The Carolina Panthers were one of those teams in 2011 whose record (6-10) may not have been indicative of how well they played.  In six of their ten losses, the Panthers lost by just one score.  Sitting at 2-8 by Week 11, they went 4-2 in their last six games, seemingly getting progressively better and more confident as the season wore on.  As most people would agree, defense for the Panthers was far greater a liability than was the offense.  With Rob Chudzinski's exciting new scheme and Cam Newton pulling the trigger, Carolina went from an abysmal last-place offense in 2010 to one of the most explosive, dynamic attacks in the NFL.  If they can find a way to spark a similar turnaround on the other side of the ball, the Panthers could be poised for big things in 2012. 

While many believe that Carolina has several dire positional needs on defense, the simple return of multiple defensive starters from season-ending injury like Ron Edwards, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis should have a huge impact.  National media consensus seems to have the Panthers locked in on a defensive lineman with the 9th overall pick in the 2012 Draft, but that doesn't necessarily reflect the sentiment of Ron Rivera, nor GM Marty Hurney's overall draft philosophy, which has always been very much about overall value,  BPA (Best Player Available), and generally building the core of the team through the draft.  With that being said, it is almost certain that the team will look to invest in an impact player somewhere on the defense.

Two prospects in the top-10 stand out as players that Carolina should not hesitate to take with the 9th overall pick.  The first is a bit unlikely, but should Morris Claiborne fortuitously slip to nine he would not only be a great value, but would provide the team with an heir-apparent to Chris Gamble and some long-term stability at the cornerback position.  The other no-brainer for the Panthers is Melvin Ingram.  His recent surge up many draft boards may put him out of reach, but the Hamlet, NC native would instantly upgrade both the pass-rush and scheme versatility that Ron Rivera would love to have at his disposal.  One more prospect that is worth serious consideration for selection with the 9th pick is Quinton Coples.  The questions about his effort and consistency are legitimate, but should Rivera and company find the answers they are looking for (a la Cam Newton in 2011), Coples would easily be worth the pick from a talent viewpoint. 

All three of these players could very well be gone by the time the Panthers get on the clock.  Claiborne could be a top-5 selection, while the Dolphins, Jaguars, and even the Rams have reason to move on both Coples and Ingram.  Should this be the scenario, Carolina ought to look seriously at trading down.  As they have no third-round pick due to the trade for Greg Olsen last year, a swap with a team like the Eagles who have two second-rounders could be in order.  Sliding to the fifteenth pick, the Panthers would feel much better about selecting a Dontari Poe, Fletcher Cox, Janoris Jenkins, Dre Kirkpatrick, or Courtney Upshaw.  Whatever direction they choose to go, Carolina has had much success in recent history with first-round draft selections (See list below).  There is little reason not to believe they will manage to do the same in 2012..

2007: 25th overall selection- Jon Beason, LB, Miami

2008: 13th overall selection- Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon
2008: 19th overall selection- Jeff Otah, T, Pitt

2009: No first-round pick

2010: No first-round pick

2011: 1st overall selection- Cam Newton, QB, Auburn