I have been avoiding this particular article at just about any cost, mostly due to the in-depth analysis that is required and the amount of time I knew I would need to dedicate to this body of work.
So here's my idea of what areas should be addressed by the Panthers in the 2009 draft and remaining free agency period.
1. Offensive linemen
The Panthers do have their starting five returning from the '08 season but took some hits in the offseason, which made the depth more shallow on the offensive line, leaving them with only Mackenzey Bernadeau and Geoff Schwartz, both seventh-round draft picks from last year.
Schwartz and Bernadeau have spent a year under the direction of Jeff Davidson, which could benefit them. However, I would be cautiously optimistic to see them start in an NFL game that holds a lot of significance.
The Panthers need at least one veteran to bring along these two for another season, and someone who has the experience in high pressure games.
2. Defensive tackle
I would say that you can pretty much expect to see the Panthers address the need at this position early on in the draft.
Maake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis are definitely pillars on the defensive line, and Lewis could be more effective coming off the bench as a speed rusher on passing downs.
Don't be too surprised to see the Panthers use their second or third-round draft pick—if the Julius Peppers trade does not pan out—and add a veteran player sometime between draft day and training camp.
Last year, the Panthers added Ian Scott and Darwin Walker; neither really contributed what the coaching staff and management were hoping they would.
As the season ran its course, injuries hit the Panthers defense hard and showed the lack of depth at this position.
3. Defensive end
Whether Peppers stays, plays, sits out, or is traded, this is an area that needs to be addressed, and too much help is never enough.
As everything looks right now, if Peppers remains in Carolina this season, it will most definitely be his last season. However, something in the form of a trade could very well be worked out on draft day.
Tyler Brayton is a nice role player, and Charles Johnson is improving, but the Panthers need a legitimate pass rusher.
With Ken Lucas being released, the Panthers are left with Chris Gamble, Richard Marshall, and C.J. Wilson as their three starting corners.
I am not totally confident in Marshall's status as a starter, since his production showed some major setbacks in the second half of last season, while C.J. Wilson is unproven at the starting position.
On the bright side, if the Panthers are able to free themselves of the stranglehold that Peppers has them in, there are a few free agent veterans at the corner position who can add some needed depth, experience, and leadership to this position.
5. Tight end
For years, the Panthers have been using fifth-round picks for this position, and for the life of me I cannot understand why they would not want to have someone who can stretch the middle of the field.
Wouldn't that be such a huge benefit for Steve Smith? That would simply make defensive coordinators have to double-cover a tight end or Smith.
Mark Jones wasn't the fastest return man by any stretch, but he became more consistent as the '08 season progressed.
With the departure of Jones to Tennessee as a free agent, that leaves the return duties to Ryne Robinson or Kenny Moore.
I've never seen Moore as a returner, and Robinson has pretty much been a hit-or-miss return man.
If the Panthers can draft a top-notch return man in draft, I say they go for it.
7. Wide receiver
Steve Smith is Superman, and Muhsin Muhammad is perfect for this offense because of his blocking ability. Aside from the offensive line, why else do you think DeAngelo Williams sprung so many long runs?
Dwayne Jarrett needs to get out of his own head and step up and start playing like a man. Robinson should serve as the fourth receiver, and since the Panthers never activate more than four receivers, there really isn’t a need for anyone else.
I'd much rather see the Panthers draft a game-breaking tight end.
8. Long snapper
Even though the Panthers brought in J.J. Jensen from the Packers, I am not confident in his ability at the long snapper position.
It's not a high-profile position, but in a close game where you have a few ticks left on the clock in regulation and you're down by one or two points, the Panthers definitely want someone with the experience that Jason Kyle brings to the field.
Kyle has been a symbol of consistency, having never botched a snap during a regular season contest.
By all means, Brad Hoover is not getting any younger, and with each passing season he takes a greater risk of taking a hit that could put him out for an undetermined length of time.
Hoover has been crashing through concrete walls for nine years now, and at the age of 32, he has only missed two games.
It would be wise of the Panthers to have someone waiting in the wings when that day does come.
I know, everyone's had Jake Delhomme's head on the stake now since the atrocious performance against the Cardinals, but I haven't. I'm not going to try and change your mind, but "tenth" is about as important I feel the quarterback position is right now.
Again, I realize Delhomme was just awful against the Cardinals, but the Panthers also got away from their game plan because the defense couldn't stop anyone.
The bottom line is that Delhomme is a winner as well as this team's leader, lest we also forget that he is 49-30 as the Panthers' starting quarterback during the regular season, and 5-3 during postseason play.
I do not disagree, however, that at his age (34) the Panthers should consider looking to the future at the idea of a long-term replacement, as I don't have a lot of confidence in backup Matt Moore.
In the meantime, barring any significant injuries at key positions—himself included—Delhomme could be this team's quarterback for the next few seasons.