MOBILE, Ala. — It normally takes two or three years to fairly evaluate how successful a draft was, but the early returns on Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettlemans first draft mostly are positive.
Gettleman continued a streak of strong first-round picks for Carolina by drafting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei at 14th overall, and he followed up in the second round with fellow defensive tackle Kawann Short.
The Panthers are treating fourth-round pick Edmund Kugbila like a 2014 pick after he missed all season with a knee injury, and linebacker A.J. Klein exceeded expectations as a fifth-rounder. And outside of the draft, Gettleman and the Panthers scouting and coaching staffs hit on a handful of undrafted free agents.
Gettleman set the bar high for this draft, which could see the Panthers go after an heir to Jordan Gross at left tackle, an understudy to Steve Smith at No. 1 wide receiver and/or help in the defensive backfield.
Gettleman sat down with the Observers Jonathan Jones at the Senior Bowl. In the final part of a three-part Q&A, they discuss Gettlemans draft philosophy and what he plans to do leading to Mays draft.
Q. When you come to something like the Senior Bowl where guys are playing with new teams and some of them out of position, what are you looking for?
A. If its a lower-level guy, you look to see if he steps up. When I was with Denver, John Mobley was a linebacker out of Kutztown (Pa.). When youre a road (scout) and you evaluate a I-AA or Division II kid on down, what you want to do is, first of all, he has to dominate that level. Second of all, you have to close your eyes, and for Kutztown, the closest school is Penn State, so Im watching the film on John and asking myself, can he start at Penn State?
John was a man among boys, so check that box. Yes I could picture him starting at Penn State. Then he got invited to the Blue-Gray game and played well, and then he got invited to the Senior Bowl and he stepped it up again. Now were in draft meetings and youve just watched that Senior Bowl film, and you dont have to guess. Youre looking for a guy to step up, a guy from a (Mid-American) school, what hes going to do against the SEC schools? Thats what youre looking for.
How do they practice? How do they handle the all-star game hoopla? You can tell on the practice field. And then of course, are they going to be able to become pros? Thats not just physically, thats about becoming a professional. Somewhere like where Luke (Kuechly) is. Hes in his second year, and its like hes a 10-year vet.
Q. What are your draft priorities?
A. The purpose until March 11 (and the start of free agency), the whole purpose of this is to put yourself into a position so that when the draft comes, you can take the best player. I cant say it enough. We had the perfect storm this year. The best player on our draft board at the time we drafted in the first two rounds was there.
Ive talked about it with guys around the league, and guys will open up a little bit. There was one team in the top five that it was going to be either Star or the guy they took. But they ended up taking their guy. And then hes dropping and dropping. And the Jets are in front of us, and I said theres no doubt theyre taking Sheldon Richardson. Even if you dont have the inside information, knowing Rex (Ryan), he was perfect. He was versatile, he can do a million different things with him, and thats what Rex does. And it was a great pick for them.
And it took us 40 seconds. Thats my philosophy. And thats what we did up in New York, and thats what were going to do here.
If it doesnt happen, it doesnt happen. But this next time you want to put yourself in the position to take the best player on the board. Because when you get into trouble is when you reach for need. Thats when you get into trouble.
Q. Whats your philosophy on potential No. 1 receivers? They can be found in the draft or free agency, so what do you tend to lean toward?
A. The draft history will tell you that its a tough position to make an immediate impact. In general, the 20-hour rule has really affected the player that we get. Back in the day, and I know you young guys are tired of hearing that, but when there basically were no rules, these kids for the most part came fundamentally sound. And thats not happening now.
There was a wide receiver that got taken in the first round a few years back, he ran three routes in college. And didnt adjust to coverage. He ran to three spots. So just think about what you have to teach that guy. So thats kind of the thing that, depending upon where he went, he was in the spread offense. Another receiver who was taken in the first round that year, a different college, spread offense, he ran the whole route tree. It depends upon what program the kid came out of.
I dont know if wide receiver has had a tougher time, but history will tell you the adjustment isnt easy. (Houstons DeAndre) Hopkins and (San Diegos) Keenan Allen had quality rookie years. You have to go through the full process, and part of that full process is spending time with these kids, finding out what they know, what they dont know. I thought last year that our coaching and scouting staff did a great job post-combine in that part of the process.
And as you know, youre allowed to bring 30 kids in. Youre going to have 3-4 slots open. If theres a late guy theyll spend a day with us and theyll be on the board, theyll spend time with Ron (Rivera) and coaches.
Because the way the league is, the quicker you get your young kids to play, the better youre going to be. So weve got to figure out how quickly this guys going to be able to play.
Q. With the failures at the 1 in the San Francisco game, I know youre a guy who loves his hog mollies. Obviously its bothersome what happened at the 1, but is it something that creates an impetus to focus in on the line in this years draft?
A. Let me say this, you cant. The first goal is to win your division. But really and truly the long view is to design your team to beat the best team youre going to play. You understand? Thats the goal.
Q. You guys have Seattle next year ...
A. (Laughs) Yes we do.
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9