During our near daily trips to Draft Preview town over the past few weeks (a thriving, bustling place in April), there’s often been two general team outlooks. There are teams with a definitive need in the first round, and it would be borderline shocking if said need wasn’t addressed. Then there are teams with multiple needs, so guessing which one will be prioritized often ends in mock tears during your mock drafting.
The Panthers definitely fall into the latter category. A defensive tackle feels like the first-round target, with pressure needed to support Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy coming off the edges. But support for Steve Smith is badly needed too, meaning the assumption (a dirty word in April) is that Carolina’s first two picks will be a defensive tackle and a wide receiver.
1. Getting some interior pressure on the defensive line and some run stuffing ability should be an early priority. Is Sheldon Richardson the pick if he’s around at No. 14?
I think a lot of mock drafters have pegged Richardson to the Panthers because he’s the kind of penetrating under tackle the team needs, however assuming there’s anything predictable about Carolina’s drafting is a mistake. At this time last year logic dictated that the Panthers had to go with Fletcher Cox if he was on the board, and instead they took a linebacker. Richardson might be the player they need, but it’s unclear whether he’s the one they want.
2. Or is there an even greater need and priority in the secondary? Chris Gamble was a cap casualty, so an upgrade at corner is needed, and we can say the same for the safety spot. But is it too earlier to select either Xavier Rhodes or Matt Elam?
The secondary is a patch-work job of one-year veteran deals, and unproven young players. While Carolina has spent some time with strong safety Jonathan Cyprien, there’s very little indication they’re interested in the draft’s top cornerbacks. Ultimately, they have so many needs, several will get ignored, and I’m not convinced they take a player for the secondary in the first round.
3. The Panthers scheduled a visit with Barkevious Mingo, one of the draft’s top pass rushers. Is that all smoke, or would Mingo be too tempting to pass on if he fell?
It’s probably about due diligence, rather than true smoke. Teams know the Panthers don’t run a 3-4 defense (which would best suit Mingo’s skills) but they’d be doing themselves a disservice if they didn’t at least find out if he can fill that leo role at the next level, similar to what Von Miller does in Denver.
4. Will wide receiver help be targeted sometime in the early rounds? It seems this question is posed the same way every year with the Panthers, but while he’s productive, Steve Smith isn’t getting younger, and another reliable target would help Cam Newton’s continued development. Maybe Robert Woods in the second round?
This is certain. Carolina has spent more time with the wide receiver class than any position in the draft, and right now it looks like the first round is the place to look for WR help. The Panthers have had two meetings with Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins, they’ve met with both top West Virginia WRs (Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey), while Keenan Allen of Cal continues to work out with Ricky Proehl, the team’s wide receiver coach. This is either the most elaborate smokescreen in history, or they’re taking a WR with one of the first two picks.
5. What other needs do the Panthers have in the mid-to-late rounds?