They had an encouraging 2011 season, but can obviously improve after finishing the season at 6-10. The Panthers have a top-10 draft pick, and there are a couple of different options for the Panthers here.
They will definitely go with LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne if he somehow drops to the Panthers, but a more realistic choice would be Alabama corner Dre Kirkpatrick.
The Panthers need help on the defensive side of the ball, but many have said that they may target wide receiver Alshon Jeffery as well.
Carolina has a few young, talented receivers in Brandon LaFell and David Ghettis, but they could use a dominating force opposite of Steve Smith, one who could also potentially replace him in the future.
What the Panthers should really do is use that top-10 pick to help their porous defense and encourage tight end Greg Olsen and quarterback Cam Newton to build chemistry in the offseason.
At 6'5" and 255 pounds, Olsen is a mismatch for most linebackers and safeties in the NFL.
In 2011, we saw young tight ends take over the game on a consistent basis. The Panthers witnessed firsthand what a dominant tight end can do for a team. They had to watch the Saints' Jimmy Graham gain 226 yards in two games against Carolina, and there was not much the Panthers could do to stop him.
Other tight ends such as the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez did extremely well in 2011 as well. These tight ends are not only giant mismatches, but also have great chemistry with their respective quarterbacks.
Olsen had a good year in 2011, racking up 540 yards and five touchdowns. However, he has the potential to almost double those numbers.
A tight end that catches the ball 45 times for over 500 yards generally has a good year, but if quarterback Cam Newton begins to lean on Olsen more, then his numbers could explode. Olsen could quickly become a dominant tight end, similar to Graham and Gronkowski. He just needs the same amount of opportunities.
The most important part to Olsen becoming a player like this is for him and Newton to be on the same page for every down of the football game.
Olsen has to become a security blanket for Newton like he was for Jay Cutler in Chicago. Newton has to begin to understand that Olsen is a mismatch all over the field, and that he can get him the ball in almost any situation.
I would not be surprised to see offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski mix in more plays just for Olsen. The NFL is a copycat league, and teams like the Saints and Patriots showed that it is very helpful to have a monstrous tight end heavily involved in the passing game. We may see more plays designed specifically for Olsen in 2012.
The Panthers already have a solid receiving corps with Smith, LaFell and Ghettis. Now they just need to capitalize on the great tight end that is currently on their roster.