With the exciting portion of free agency over, it's time for NFL fans to devote their attention to the draft, which will start on April 25th.
The Carolina Panthers own the 14th-overall selection, but do not have picks in the third or seventh round. Rookie GM David Gettleman will have the tough job of deciding which needs are more pressing, especially when the value of available prospects is similar.
Most franchises that have achieved a consistent level of success elect to draft the best player remaining on their board. The New York Giants, Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots all represent perfect case studies in terms of how to build a successful franchise through the draft.
Not only do rookies make less money than veterans, which is something that cannot be underestimated in the current market, but they also offer fresher legs and a more open mind.
The theory behind drafting the best available player is that the team has a better chance of finding a difference-maker, rather than reaching on a player to fill a need. Talented scouting units can be determined based upon the success they find later in the draft, as part of the equation is finding a player who properly suits the team.
Carolina still needs to improve at defensive tackle, wide receiver, in the secondary and along the offensive line.
Gettleman will only have five draft picks to augment the current roster, although the Panthers may look to move back in the draft if the right opportunity presents itself.
Say what you want about the Carolina Panthers needing a run-stuffing defensive tackle, but Sheldon Richardson has the potential to elevate the team's front-seven into one of the league's best from day one.
When the Panthers are on the clock with the 14th selection, David Gettleman should draft either a defensive tackle or wide receiver, depending on which available player is higher on the team's draft board.
While at Missouri, Richardson showed off a quick first step and was an absolute nightmare for interior offensive lineman. During his final season at Mizzou, Richardson earned All-SEC Second Team honors, as he led all interior defensive lineman in tackles with 75.
Seeing such a high tackle number for a defensive tackle is always remarkable, and it speaks to Richardson's athleticism and hustle. For those doubting Richardson's ability as a run-stopper, just flip on the tape and see how disruptive he was against the rush in the SEC—college football's best conference.
If drafted by Carolina, Richardson would line up alongside Dwan Edwards, Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy on the defensive line. The latter trio combined for 29.5 sacks last season, and with Richardson in the fold, expecting the Panthers front four to improve on last season's sack total would be a safe bet.
Johnson and Hardy have already emerged as arguably the best pass-rushing duo in the league, with Edwards providing a consistent pass-rusher from the interior.
The addition of Richardson would make it even harder for the opposition to adequately protect the quarterback, which would bode well for the Panthers in the pass-happy NFC South.
The Carolina Panthers need to find Steve Smith's successor before it's too late. While the 13-year veteran should still produce at a high level in the upcoming season, he will run out of gas eventually.
With Cam Newton set to enter his third season, the Panthers' front office must give him more weapons on the outside. If Carolina fails to improve Newton's options, they risk stunting his progression as a passer.
David Gettleman could choose to address the wide receiver position in the first round by selecting either Cordarrelle Patterson out of Tennessee or Keenan Allen out of Cal. If the Panthers choose to address a different position in the first round, then they will likely look to add a wideout in Round 2.
West Virginia product Stedman Bailey could be around when the Panthers are on the clock in Round 2 and would instantly improve Carolina's passing attack. Last season as a member of the Mountaineers, Bailey hauled in 114 receptions for 1,622 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Yes, you read that right, Bailey found the end zone 25 times in 2012.
While West Virginia's let-it-fly attack and the quarterback play of Geno Smtih played a major role in Bailey's ridiculous stats, that type of production is hard to ignore.
According to CharlotteObserver.com columnist Jonathan Jones, the Panthers brought Bailey in for a visit, which may foreshadow the talented wideout's future.
Bailey projects to be a slot receiver in the NFL, as he is 5'10" and 193 pounds. Considering that productive slot receivers like Wes Welker have become all the rage recently, the Panthers would be wise to invest a draft pick in Bailey.
Expecting D.J. Hayden to still be available in the fourth round may be optimistic thinking, as the Houston product may very well be off the board by then.
According to DraftInsider.net, Hayden has eight visits set up with NFL teams. While Hayden is best known for living through the tearing of a major vein in his heart during practice, there are other reasons to get to know him.
For example, the young cornerback ran a 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds.
In an article from NFL.com, Packers senior executive Alonzo Highsmith said the following in regards to Hayden's heart condition:
It's the most unique injury in the history of the draft. The only people that ever had it aren't alive and doctors have never seen it.
At 5'11", Hayden has the combination of size and speed to develop into a starter. If available in the sixth round, Hayden would provide excellent value for the team who drafts him.
Bailey is making the block.
Another round in this mock draft, another Bailey added to the Carolina Panthers' roster. While Stedman Bailey will stretch the field and add some more explosiveness to the Panthers' offense, Alvin Bailey would work to solidify the offensive line.
At this point, the Panthers would be starting Amini Silatolu and Geoff Hangartner at guard. Carolina drafted Silatolu in the second round last year, and while he struggled as a rookie, he will certainly get another opportunity in 2013. Hangartner performed adequately most of the time last season, but could certainly improve.
Enter Arkansas product Alvin Bailey, who has a massive frame and has the potential to be a difference-maker in the run game.
When an offensive lineman falls into the middle rounds, it's always for a reason. In Bailey's case, it's because his technique needs refinement, which in turn could keep him from maintaining a long career.
That being said, if coached properly, Bailey could develop into a solid starter at right guard for the better part of a decade.
While Bailey may not start when Week 1 rolls around, he's the type of project player who could pay huge dividends to whichever team drafts him.
In this mock draft, the Carolina Panthers picked a receiver in the second round, but I have them addressing the position once again in the sixth.
As stated earlier, the Panthers' front office must make acquiring more options for Cam Newton a priority. The best overall approach to improve Newton's weapons is through the draft, as Carolina's scouts and coaches should be able to find and evaluate a player who can fit the scheme.
Also, if it doesn't work out, the Panthers won't be on the hook financially, which would be the case if they overpaid for a wide receiver during free agency.
In Round 2, the Panthers nabbed Stedman Bailey, who projects to be a slot receiver. While Bailey would be a big upgrade for quarterback Newton, the team could still use a bigger wideout.
Enter Aaron Mellette, who at 6'2" and 217 pounds has the size to carve out a career in the NFL. During his final collegiate season, Mellette caught 97 passes for 1,398 yards and 18 touchdowns.
While those numbers were posted against FBS competition, it's clear that Mellette is a solid option, especially inside the red zone.
While not likely to be a big play threat, Mellette has the hands and size to be a good possession receiver.
With a little fine tuning, Mellette could be moving the chains for Newton for seasons to come.