Panthers' 5 Biggest Needs Heading Into The 2014 NFL Draft
Due to salary cap offenses committed by former GM Marty Hurney, the team was forced to sit through a painful free agency process. In free agency, they lost their top four leading wide receivers from 2013, their best cornerback, best safety and the man who protects Cam Newton's blindside. They also lost their best guard. These are the five positions that were strengths in 2013 but now become their biggest needs heading into the 2014 NFL Draft.
Often lost in the shuffle that was the Panthers 2014 free agency is that they are likely to lose their second-best offensive lineman to retirement. Left guard Travelle Wharton is still debating his future and is leaning towards retiring at the moment. This is a shame for a team that already lost their left tackle, Jordan Gross. Wharton isn't just any guard, and according to Pro Football Focus, he was one of the 10 best guards in 2013.
Losing safety Mike Mitchell in free agency to the Steelers was a major blow to the Panthers' secondary. Because his breakout season coincided with the emergence of the Panthers' dominant front seven, many have speculated that Mitchell might not be as good as his stats were in 2013. This debate is difficult to settle, but Mitchell's production was clear cut. He racked up 50 solo tackles, 3.5 sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles.
The Panthers lost Captain Munnerlyn in free agency. He was not only their best cornerback but also one of the best playmaking cornerbacks in the NFL. Over the last two seasons, he had scored five touchdowns off of turnovers. He also has 5.5 sacks in his career. The Panthers will need to replace that production in the draft, because adding CB Antoine Cason should only help them in nickel packages and on special teams. He is not a plus starter.
Although the Panthers managed to add several veteran wide receivers late in free agency, their current depth chart leaves a lot to be desired. Expecting Jerricho Cotchery, Tiquan Underwood and Jason Avant to help Cam Newton move the ball consistently is not a recipe for success. These three players can be productive, but in order for Newton to make that jump he needs a playmaker at the position. And this is the perfect draft to find one.
Left tackle Jordan Gross retired this offseason, coming off another year where he finished as a Top 10 overall tackle according to Pro Football Focus. He left a major hole on the Panthers' roster, and while everyone is worried about who Newton is going to throw to, they should be worried about who is going to protect him. Currently, the Panthers have last year's RT Byron Bell penciled in at left tackle, although he has never played there before.