The Panthers returned to the playoffs last season and have a roster stocked with current or future stars. But that doesn't mean they aren't without holes and cap issues doesn't make the situation any easier, which makes this draft class all that more important for GM Dave Gettleman.
The two main need areas for Carolina entering the 2014 NFL Draft is clearly at left tackle and wide receiver, two vital areas that Pro Bowl quarterback Cam Newton is watching with great interest. Jordan Gross retired during the off-season, leaving a glaring hole protecting the blind side and the wide receiver position is full of new faces. In fact, the wideouts currently on the team's roster have combined for zero catches in a Panthers' uniform.
Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn are out. Jason Avant, Jericho Cotchery and several other young unprovens are expected to pick up the slack. A rookie wide receiver will add another unproven commodity to the roster, but a young target to develop with Newton should be a priority in the early rounds.
The Panthers have had excellent success hitting on their 1st round picks in recent years (Lotulelei, Kuechly, Newton), but those three were all top-15 selections and this year will be a tougher task with the 28th pick. We'll see if Gettleman and his staff are up to the challenge.
Carolina Panthers' 2014 draft picks: 28, 60, 92, 128, 168, 204, 225
Primary Needs: OT, WR, CB, TE, DE
General Manager: Dave Gettleman, 2nd season
Head Coach: Ron Rivera, 4th season
Five draft picks that clicked:
- DT Star Lotulelei, 14th overall, 2013
- MLB Luke Kuechly, 9th overall, 2012
- QB Cam Newton, 1st overall, 2011
- DE Greg Hardy, 175th overall, 2010
- CB Captain Munnerlyn, 216th overall, 2009
Five players who should be on the Carolina Panthers' draft radar:
(overall rating, position rating)
OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama (36, 5): There is a good chance the Panthers starting left tackle this season isn't currently on the roster, making their 1st round pick a likely spot to fill that glaring need. And if Kouandjio is still on the board, he will create an interesting discussion in the Carolina war room because he has the talent to warrant the selection, but whether or not they draft the former Alabama tackle comes down to how comfortable they are with his durability. Kouandjio was dinged at the NFL Combine because of past injuries, most notably a knee issue, but opinions seem to be mixed on the severity of the injury. So while the durability could be worrisome, it could also be a blessing in disguise that allows Kouandjio to fall to the Panthers pick.
DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State (44, 4): The Panthers have one of the top pass rushing tandems in the league, but Greg Hardy doesn't have a long-term contract and Charles Johnson's lucrative deal could prove to be prohibitive. Carolina should consider Crichton in the 1st round, but if he is still available in the 2nd round, they shouldn't hesitate from running the pick to the podium. He is powerful with the first step quickness and relentless motor to find a way to be disruptive and force the issue. Crichton isn't the most fluid, but wins with his initial momentum and unyielding effort and would give the Panthers another talented pass rusher and insurance policy if they lose Hardy or Johnson.
WR Cody Latimer, Indiana (96, 15): One of the fastest “risers” in this year's draft class is Latimer who intrigues NFL teams due to his athletic potential and very high ceiling. And it's becoming clear that he won't last long on draft day, but he might be around in the 2nd round. Despite limited experience on the football field (grew up playing basketball), Latimer is a quick study and should be able to contribute immediately and it won't take long for him and Cam Newton to develop a chemistry. His route running is a work-in-progress, but he shows outstanding ballskills with the athletic prowess to be a threat at every level of the field.
TE Arthur Lynch, Georgia (128, 6): With the Panthers expected to operate out of more two-tight end sets in 2014, they recently signed Ed Dickson to pair with incumbent starter Greg Olsen. But Dickson's deal is only one year and using a mid-round pick on Lynch would add instant depth and a long-term option. He has a NFL frame with experience lining up both inline and in the slot in Georgia's pro-style attack. Lynch likely won't separate easily in the NFL, but he's a coordinated athlete who isn't shy about getting his hands dirty as a blocker and projects as a reliable possession target and No. 2 TE on the depth chart.
CB Andre Hal, Vanderbilt (222, 28): Carolina has had luck in the past with late round or undrafted free agent cornerbacks, like Captain Munnerlyn who was a 7th round pick in 2009. But Munnerlyn was signed away by the Minnesota Vikings this past off-season and the Panthers need to add depth in the secondary. Hal lacks imposing size or length, like Munnerlyn, but it's easy to appreciate his aggressive, competitive nature when the ball is in the air, showing very good sideline and field awareness. He likely lacks the physical traits to be a consistent NFL starter, but his tough, confident approach to the game would be a welcome addition on the bottom third of the Carolina roster.