In My Opinion

Sorensen: I wanted Austin, but Panthers fill a big hole

April 26, 2013 

I’d be lying if I said defensive tackle Star Lotulelei of Utah is the player I hoped Carolina would draft.

I wanted Tavon Austin, the wide receiver out of West Virginia. I had hoped for a fast and elusive counterpart and complement to Steve Smith.

I wrote Monday that the Panthers should draft Austin. At that juncture, NFL people whose resume’s I trust anticipated he’d go No. 16 to St. Louis. But the longer the week went, the more popular Austin became. The New York Jets probably would have selected him with the ninth pick. But St. Louis traded with Buffalo and jumped up and took Austin eighth.

Would the Panthers have selected him if he had somehow trickled down? Dave Gettleman, Carolina’s first-year general manager, says the Panthers considered drafting offense as well as defense.

But defensive tackle is a bigger need than wide receiver. The Panthers need a big man on the defensive line. Austin is 5-foot-8, 174 pounds, Lotulelei 6-3, 311 pounds. Austin is a town. Lotulelei is a state.

The Jets had a second first-round pick, directly in front of Carolina. They invested it on the first defensive tackle who was taken, Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson.

As they did, maybe you heard the cheers from the Carolina war room. A team gets 10 minutes to make a first-round pick. Gettleman required a minute and a half.

Gettleman is 61 and he joined the NFL in 1986. This is his first gig as general manager so he’s been waiting 27 years to make the pick. Why wait longer?

He tells the media that when you meet your wife you know right away. He knew with Lotulelei.

The cheers you heard around town probably came from the Panthers linebackers. If Lotulelei is the player Carolina anticipates, he will attract frequent double teams. He’ll occupy blockers and space and the linebackers will free to attack, defend and disrupt.

You’ve seen tape of Lotulelei. He is powerful and thick, especially in the upper body. He’s an athlete. He has a fine first step.

“It really starts with size and power,” Gettleman says.

Gettleman was interesting Thursday. Charlotte doesn’t know him yet. This was his first major act as general manager, and he looked thrilled, although general managers tend to be with the picks they make.

Like his predecessor, Marty Hurney, Gettleman is without pretension. He’s a regular guy, fiddling with his glasses, talking about Lotulelei’s “ticker,” seemingly enjoying his time on stage Thursday without making a big deal out of it.

Next to him behind the table on the stage was Panthers coach Ron Rivera. When the media would ask a question of the coach, Gettleman would look around the room, appearing content and happy.

It’s a big deal, to be one of 32 men in the NFL entrusted to make a draft pick.

We won’t know for a season, at least, if Gettleman made the right one.

But with Austin off the board, he appears to be off to a nice start.


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