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NFL Carolina Panthers

5 NFL Draft Prospects Who Can Be Instant Starters For The Carolina Panthers

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5 NFL Draft Prospects Who Can Immediately Start For The Panthers

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers made great strides in 2013, but came up just short. No, I am not making a pun about the two times they were stopped from scoring a touchdown at the goal line against the San Francisco 49ers. It was obvious for any NFL fan to decipher where they came up short: playmakers on offense and in the secondary on defense.

When you consider the Panthers' salary cap situation and their fluctuation of unrestricted free agents, their team needs can change abruptly and predicting them can get tricky. The Panthers only have an estimated $16 million in salary cap space, while 21 players on the 2013 roster are set to become unrestricted free agents. Of those 21, four include major contributors such as, Greg Hardy, Captain Munneryn, Ted Ginn Jr and Graham Gano. We haven’t even addressed the potential need at left tackle either, in the case that Jordan Gross decides to retire.

Luckily for the Panthers, the 2014 NFL Draft is stocked with playmakers at the skill positions. There is also a solid crop of safeties and cornerbacks who have declared and are being billed as ready to play from Day 1. Defensive ends and left tackles are more of a risk where the Panthers select, and these positions have a higher concentration of developmental prospects. The Panthers can use the draft to immediately upgrade the two needs that stood out the most in their playoff loss.

More specifically, with the Panthers first-round selection, they will have a wide variety of wide receivers to choose from. At their pick, they are likely to have available a big, outside wide receiver who can replace and serve as an upgrade to free agent Brandon Lafell. On the other hand, there is likely to be a speed demon and threat in the return game at the position that can replace Tedd Ginn Jr. This should leave the Panthers with a flexible approach to the free agency period that comes before the draft.

Upgrading through the draft at the skill positions is not limited to just wide receiver. There are a few prospects who can come in from Day 1 and allow offensive coordinator Mike Shula to be more multiple in his formations. By adding a tight end, for example, Shula will have the opportunity to use more “12” personnel featuring two tight ends.

At cornerback and safety, things are more cut and dry. The Panthers can pinpoint the right player who can fit the defensive scheme. The scheme, as you already know, requires physical cornerbacks who thrive in press-man coverage and safeties who aren’t afraid to blitz or stick their head down in the box.

The following are five prospects who I think could start for the Panthers immediately in 2014.

Dan Schneier is a New York Giants writer for Follow him on Twitter @pff_dansc, “Like” him on Facebook, or add him to your network through Google.

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5. Eric Ebron

Ebron Panthers Draft
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Ebron does not have the size of your typical tight end, but he is certainly a willing blocker already and his recent comments suggest that he plans to put on weight before the draft. This is great news for the team that drafts him, because he is already a threat in the passing game. Ebron possesses a great ability to make difficult catches and some wiggle after the catch. Drafting Ebron will allow the Panthers to run more “12” personnel, better known as a two tight end set.

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4. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

Clinton-Dix Panthers Draft
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Fellow prospect at safety, Calvin Pryor has been ascending draft boards as of late, which has in turn dropped Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. This of course is great news for the Panthers, who have a late-round pick in Round 1. Clinton-Dix is a much better fit for the defensive scheme that the Panthers run than Pryor is. In fact, he is close to a perfect fit. He has the natural cover skills and the size to play the slot against shifty wide receivers or tight ends and he can be used at cornerback as well. The Panthers' system and lack of depth in the secondary might require all of that just in 2014.

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3. Darqueeze Dennard

Dennard Panthers Draft
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Those who are already downgrading Darqueeze Dennard simply haven’t watched enough college football. I expect his stock to tumble even further once his official 40 time is posted. Dennard has the size, strength and technique to be an excellent cornerback in any scheme. More specifically, he is the perfect fit for the Panthers' scheme, which requires cornerbacks to excel in press-man coverage and to be willing and able tacklers. Dennard possesses both of those traits.

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2. Kelvin Benjamin

Benjamin Panthers Draft
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Kelvin Benjamin provides the Panthers with a new target for Cam Newton. He can step right in and take over Brandon LaFell’s role as an outside wide receiver. At 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, it should not take long for him to become a better blocker than LaFell was. Right away, he will be a better threat in the passing game, especially in the red zone.

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1. Odell Beckham Jr.

Beckham Jr. Panthers Draft
Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Odell Beckham Jr. can come in right away and produce just as many, if not more, game-changing plays than Ted Ginn created in 2013. Beckham Jr., like Ginn, is a dynamic threat in the return game. However, he also offers plenty of more potential, already realized and also to come, in the passing game as a receiver. He possesses the speed, quickness and lateral agility that can compare with any prospect in the entire draft. He is also already a great route runner. I see him as a more polished version of TY Hilton.