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ESPN.com --- Steve Muench

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Have at it....Good to see someone write an article on the Panthers.

The Carolina Panthers are coming off a much-needed win at Philadelphia on Monday night, and 2011 No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton showed with four total touchdowns why some think he's the quarterback who will lead the Panthers to the first Super Bowl title in franchise history.

An optimist could even find a silver lining in Carolina's disappointing 3-8 record, because six of those eight losses were by six points or fewer, including all three losses to divisional opponents.

Still, at the end of the day the Panthers are a struggling team with plenty of holes to fill around Newton before they can be contenders in the NFC South, let alone go deep into the playoffs next year.

So what are Carolina's needs and how might the 2013 draft offer some help? Let's examine.

Defensive tackle

The top priority for the Panthers has to be improving a run defense that gives up 4.5 yards per carry and was gashed by Philadelphia rookie RB Bryce Brown.

Current DTs Ron Edwards and Dwan Edwards are in the twilight of their careers, and 2011 third-round pick Sione Fua, who landed on injured reserve last season with a hamstring injury, hasn't developed as hoped.

Utah's Star Lotulelei (Grade: 96) is the top defensive tackle on our board, and the Panthers would do well to land him, but Lotulelei is likely to be gone before they come on the board. However, Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins (Grade: 95) has the initial quickness and size (335 pounds) to win the starting nose tackle job in the preseason.

In fact, this is such a glaring need that taking defensive tackles with their first two picks isn't out of the question. Keep an eye on Florida State's Everett Dawkins (Grade: 83), who is a tough one-on-one run- stopper for his size and has some upside as a pass-rusher. Dawkins has the above-average first-step quickness to develop into an effective 3-technique who could complement a player like Hankins.

Wide receiver

Former Pro Bowler Steve Smith is on the wrong side of 30, and age will surely catch up with him soon. Louis Murphy and Carolina 2010 third-round pick Brandon LaFell have flashed at times, but neither has shown enough to make the Panthers believe one of them can step into the No. 1 role when Smith's decline begins. Carolina needs to start grooming an heir apparent to Smith and give Newton another weapon on the outside.

The Panthers should find good value at receiver in the second round, and Baylor's Terrance Williams (Grade: 84) is one option. While he needs to be more crisp in terms of route running, Williams has the burst to separate from underneath coverage, the speed to stretch the field and the frame to hold up on the outside.

Tennessee Tech's Da'Rick Rogers (Grade: 77) could move into the second-round conversation if he can put maturity and off-field issues behind him, and while Rogers doesn't have the same deep speed as Williams, he does show the body control to compete for 50-50 balls downfield and knows how to get open underneath.

If the Panthers wait until Day 3 to fill this need, Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton (Grade: 66) and Iowa's Keenan Davis (Grade: 58) are two intriguing sleepers.


Don't be misled by the Panthers' 11th-ranked pass defense. A productive pass rush combined with opponents' ability to run on Carolina help mask some struggles in the secondary.

Cornerback isn't as pressing a need as it may seem right now, with veteran Chris Gamble likely to bounce back from season-ending shoulder surgery, and 2012 fifth-round pick Josh Norman making strides in Gamble's absence. With a healthy Gamble back in the fold and Norman continuing to progress, Captain Munnerlyn can slide into the nickel role where he's at his best.

The bigger concern is at free safety, where Haruki Nakamura hasn't lived up to the expectations the Panthers had when they signed him last year, and 2009 second-round pick Sherrod Martin hasn't been able to win the starting job back.

Alabama's Robert Lester (Score: 69) doesn't have great man-to-man cover skills and struggled in the Tide's loss to Texas A&M, which is why his stock appears to be slipping a bit at this point. However, Lester has enough range and the instincts to help a defense cut down on the big plays it allows. He also plays the ball well.

Tight end

Greg Olsen gets overshadowed playing in the same division as New Orleans' Jimmy Graham and Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez, but he's not the problem at this position. In fact, he's one of the more productive tight ends in the league and actually leads the team in receptions this season. Depth is the problem, and the Panthers would do well to add another playmaker for Newton when they address it.

Nebraska's Kyler Reed (Grade: 35) checks in at just 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds and needs to add some bulk. Reed needs to bulk up and will never to be a great in-line blocker, but he has room on his frame to add muscle and is a threat in the passing game. He has the speed to work the seam and the quickness to produce after the catch.

It's also worth pointing out that Reed plays in a run-heavy scheme with the Cornhuskers; that and the fact that Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez is better with his legs than his arm have played a role in Reed's lack of ideal production in college.

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Pretty much dead on.

This packaged with a competent coaching staff is what I'd like to see if ever possible haha

Please future GM: don't let us down

Wouldn't mind leaving the offensive line adjustments to be made in the FA and late rounds especially considering its for RG and T depth/development imo.

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Great article but he forgot about our offensive line issues.

Agree I think we could go DT or OT in the 1st or 2nd.It will depend on who is available.

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