Ever since the off-season began, the Carolina Panthers have been in great need of a right tackle that can step in and contribute immediately. The position was not a strong point last year, and team officials have been patiently looking for a player who can fill the role. With the draft right around the corner, it seems the team will look to find their man with the #9 overall pick.
Most experts assume the Panthers' front office will select offensive tackle Jordan Gross, an All-American from Utah. Although this may be the likely pick and it certainly fits the bill, some suggest the team take a hard look at Kwame Harris of Stanford.
Harris is another offensive tackle who dominated the college level and is projected as a first round pick. He declared for this year's draft as a junior and a number of people believe he has more potential than Gross. Because of the magnitude of the pick, it is imperative the Panthers' chose the best tackle available.
What follows is a head to head breakdown:
Jordan Gross, Utah (6-4, 300)
40-yard dash time: 5.02 seconds
225 lb. bench press: 28 repetitions
Vertical jump: 31 ½ inches
Wonderlic: 40 points
Gross played impressively his senior season and most regard him as the number one prospect at his position. He destroyed his competition in the Mountain West conference and was consistently dominant. Gross has been a steady starter since his freshman year and was recently a finalist for the Outland Trophy (awarded to the best collegiate lineman) this past season.
Pass blocking – Gross has excellent balance (he studies martial arts) and is a master technician. He uses his long arms and hands as well as anyone in this draft class. His upper body strength is very impressive and he benches nearly 400 pounds. Speed rushers have given Gross trouble at times, and it's uncertain how he will fare against top level competition due to the relatively weak players he faced at Utah. He bends his knees well and uses outstanding footwork for his great lateral movement.
Run blocking – Is an above average player in this area. Drives his hips well and has the ability to pancake blockers. Despite this, he is not a dominating run mauler who will bulldoze anything in his path. However, he is mobile enough to attack defenders on the second level and does an efficient job of sealing off his man. Several scouts are concerned about Gross' lack of mass in his lower body, and are worried this may hinder both his base and run blocking strength.
Final analysis – Gross is a fantastic player who has the ability and mindset to succeed in the NFL. He is very intelligent and works hard on and off the field. Although he lacks the phenomenal natural talent of recent #1 offensive tackles, Gross give his complete effort and gets the most out of his skills. He has few weaknesses and is arguably the most complete tackle in this year's draft. Should the Panthers choose Gross, few would question the selection.
Kwame Harris (6-7, 310)
40-yard dash time: 5.21 seconds
225 lb. bench press: N/A
Vertical jump: 35 ½ inches
Wonderlic: 30 points
Harris was heavily recruited as a prep star and shocked observers when he chose Stanford over the many higher-profile schools who recruited him. He has been a force in the Pac-10 ever since his freshman year and was just named All-Pac-10 this past season. Harris plays in a predominantly passing conference and has steadily improved at this part of his game each year.
Pass blocking – Has his troubles with quick defensive ends that attack the edge. With more work on his footwork and technique, Harris could be much better at this aspect. He tends to play high at times, which negates his strength and undermines his leverage. He has uses his hands well and is rarely moved when he squarely grabs hold of an opponent. Harris has a long frame and his impressive wingspan helps force speed rushers to the outside.
Run blocking – Can be absolutely dominating. Harris engulfs smaller defensive ends and has the strength to plow through any defender. In a small area, Harris will control his man and make him a non-factor in the play. He has extraordinary athleticism and moves smoothly for such a tall and massive lineman. He finishes his blocks well and has the potential to be even more dominating once he refines his technique. Harris can get caught out of position when he has to reach out towards moving defenders and is not nearly as powerful when blocking on the run.
Final analysis – Harris has the great size, talent, and athletic ability to be an incredible player at the next level. He is very young and is rather unpolished at this point, but shows a strong willingness to learn. With the proper coaching, there is no telling how good Harris could be. He has a strong body and is much quicker than most players with his bulk. Although he hasn't shown the consistency or technique of Gross throughout his career, Harris is such a physical specimen that his potential may outweigh any negatives.
Both Gross and Harris present interesting dilemmas. Gross is the refined senior player who maximizes his ability, but doesn't have the natural talent that many of the league's better tackles possess. Harris is the raw junior who gets by on his immense athletic talent, and has the potential to be the best tackle selected in the draft. Either player would be an excellent pick and can contribute immediately. Although Harris' physical tools are amazing, the Panthers seem content to pick the more savvy and developed player - Gross. Jordan Gross should step in the vacant right tackle position and solidify the offensive line for years to come.