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Who Are the Experts Predicting to the Panthers in the 1st Round of Draft?

Charles EdwardsContributor IMarch 29, 2013

Who Are the Experts Predicting to the Panthers in the 1st Round of Draft?

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    April is upon us and that means the NFL draft is almost here.  There have been numerous mock drafts constructed by experts and amateurs alike who have taken their best guess at which players will end up on certain teams.  Some of these predictions have been met with debate as there will always be an argument for a team's biggest need.

    The Carolina Panthers' fans have seen their share of mock drafts and many cases have been made as to which position is their biggest priority.  While defensive tackle has been the hands down favorite since the end of last season, other positions have popped up as well.

    The following is a breakdown of which players will be the Panthers' first-round selection based on the opinions of football experts across the media.  There will be an additional slide that presents the opinions of the writers for Bleacher Report.

Sheldon Richardson/DT, Missouri

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    Experts Making this Prediction

    Todd McShay, ESPN

    Rob Rang, CBS Sports

    Pat Kirwan, CBS Sports

    Charlie Casserly, NFL.com

    Gil Brandt, NFL.com

    Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com

     

    This is by far the favorite selection among those within the inner circles of pro football.  Richardson is the ideal selection at 14th overall and would provide the Carolina Panthers with a much-needed presence at defensive tackle.

    What Richardson lacks in size (he's 6'3, 294 lbs), he makes up for in speed.  Paired with returning veteran Dwan Edwards on the interior of the defensive line and having the pass-rushing talents of Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy coming off the edges, Richardson could find himself in a position to thrive in the Carolina defensive scheme.

    Richardson has been a popular choice for awhile now and if the Panthers select a defensive tackle in the first round, it will be shocking if it's not the young man from Missouri.

Tavon Austin/WR, West Virginia

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    Experts Making this Prediction

    Mel Kiper, Jr., ESPN

     

    Austin has become a savvy pick in recent weeks, especially following a successful pro day in which he impressed the scouts.  The Panthers need to surround Cam Newton with playmakers at wide receiver and find the heir apparent to Steve Smith as the true No. 1 receiver on the team. 

    Austin could fill both of those needs. 

    In fact, he could be Steve Smith 2.0.  He doesn't have too much height as he stands only 5'9" (like Smith) and he is very fast as evidenced by his 40-yard dash time (4.28).  Combine that with his experience working with a mobile quarterback in Geno Smith and Austin could be the ideal receiver Carolina has been struggling to find.

    Another telling fact about the Panthers' interest in him is the meeting that was set up between the two.  While such meetings are merely formalities, it should be noted Carolina has been taking a long, hard look at this year's crop of receivers.

Jonathan Cooper/OG, North Carolina

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    Experts Making this Prediction

    Will Brinson, CBS Sports

     

    If the Carolina Panthers are to get quality production from their offense, they need to ensure they have reliable and effective options on their offensive line.  Cooper would be a great fit on a line that is beginning to show a combination of age and inexperience. 

    He has average size for a guard measuring in at 6'2" and 311 lbs.  What makes him very appealing is his athleticism.  He is very mobile and according to his draft profile, he is difficult to beat in pass protection.  Considering the need to protect the health of Cam Newton, that could be one of the factors considered when the Panthers are on the clock.

    The only knock on Cooper is that he could be at a disadvantage against stronger defensive tackles, though he can improve himself with a league strength and conditioning program.

Star Lotulelei/DT, Utah

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    Experts Making this Prediction

    Matt Smith, NFL.com

     

    Lotulelei was considered a top-five pick in April's draft, but his stock has dropped after he was forced to sit out the combine when doctors discovered an abnormal heart condition that was revealed through an echocardiogram.  However, the young defensive tackle has too much upside for the Panthers not to consider taking him if he falls to them in the first round.

    Unlike Richardson, Lotulelei has good size (6'2" 311 lbs) and is an ideal nose tackle, which bodes well for the Panthers 4-3 scheme.  He has the ability to get to the quarterback as he recorded five sacks in his senior season at Utah.

    Combine his abilities with the production from Edwards, Johnson and Hardy last season, the Panthers would immediately see their defensive line become a strength. 

    If Lotulelei is still available when Carolina is on the clock and Richardson is still there, the Panthers front office will have a difficult decision to make if they choose to address defensive tackle with their first selection.

Bleacher Report Predictions

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    B/R Writers and Picks

    Charles Edwards - Sheldon Richardson

    Stephen Fenech - Sheldon Richardson

    Matt Miller - Cordarrelle Patterson

     

    The lead writers and featured columnists have been weighing in with their take on who the Carolina Panthers will draft in the first round.  While the general consensus has the Panthers picking a defensive tackle, there is still speculation on which player it will be.  Carolina featured columnist Stephen Fenech has done a couple of mock drafts and has figured that Sheldon Richardson will be the Panthers' choice.  However, a recent Twitter post has him entertaining two additional choices.

    @doc_panthers @jimmygrappone I think we need to address DT. So either Richardson, Floyd or Star would be my pick.

    — Stephen Fenech (@Fenech2491) March 28, 2013

    The only surprise here is the inclusion of Florida's Sharrif Floyd.  While it would be great to have him fall to Carolina in the first round, Floyd looks to be gone inside the top five.  While Fenech does feel that Star Lotulelei could drop in round one, his latest mock has the Panthers taking Richardson.

    Finally, there is the opinion of the lead writers at Bleacher Report and Matt Miller has wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson being picked up by the Panthers.  This would be a great pick because it would give Carolina a big, quick target to add to Cam Newton's arsenal.  His 40-yard dash time is slightly slower than Tavon Austin's (4.33), but he could figure into an offense that would have him and Brandon LaFell on the outside with Steve Smith in the slot. 

    The only hangup about Patterson is his lack of college experience.  He only played one year at Tennessee and there are concerns that he may not be ready for the transition to the NFL.  Of course, the same concerns were brought up regarding Newton and he has turned out alright.

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