Which prospects would be a perfect fit in Carolina?
During the past few weeks, the Carolina Panthers have been reviewing scouting reports, watching game tape and attending pro days in order to determine which players in this year's rookie class will best help their team. Many draft experts and analysts have done similar research, taking into account the team's biggest needs and who will be available when the Panthers are on the board.
Which players would be perfect fits in Carolina?
While the question sparks serious debate, there is no doubt every player mentioned would bring something to the table and help turn the Panthers into a contender. Since the first two rounds are usually the most heavily mocked, it stands to reason that a lot of argument is generated regarding the first two picks.
The Panthers have several needs, and there are many players in this draft that can help resolve them. Unfortunately, some of those perfect players may not be available on the board when it becomes Carolina's turn.
However, here are some players in no particular order that would fit perfectly with Carolina based on need and the talents they possess. Not all of them are first round picks. The selections were based on team needs and what the individual talents can bring to the Panthers.
Carolina is seeing their offensive line age and become vulnerable over the past couple of years. A combination of inexperience and injuries have taken their toll on the big men up front, and it may be time to begin an overhaul.
Enter Chance Warmack.
Warmack is quite possibly the best offensive lineman in this draft, though an argument can be made for Luke Joeckel who could be taken as the top overall pick. Warmack has the size to be an interior lineman in the NFL, and since he played for the Crimson Tide, he has a winning work ethic built into him.
What makes Warmack a perfect fit in Carolina is his ability to protect against the pass rush. He has been up against some of the best defensive linemen in the game and held his own. This would bode well for a Panthers team that would like to see its quarterback make more throws from the pocket rather than running and throwing, or just simply rushing the ball.
Additionally, his presence could help the running game return to its former glory. The combination of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart hasn't been as effective in recent years, but Warmack could help resolve that issue by opening up lanes like he did for Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy.
Carolina has a great need at defensive tackle, and with Utah's Star Lotulelei slipping down the board, he could find himself in prime position to be taken with the 14th overall pick. Combine his size and ability to play the interior defensive position, he would be the ideal pick for the Panthers and would end their search for a long term solution at defensive tackle.
There have been concerns about Lotulelei's health as an echocardiogram discovered an abnormality in his heart. However, he has been cleared to play by doctors. This should alleviate concerns of most teams and shouldn't really concern the Panthers at all.
While Lotulelei's talents are best served in a 3-4 scheme, he is good enough to play in Carolina's base 4-3 which would be perfect in defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's defense. McDermott has been known to mix it up every once in awhile by switching to a 3-4. Lotulelei could even be moved to defensive end, and the Carolina defensive line could be more imposing with Greg Hardy playing the interior.
The Panthers need a pass-rusher and a run-stuffer from defensive tackle, and Lotulelei fits the bill. He has the size and athleticism to do both and do it effectively. If the Panthers are looking to draft a defensive tackle with their first pick, Lotulelei would be the ideal choice if he is still available.
Vaccaro is probably the best safety in this draft. It is possible he will be available when the Panthers are on the clock. If that happens, they will need to decide what they covet more defensively: a solid defensive tackle or talented safety that can help against the passing attack.
The Panthers are in dire need of safety help. Well, they are in dire need of secondary help in general. Vaccaro could be the first key piece in righting the ship and helping the Panthers to shut down the pass heavy NFC South rivals.
He is a strong defensive back who is very physical with receivers. He is excellent in open field tackles which would benefit a defense that saw too many missed tackles from their secondary a year ago. Also, he can blitz which, if done properly, could make the Carolina pass rushing attack much more formidable as they will have the ability to send pass-rushers from all over the field.
The needs at defensive tackle and wide receiver may be too great to even consider safety help, but Vaccaro deserves some attention and consideration from the decision makers in the Carolina war room if he is still available on draft day.
Carolina's need for a wide receiver has seen them add depth to the position through free agency, but none of them will be legitimate complements to Steve Smith or be able to take his place once he retires. Because of this, the Panthers would be wise to draft Hopkins.
