Carolina Panthers: NFL Combine Provides New Targets For 2014 NFL Draft
Carolina Panthers: NFL Combine Provides New Targets for 2014 NFL Draft
The Panthers outperformed all expectations last season and that was largely due to a dominant defense. They weren't noticeably weak in any area and their linebacking corps was one of the best in football. They could use a little help in the secondary and on the interior defensive line, but it's more about tweaking the defense than undergoing a complete overhaul.
Offensively, there are a few areas of need in Carolina. Quarterback Cam Newton needs more weapons to throw to as Steve Smith is getting older and Brandon LaFell looks more like a solid No. 2 option. Putting more talent in the receiving corps certainly wouldn't hurt and it would move the offense closer in their game of catch up with the defense. In order for them to become elite as a team, the offense needs to be able to consistently put points on the board.
Also, the team needs offensive line help after veteran left tackle Jordan Gross announced he would retire. That may be what the team decides is their biggest area of need. The team has many options in the first round including several talented offensive tackles. Which, if any, the Panthers decide to take could greatly determine the season that the inconsistent Newton has next year. With enough time in the pocket, he should be able to take the next step in his career progression.
As mentioned earlier, the Panthers just have to make tweaks to the defense to ensure they remain as effective as they were in 2013. That should surely include a defensive back and a run stopping nose tackle. If they can add two solid players at those positions, their defense might somehow improve from last season.
Which areas of need the Panthers decide to address in the draft will be interesting to watch. There are plenty of players who should fit into what they want to do offensively and defensively. Here are some options they'll have in the draft that they'll surely consider.
OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama (Round 1)
Picking late in the first round, the Panthers won't be able to snag either Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson to plug in at the left tackle position, but luckily this draft is deep on offensive lineman. Kouandjio might be a top 10 pick in other years when talent is down because he has that much talent. He could step onto the Panthers' offensive line on day one and start the first game of the season if he works hard in camp.
WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State (Round 1)
Benjamin may be the No. 1 receiver that the Panthers need. If they decide to go receiver in the first round, he may be their man. He's extremely physical at 6' 5" and 243 pounds and catches the ball at its highest point. He has all the measurables to be an impact player in the league and his size would create matchup problems on the outside. By the time Steve Smith retired, Benjamin would be more than ready to step into the top receiver spot.
WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State (Round 1)
Another option at receiver for the Panthers is Brandin Cooks. He actually has a very similar play style to Steve Smith in that he's quick and small with good hands. Despite his height, like Smith, he has No. 1 receiver potential because of his hands and route running. He may not develop into an elite receiver right away, but plugging him in and seeing him grow would give the Panthers three solid pieces to work with in Smith, LaFell and Cooks.
DT Will Sutton, Arizona State (Round 2)
Sutton is a force to be reckoned with and will likely be on the board when the Panthers are selecting in the second round. To add defensive line depth and a force up the middle on the defensive line, drafting Sutton certainly would be wise for Carolina. They may decide that the secondary is more important, but if they think that defensive line is a more pressing need then Sutton may be who they take.
CB Keith McGill, Utah (Round 3)
McGill isn't talked about much because he played at Utah, but he's got a lot of potential upside. Carolina may be able to snag him in the third round, which would be a bargain for his potential. He's got some kinks to work out in his game yet, but he could challenge for a job in the secondary and likely contribute in some capacity on special teams in the early going.