With the NFL Draft approaching, we’re taking a team-by-team look at the needs of each club. Up next is the one with the No. 28 overall selection, the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have one choice in each round, and with a salary cap situation that is still top-heavy, they need multiple contributors from this draft.
Offensive tackle: Despite the fixation on what was left behind after the release of wide receiver Steve Smith (more on that later), the Panthers are actually thinner in the middle of the offense than they are on the perimeter.
When stalwart left tackle Jordan Gross retired, it left them with a bunch of bad options, the worst perhaps being moving right tackle Byron Bell (who was overmatched on the other side). But other than praying that a converted defensive tackle (Nate Chandler) can be a reliable starter, they don’t have any other options on the current roster, so they might have to cross their fingers and pray Cam Newton is still mobile at the end of the season.
They did a bit of sniffing around in free agency, and put in an offer for Anthony Collins before he signed with the Buccaneers. There’s not a starting-caliber left tackle on the market at the moment, and picking 28th might be too low to find one either. But if there’s not, they might be best-served holding their nose with Bell for a year and drafting an upgrade at right tackle, which wouldn’t be hard to find.
Defensive end: Stick with me here, and this was the case even before backup Frank Alexander’s four-game suspension.
Even though they have as good a pair of starters as any team in the league, the Panthers are also devoting more than 20 percent of their salary cap to Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. That’s not long-term sustainable, and the kind of situation that could cripple a team if one of them is injured.
While Johnson is vastly overpaid, he’s at least consistently productive (44.0 sacks the last four seasons). Franchise-tagged Hardy is more explosive, but he’s only there for another year, and there’s a reasonable concern about giving the former sixth-rounder a gigantic long-term deal.
The Panthers need some cover for future years and depth for the short-term, so if the right guy is there in the first two rounds, you can’t discount them looking to keep a strength strong.
Wide receiver: Sure, it’s an issue.
But free agent pick-ups Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood are better able to get them through a game than what they’ve got at tackle.
The Panthers have a few kids they like at the position (such as Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt), but it’s clear they’re going to dip into one of the draft’s deepest positions, perhaps twice. It’s hard to imagine they’ll get through Friday without taking at least one.
Cornerback: Much like their receiving corps, there’s not much of not there.
But they proved last year they could get by with scraps in the secondary because of the strength of their defensive front seven.
They brought in veteran Antoine Cason, who has played well for Ron Rivera before. Otherwise, it’s more of the fill-ins from last year, minus the departed Captain Munnerlyn (Vikings) and Drayton Florence (unsigned). It’s not a good group, personnel wise. But it doesn’t have to be great for the Panthers to be effective.