We're now almost a month removed from Carolina Panthers football and it feels like the NFL Draft cannot come fast enough. There are no big-time re-signings for Carolina to make, so the focus shifts directly to the draft.
It's yet to be determined whether the Panthers will pick before the Miami Dolphins in the first round, but with very different sets of needs, it seems that it will hardly matter.
With this potentially being the last successful draft that the franchise needs to get over the hill, let's take a look at what Carolina's draft may look like come April.
Pick numbers are subject to change.
Round 1, Pick 8: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Brockers is a high-potential interior defensive lineman that would immediately help to solve the Panthers' trouble finding a do-it-all defensive tackle. They haven't had one like him in years.
The 6'6", 306-lb. defensive tackle is only a sophomore, but he's quickly progressed in the most competitive conference in college football. He's played against future NFL offensive lineman and has created mismatches with them.
Brockers has room for mental and physical growth, but he also has a great base to work with. He has good instincts and a monstrous frame. He may be a risky pick this high, but he could pan out to be the best defensive player out of this draft class.
Round 2, Pick 42: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
The Panthers could be tempted to take a receiver in the first round, but should address the defense with their first pick. Wright presents another weapon for Cam Newton, and with him, LaFell and Gettis, Carolina could have their future set at the position.
Wright is a burner who fits perfectly into the team's vertical passing offense. He's an inconsistent pass catcher, but like Brockers, he has the potential to be a great player with hard work.
A renewed sense of veteran leadership has developed in the locker room, which makes taking players like Wright more sensible. With vocal teammates like Steve Smith and Cam Newton, Wright would be pushed to fulfill his potential.
Round 4, Pick 103: Donte Paige-Moss, DE, UNC
Having already taken a defensive tackle, the Panthers will then look to add depth to their defensive end rotation. Paige-Moss provides great value as a fourth-round pick and although his production hasn't been overwhelming, his talent stands out for a third-day pick.
Paige-Moss is one of the most athletic defensive linemen in the draft, and he has the natural strength to accompany a great burst off the line. With solid technique, he can edge rush or bull rush, depending on the lineman he's matched up with.
The Panthers would like to look for a cornerback at this pick, but the depth just isn't there in this class, making Paige-Moss a very attractive option for the team's first third-day selection.
Round 5, Pick 137: Keith Tandy, CB, West Virginia
Tandy is not the most athletic corner and slightly undersized at 5'10", but he makes up for it with will and technique.
The Panthers have a franchise cornerback in Chris Gamble, but lack a starter opposite their star player. Brandon Hogan—also a WVU product—has shown flashes, but would be better off with more competition for the starting job.
Tandy is a great all-around player; he is scheme diverse and one of the best corners in the draft in run support. He attacks screens like a linebacker and makes open field tackles like a safety. He can occasionally be too aggressive, but with a team that has struggled against the screen and crossing patterns, that can be overlooked.
Round 6, Pick 168: Robert Blanton, CB, Notre Dame
The Panthers love taking cornerbacks late in the draft, and are often successful in picking solid contributors in the later rounds. With Tandy and now Blanton, the Panthers have two potential starters to add to a talented, but raw, group of defensive backs.
Blanton plays well in the press, but will be better served as a zone defender early in his career. He has good body control, and with great length, he is rarely taken advantage of in jump ball situations.
Blanton is a tough corner who would fit in great as an answer to the many dominant possession-type receivers currently in the NFL. He's a great pickup in the sixth round and could get in the cornerback rotation within a season or two.
Round 7, Pick 198: Terrell Manning, OLB, North Carolina State
Manning is a very instinctive player who elected to leave before his senior season due to a weak outside linebacker class. He has plenty of talent and upside and likely would be a finalist for the Butkus Award had he stuck around.
Manning's a great pass-rusher and an explosive tackler, but nagging injuries have caused concerns. Undoubtedly, that's something he considered when deciding to return to school and risk an injury.
The Panthers don't have a backup plan for veteran Thomas Davis, and James Anderson has been inconsistent as well. Manning would be a backup barring an injury, but could become one of the better starters in this league if he stays healthy and adjusts to the speed of the pro game.
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