The strength of the offense relies on the arm of Cam Newton and productivity of his receivers. Smith is the only proven wide receiver who has speed and excellent pass-catching ability. Tight end Greg Olsen is a sure-handed receiver but lacks speed.
Hopkins is the type of receiver that can help Newton in the passing game and take away double teams from Smith. He is more athletic than Brandon LaFell and could be the difference maker inside the red zone.
Hopkins gets comparisons to Roddy White, and considering what he is doing in Atlanta, that is quite the compliment. Hopkins should be able to fit into the Panthers offensive scheme with ease and would create more scoring opportunities given the personnel surrounding him on offense.
The Panthers need to protect Newton's blindside will become a more pressing issue sooner than later. One idea would be to take Fluker and move Jordan Gross to the right side. However, there are those who believe he is best suited for the right side so he could replace Byron Bell.
He is not without his strengths. Fluker maintains the ability to be effective in warding off defenders in the pass rush and opening lanes for the running game. Both are important to the success of the Carolina offense.
Considering the Panthers are a more lethal team when the offense is firing on all cylinders, Fluker would be the key cog in making both aspects of the unit run smoothly. Playing for a powerhouse school like Alabama, Fluker knows how important it is to protect the quarterback and provide adequate rushing lanes for the running backs.
While there is much doubt Carolina drafts a lineman in the first round, if they do the chances are pretty good that player will be from Alabama.
Desmond Trufant is hands down the best corner not named Dee Milliner in this draft. He brings a football pedigree with him as he has two older brothers playing in the league. Given the issues at cornerback and the fact the Panthers have Captain Munnerlyn on a one-year deal, Trufant could bring solidity to the position.
He has a natural ability for the position and is very physical. He will go up and fight receivers for the ball. He can play in both man and zone coverage with ease and keep opposing receivers in check.
Trufant would be a welcome addition to a team that has to face the likes of Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman twice a year. If he can keep those quarterbacks from throwing to his side of the field, he gives the Panthers a real chance at winning crucial divisional matchups.
While he has been projected as a late first rounder, he could still go earlier. Essentially, it will come down to what Carolina covets most in terms of need.
While the Panthers are indeed deep at cornerback, adding a playmaker through the draft isn't out of the question. Much like the case at wide receiver, the Panthers need to find long-term solutions and drafting a player like Mathieu would be a great choice.
Mathieu has second- and third-round projections on draft day, and it shouldn't surprise anyone if the Panthers take a chance on him in the second round. While such a choice is met with controversy, he would provide Carolina with options both defensively and on special teams.
Mathieu plays with a tenacity that can only be rivaled by Steve Smith. Both are small in size but play with a lot of heart and they fight for every play. Defensively, Mathieu can create turnovers. His style of play has forced fumbles and interceptions and he is athletic enough to play at corner, the slot or safety positions. Essentially, he gives the Panthers many options and many different looks.
He could be a force on special teams which has seen a lack of production from Armanti Edwards and is still looking to see if Joe Adams will pan out. Mathieu would give the Panthers a one-two punch on kick returns if paired with newly acquired receiver and return man Ted Ginn Jr.
There are concerns about Mathieu's history, but what he brings to the table and his commitment to do the right thing should overshadow any team's doubts about his character.
Much like Hopkins, Patton could offer the Panthers an able-bodied receiver who could very well replace Steve Smith. He is a big-bodied receiver with strong arms, which would help him bring down passes—a trait which is very beneficial in the end zone.
Playing in the explosive offense of Louisiana Tech, Patton should be able to pick up where he left off with the talent already in place in Carolina. Two years removed from being a top-five offense, the addition of Patton could elevate the team back to that status.
