The first Saturday in May means it is Kentucky Derby time, and that reminds me that there a great similarity between picking thoroughbred horses and football players in the NFL draft. It was never better explained to me than by the excellent horseman Cot Campbell – president of Dogwood Stable in Aiken, S.C.
Campbell fulfills many roles at Dogwood, but one of the most important is “drafting horses” – looking at hundreds of 1-year-old horses and trying to pick out the ones who could grow into big winners.
“It’s like trying to recruit a professional football team by looking at a bunch of 10-year-olds,” Campbell told me once.
General Manager Dave Gettleman does the same thing for the Carolina Panthers now, except the players are more like 21 years old. It is a tough job, and the second-guessing by would-be GMs (i.e., everyone who has ever played fantasy football) is constant.
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It is worth remembering that some draft analysts gave Gettleman a “C-minus” last year for his overall draft (and this rankles him enough that he still brings it up). That 2014 draft turned out to be more like a B-plus, producing a fistful of players who helped Carolina make its unlikely stretch run into the playoffs.
All that is to say that the fact Gettleman “reached” twice in the first two rounds of the 2015 NFL draft – taking linebacker Shaq Thompson in the first round and trading away three picks to move up 16 spots in the second round and grab wide receiver Devin Funchess – is not necessarily bad.
Neither pick met with immediate national approval from the talking heads. But I don’t think either one is an Everette Brown/Armanti Edwards-type misfire.
So the picks weren’t status quo? Guess what – status quo for Carolina is not good enough. Remember, this was an 8-9-1 football team last year, including the playoffs. The Panthers need to think out of the box if they are going to make a leap over Seattle and the other big dogs of the NFC.
Until proven otherwise, I believe that Gettleman has made the Panthers a better team in the 2015 draft. The Panthers are still a long shot for their own version of the Kentucky Derby, but their odds just got a little better.