The 2012 NFL season is winding down and with six weeks remaining before the playoffs begin, many teams that are out of contention are looking to the future and figuring out who will best help them move forward. The Carolina Panthers (2-8) are one of those teams.
After beginning the season amidst a lot of optimism and Super Bowl aspirations, the Panthers find themselves with the third worst record in the league and the worst in the NFC. At the rate Carolina is playing given their failure to close out games, they will most likely hold a top five pick for the second time in three years.
The good news for Carolina is they may not have to worry about addressing as many needs as they had to over the last two seasons. However, despite the improved play of the defense, they will most likely want to pursue a young, talented defensive tackle first to anchor the line for a long time. Once they have acquired the defensive tackle they have desperately needed for awhile, it's anyone's guess as to who they will draft next.
Will they shore up the secondary? Or will they add another lineman to protect Cam Newton? They could draft a speedy wide receiver that will eventually replace Steve Smith. Carolina needs to address holes at defensive tackle, safety, offensive tackle and possibly outside linebacker.
Despite not having an established draft order and the unknown of what kind of transactions will be made that will either add or subtract picks, here are five picks the Panthers could make in order to get their team moving in the right direction.
Carolina needs help on the defensive line and even more so on the interior. While the presence of Dwan Edwards and Ron Edwards hasn't been terrible, it has lacked the force needed to getting pressure on the opposing quarterback and taking away the focus on Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy on the outside.
Lotulelei would fill the role nicely.
At 6'3" and 320 lbs, this young man would be a nice addition to a line that hasn't had a solid tackle on the defensive front since Ma'ake Kemoeatu. He is quick and disruptive which would enhance a line that has good talent on the edge and in the linebacker corps.
Given what this guy can do and how talented he is in the trenches, it will be hard for Carolina to pass on him if they have an early pick.
With the question marks surrounding Jon Beason's health and how well Luke Kuechly has played in the middle, it wouldn't be shocking if the Panthers looked at strengthening their linebacker unit on the outside. Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones figures to be a top pick in 2013 and could give Carolina another option to consider. It's unlikely given the Panthers need help up front but it's not out of the question.
The Panthers have seen their offensive line which was their most reliable unit in year's past become plagued by injury (Ryan Kalil) and under perform at a level in which the running game has struggled and their quarterback has had to make hurried throws or take a sack.
Last year in the second round Carolina drafted offensive guard Amini Silatolu out of small Midwestern State. In 2013, look for the Panthers to address the line again with their second pick by shoring up the offensive tackle position.
Veteran Jordan Gross is getting older and with Byron Bell looking to become a permanent fixture on the strong side, it would benefit the Panthers to begin grooming Gross' heir apparent. This move will also add another source of protection for Cam Newton.
Matthews is big, measuring in at 6'5" and 305 lbs. He is number two behind teammate Luke Joeckel amongst the best tackles in the country. If he doesn't go in the first round, expect Carolina to not waste anytime picking him up and beefing up their line.
Assuming Carolina makes any moves via a trade to acquire more picks or to move up in the draft, they may not be able to pick again until the fourth round. However, things change and nothing is set because there are scouting reports, the Combine and pro days to take care before a final ranking can be set.
With that in mind, the Panthers may want to address their safety position. Haruki Nakamura hasn't been that bad but he hasn't been great either. Earlier in the season, he was picked apart by Atlanta's Matt Ryan and gave up the big play, allowing the Falcons to kick a game-winning field goal. He has done some good but it may be worth bringing in some younger competition to breed excellence.
Enter Zeke Motta, who has the speed and awareness to cover a large part of the field. To get an idea of what he can do, watch this video of him breaking up a pass against Michigan. He may not be a starter in his first year but he certainly seems to possess a lot of upside.
When the later rounds of the draft begin, Carolina may just look to add some depth. While they are already deep at wide receiver, there is the possibility of releasing Armanti Edwards and perhaps Louis Murphy. Considering how the Panthers like to employ multiple receivers on the field in the spread offense, it may be in their best interest to bring in a guy like Davis.
The senior out of Virginia Tech is closing in on a 1000-yard season in receiving yards and has 10 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He may not be the answer to replacing Steve Smith, but would be a wonderful addition with Smith and Brandon LaFell lining up alongside him.
Davis is capable of making the big play and has the physical tools to beat his man. He can even stretch the field for long scores; take his 85-yard touchdown reception against Pitt for example. Having him in the Panthers offense is something that would be a great asset to Newton.
This may be an unlikely pick, but after all, it's only a mock draft, and an early one as the title of this slideshow suggests. The Panthers may feel a need to add some insurance to their offensive line after the loss of Ryan Kalil forced them to move Geoff Hangartner over guard to center.
Bringing in a young center like Joe Madsen to back up Kalil could be a solution.
Madsen is a three-year starter for the West Virginia Mountaineers and his experience with a mobile quarterback like Geno Smith could translate well at the pro level. This would make an attractive option in the later rounds because he could essentially provide a stable backup off the bench and could be groomed into a starter.
There is no telling who Carolina will pick in their draft and it's fair to say none of these guys will wear a Panthers uniform. April is still a long way to go and a lot can change between now and then. These picks are a prediction of who they could possibly draft and while not everyone will agree with it, comments and differing opinions are welcome.