CHARLOTTE — Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman sat in draft rooms for 26 years as a scout and, later, as a pro personnel director.
But next week will be the first draft that Gettleman completely oversees, and he made it clear Thursday who will be running the room.
I've got final say, Gettleman said.
Gettleman praised the leg work done by college scouting director Don Gregory and the rest of the Panthers' scouts. All will have input when the NFL draft begins April 25.
But after a relatively quiet free agency period because of the team's salary cap position, the draft will be the first major opportunity for Gettleman to put his stamp on the organization he joined in January.
Gettleman has pulled a lot of long days and nights preparing. A team official who showed up at Bank of America Stadium last Saturday found Gettleman in the midst of a 12-hour day.
Believe me, Ive looked at a ton of tape, Gettleman said Thursday during a pre-draft press conference. Its just a matter of I have more work to do for my own. Im going to go with my instincts, with who I feel is going to make us better.
Though Gettleman did not talk about any specific draft prospects, he provided several clues as to which direction the Panthers might head.
Gettleman said he thinks the best and deepest positions in the draft are defensive line, secondary and offensive line, which are three groups that most observers believe are a position of need for the Panthers.
Let's just say I'm not angry, Gettleman said with a wry smile.
True to his New York Giants' background, Gettleman is a fan of what he called hog mollies by definition, a North American freshwater fish, but in this case a reference to big offensive and defensive linemen, whom Gettleman views as vital to an NFL team's success.
The Giants became known for drafting defensive ends over the past eight years even when they were well stocked at the position.
Big men allow you to compete. So we're certainly going to look at the big hog mollies, Gettleman said. We have an interest in those guys. Those big guys are line-of-scrimmage changers.
While Carolina re-signed defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, the Panthers need a nose tackle after cutting veteran Ron Edwards. Along the offensive line, they might be looking for a successor to left tackle Jordan Gross, whose restructured deal requires him to take a pay cut and voids after this season.
But the Panthers also have needs in their secondary. They cut top cornerback Chris Gamble (who later retired) in a cap-related move and are looking for a safety to start alongside Charles Godfrey after Haruki Nakamura failed to hold down the spot in 2012.
The Panthers were ready to draft Alabama safety Mark Barron with the ninth overall pick in 2012 before Tampa Bay took him seventh.
Its certainly a consideration, Im not going to say its not, Gettleman said. If theres a great (defensive back) staring us in the kisser, were gonna take him.
Carolina has five picks, having traded its third-rounder to San Francisco last year to take defensive end Frank Alexander in the fourth round. The Panthers sent their seventh-rounder to Oakland for wide receiver Louis Murphy, now with the Giants.
Gettleman indicated he would be interested in trading down from 14th in the first round to acquire additional picks. But he said he would so with caution.
You've got to be careful because you can talk yourself out of a really good player, he said. I've watched teams drop from the top 10 to (No.) 15 to the bottom of the first (round) to the top of the second. For what? Do you want a dollar or do you want three dimes? I don't know, I'd take a buck.
Gentleman said a team can have a successful draft despite a small collection of picks. He pointed to 2005, when the Giants had only four picks after trading two to San Diego the previous year to acquire Eli Manning.
The Giants found three starters among those four picks: cornerback Corey Webster, defensive end Justin Tuck and running back Brandon Jacobs.
In the dream world, theres no reason to believe we cant get starters in the first two rounds, Gettleman said. Theres no reason that the (fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-round picks) cant contribute in some way, shape or form.