Patton doesn't have that breakaway burst of speed but should be better than Brandon LaFell. He does have good acceleration, but he may not be able to stretch the field the way Smith does. Additionally, he would be useful in opening up lanes down field as he has very good field vision and is an exceptional blocker. This would be an interesting choice if the Panthers were to go defensive tackle in the first round.
Patton would shore up the receiving corp and be able to do more than just catch passes, as he would be able to move defenders in the passing game and help with opening running lanes down the field. A receiver who is strong, has good hands and has the ability to block would be the perfect receiver for any team.
In a previous mock, the value of Winters was presented based on his versatility on the offensive line. While he is an offensive tackle he can move over to guard, and that kind of mobility would be a luxury the Panthers could benefit from given the current status of their line.
Even if Carolina drafts an offensive linemen in the first round, the addition of Winters could shore it up with an excellent combination of veterans and talented rookies.
He has excellent pass-blocking skills, and since the offensive line has been a huge question mark as of late, that is a trait that will be very much coveted moving forward. He is just as good in run blocking and could help bolster the running game.
Winters may be gone by the end of the third round. If he appears when the Panthers pick in the fourth, it should be viewed as a steal. Protecting the guys in the backfield will be paramount to the team's success and productivity.
Another mid-round prospect who has third-round potential that could otherwise be a great pick up for the Carolina Panthers is safety Bacarri Rambo. The secondary is not the defense's strongest suit and it should be an open competition going into training camp.
Rambo would be the right guy to compete against the veterans and could possibly win a starting position. He has great body control and can compete against receivers making it difficult for catching passes. While he is an aggressive tackler he does need to show more awareness when making his hits, as it could result in missed tackles or penalty flags.
He is able to play either safety position, so he could give the Panthers defense some options depending on who they are playing week to week.
There are some concerns about his off-field behavior, but if he can stay out of trouble and be as productive in the league as he was at Georgia, he will be a valuable asset.
While the Panthers are really not in the market for a tight end, they could very well consider taking Reed in the fourth or fifth round. The team was among those interested in Kellen Winslow last month and another receiving tight end could help the offense.
Consider what Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey did for Carolina in 2011 and substitute Shockey for Reed. Not only does Cam Newton have another effective pass-receiving option underneath but he has a weapon that can be involved in multiple looks.
That's right. Reed is able to play tight end, running back and was even a quarterback in high school. Mike Shula's offense may not be as creative as that of his predecessor, but using Reed in different formations and lining up at different positions could create a bit of confusion among opposing defenses.
The only knocks against him are his size and inability to be a quality blocker. However, the philosophy for tight ends is changing in Carolina and those aspects about Reed could easily be overlooked. For a guy who is drawing comparisons to Aaron Hernandez, it may be worth the Panthers while to bring him on board.
There are some players who many may feel deserve a place on this list. However, it is quite difficult to comprise a list of players who would be the perfect fit for a team. Below are the names of those who didn't make the cut but were considered and the explanation as to why they were not included on this slideshow.
Shariff Floyd — Floyd is an outstanding defensive tackle and would easily make this list. However, it is highly doubtful he drops to the middle of the first round, and if he does, the Panthers would be wise to nab him immediately.
Sheldon Richardson — He only had one great season at Mizzou and has struggled in the rushing attack. Carolina wants a defensive tackle that can handle the run and rush the passer. Richardson would probably be ideal at DT if Lotulelei is off the board but then again, the Panthers may pursue another player.
Cordarrelle Patterson — Like Richardson, he only had one great season at his alma mater. Unlike Richardson, Patterson only played one year at Tennessee. This raises concerns about his ability to perform at the next level. He may pose a big enough risk for Carolina to overlook him and go a different direction at wide receiver.
Tavon Austin — This was the hardest omission to list here because he has incredible ability and would be a welcome addition to any franchise. The only knock against him is his size. While many fans like the idea of Steve Smith 2.0, the team may want to get a big-bodied receiver. There is no doubt that he would be an integral part of the team, but the Panthers may have reservations about drafting him in favor of a bigger, stronger receiver.