Carolina Panthers Draft Needs
Posted by Jimmy Boyd
The Carolina Panthers looked well on their way to a fifth straight season out of the playoffs when they opened 2013 with a 1-3 record over their first 4 games. Needless to say, things quickly changed in their favor. Carolina closed would win 8 straight and 11 of their last 12 overall to win the NFC South with a 12-4 record. The Panthers ended up with the No. 2 seed and a first round bye in the playoffs, but would lose 10-23 at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers.
The focus for the Panthers will not only be getting back to the postseason, but being able to do something when they get there. Carolina’s biggest offseason move wasn’t a free agent signing, it was franchising star defensive end Greg Hardy, who finished 3rd in the league with 15 sacks. The notable additions that were made include veteran safety Roman Harper (Saints), wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (Steelers), tight end Ed Dickson (Ravens), corner Antoine Cason (Cardinals), safety Thomas DeCoud (Falcons) and wide receiver Jason Avant (Eagles).
Carolina did lose their fair share of players during free agency. Starting left tackle Jordan Gross announced his retirement and free agent left guard Travelle Wharton is considering following Gross’s lead. The notable players the Panthers lost include corner Captain Munnerlyn, safety Michael Mitchell, receiver/return specialist Ted Ginn, veteran wide out Steve Smith, and wide out Brandon LaFell. Other free agents who have yet to sign with new teams include safety Quintin Mikell and corner Drayton Florence.
The Panthers will be shifting their attention the NFL Draft, where they will look to upgrade their roster to defend their division title. Carolina has one pick in each of the seven rounds (7th round pick is from Giants) and will select No. 28 overall in the first round. Here’s a quick look at the five positions the Panthers need to target this May.
I don’t think there’s any question that the Panthers top priority going into the draft is to improve their offensive line. The only sure thing on the entire unit is center Ryan Kalil. The biggest need comes at left tackle, where they have to find a replacement for Gross. They also need to look for a potential starter at left guard and could use an upgrade over right guard Nathan Chandler and right tackle Byron Bell. Unfortunately they can’t spend all their picks to address this need and it’s not exactly easy finding a quality left tackle at No. 28 overall. Look for Carolina to take a gamble on either Nevada’s Joel Bitonio or Virginia’s Morgan Moses.
This is arguably just as big as a need as offensive line, but you can’t throw the ball without a front five to protect your quarterback. Carolina gets back tight end Greg Olson, who led the teams in receptions (73) yards (816) and touchdowns (6), but the next three on the list are all gone. Cotchery and Avant were nice additions, but neither is anywhere close to the No. 1 receiver the Panthers are desperate for. The good news is that this is a very deep draft at the wide receiver position, which will allow the Panthers to address this need in either the 2nd or 3rd round (potentially both).
While the Panthers got a quality corner in Cason in free agency, he’s a pretty significant drop off in talent from the departed Munnerlyn. The next three players on the depth chart behind Cason are DeAndre Presley, Melvin White and DeQuan Menzie. If it wasn’t for the massive needs on the offensive line and at receiver, there’s little doubt the Panthers would use their first round pick here. It’s going to be important that Carolina hits on which ever corner they go after.
This isn’t a pressing need and one that I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t draft. Carolina should be able to make due with the trio of Robert Lester, Harper and DeCoud. If the right player falls to them in the later rounds, look for the Panthers to add some more depth to their defensive backfield.
Carolina has two stud linebackers in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, but could do a heck of a lot better than Chase Blackburn on the weak-side. They can probably get away with Blackburn starting again in 2014, but it would be a wise investment to bring in someone who can compete for a starting job.
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