al­ways de­manded that I did the right things, went about my busi­ness the right way, and did it in a man­ner where I was re­spect­ful.”

Fer­rell, one of nine chil­dren, has held a team­first mind­set since birth — first be­cause of his sib­lings and then be­cause of the fa­mous ca­ma­raderie within Clem­son’s fear­some de­fen­sive front.

But from his fa­ther Cleavester’s pass­ing when Fer­rell was 13, he learned how to lead. His mother, Faye, set the ex­am­ple.

“He was re­ally the rock of my fam­ily. He kept the en­tire fam­ily to­gether,” Fer­rell said. “For me, my mom took on that role of be­ing the fa­ther fig­ure. And it was kind of hard for me be­cause my dad had done that for 13 years al­ready ... I was a lit­tle bit re­bel­lious at first ... I was in a head­wind, so naive. But at the end of the day, my mom did such a great job and that’s some­thing I can never take for granted. She be­came my rock.”

Two phe­nom­e­nal play­ers, who so far seem like per­fect fits for Carolina.

And what if maybe ... just maybe ... their names both hit the box on the big white­board in­side the Pan­ther’s draft day war room at No. 16?

Good luck with that de­ci­sion, Ron and Marty.


De­fen­sive end Mon­tez Sweat, left, has been matched to the Pan­thers by NFL an­a­lysts.

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