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.
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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 conversationally 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-to-be 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 team-first 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.