Carolina Panthers Needs: Pre-Draft
As their strategy has been ever since general manager Dave Gettleman grabbed the front office reins in 2013, the Carolina Panthers will be zeroing in on the best available players in the upcoming draft’s early rounds. We’ve seen that approach in effect this last April with the selection of linebacker Shaq Thompson and two years ago with defensive end Kony Ealy. Essentially, it’s a value over need philosophy that has helped kickstart this franchise into an NFL juggernaut.
There has, though, been a few early picks by Carolina—most notably wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short—where their perceived value of a prospect met a glaring need. Can another perfect storm or two occur again during this year’s draft for the Panthers? If so, here are a few areas of need for the defending NFC champions as they look to amp up their roster in two weeks:
The Roman Harper Experiment was an overall success for the Panthers. Despite a few blown assignments here and there, the silver fox exceeded expectations on his two-year, $4.5 million deal and served as a healthy veteran influence on a largely young secondary. But with the Panthers having voided Harper’s contract in February and moving on without him, there are some questions at the strong safety position for Carolina.
Tre Boston, a fourth-round steal of Gettleman’s back in 2014, took a noticeable stride from his rookie campaign to his sophomore year and is likely to start come September. The Panthers, however, can make his situation a tad more interesting if Karl Joseph (West Virginia), Keanu Neal (Florida), Vonn Bell (Ohio State) or Jeremy Cash (Duke) is on their early radar.
Offensive Line Depth
Contrary to popular belief, Carolina’s starting offensive tackles were far from awful this past season. In fact, both Michael Oher and Mike Remmers were quite serviceable throughout the entire year even despite a nightmarish Super Bowl. The reality is that the 2015 Denver Broncos defense, one of the greatest units in league history, were a just a special case and had them thoroughly beat on that given Sunday. The “Blind Side” star and Porkchop (as his quarterback dubbed him) were solid fits in this particular offense’s scheme.
Can the Panthers, however, improve on the edges? They certainly can.
Perhaps they continue with the duo, or even second-year lineman Daryl Williams, after scooping up some mid to late-round depth. Or maybe they get lucky and see a possible day one starter such as Ohio State’s Taylor Decker or Indiana’s Jason Spriggs fall to them at the 30th overall pick. Either way, adding some extra beef to help protect the reigning MVP Cam Newton should be on the team’s to-do list.
Speaking of helping out Newton, the Panthers are once again in the market for a wide receiver. The front office has already spent high picks on Benjamin and Devin Funchess over the past few drafts, giving their quarterback two absolute trees to chuck the ball up to. This time around, Carolina is looking for a creator of sorts.
As mentioned in the earlier installment of this series, Mike Shula and Ricky Proehl’s pass catchers ranked 25th in average yards after the reception (4.97) during the 2015 season. And as evidenced by their lack of separation against that daunting Denver secondary in Super Bowl 50, the Panthers need an explosive playmaker that can gain his own separation and help bring about a much needed dimension to what was already the NFL’s highest scoring offense.
If it’s a sooner-than-lately scenario, look for Corey Coleman (Baylor) and Sterling Shepard (Oklahoma) as possibilities in the first round. Second to fourth-round options like Braxton Miller (Ohio State), Rashard Higgins (Colorado State) and Keyarris Garrett (Tulsa) could also be in play.