After a horrendous start to the season at 2-6, the Carolina Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton started to pick things up and finish the season on a four game winning streak to end the year second in the NFC South division. Expectations for former No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton were high but he suffered a sophomore slump early in the season, derailing the team’s playoff chances.
The Panthers finished a game under .500 at 7-9 which is the same record as every other team in the division not in Atlanta.
Positions of Need
The positions that must be addressed for the Panthers are defensive tackle, cornerback and wide receiver. The edge rushers and linebackers are very stable but Carolina is vulnerable in the middle with no defensive tackle threat. The defense finished the season with 11 interceptions, tied for seventh worst in the league. Cornerbacks accounted for only three of those picks. On offense, wide receiver is the largest need as the team will be searching for a a suitable No. 2 option and eventual replacement for 12-year veteran Steve Smith.
First Round Targets
Fortunately for the Panthers, this particular draft is littered with interior defensive linemen all over the board. Florida’s Sharrif Floyd, Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson and Utah’s Star star Lotulelei are projected to go in the top half of the first round and selecting one of the three would be a significant help to the defense. This draft also contains a plethora of talented defensive backs. Dee Milliner, the concensus No. 1 corner, is likely to be a top five pick so that leaves Carolina with Xavier Rhodes from Florida State. Rhodes is a big and physical corner who also posted the best vertical jump and broad jump at the combine. If the Panthers want to provide quarterback Cam Newton with another weapon in the offense, they could probably have their pick of any wide receiver. Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson would provide them with a big-bodied receiver opposite of Steve Smith.
Teams To Keep An Eye On
Selecting in the middle of the first round could put the team in danger of losing their top targets. Teams of interest that could snatch the Panthers’ top player at defensive tackle include the Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
If the Panthers have a player they feel they must get, they could possibly do so but there are plenty of interior defensive linemen scattered all over the board that the talent differential is minimal. This particular draft lacks star power but makes up for it in depth so teams are likely to be hesitant giving up their assets to trade up. A player like Jonathan Hankins from the Ohio State University could be available in the second round and prove to be a nice consolation prize if they miss out on the top three defensive tackles.
2012: Luke Kuechly, LB
2011: Cam Newton, QB
2010: Pick traded to San Francisco
2009: Pick traded to Philadelphia
2008: Jeff Otah, O