The Panthers have hit home runs in the first round of the last two drafts. Can they do the same in 2013?
As the 2013 NFL draft approaches, the Carolina Panthers faithful have mostly determined the first pick will either be a defensive tackle or a wide receiver. That is not say there aren't a few exceptions, as the Panthers are in a position to go in any direction.
There are really only two defensive tackles fans would like to see Carolina draft in the first round. One may be available, while the other looks destined to be gone within the top 10. If the fans had it their way, either Sharrif Floyd or Star Lotulelei would be the choices with the 14th overall pick.
Floyd measures slightly smaller than Lotulelei, weighing in at just under 300 pounds. Despite this, he is quick and has the capability to shut down the running lanes up the middle.
The Panthers need a run-stuffer up the middle, and Floyd would be an excellent complement to Dwan Edwards, who has proven himself in the pass rush. Together, they could shore up a defensive line that has been lacking talent on the interior.
While the chances are good that Floyd will be gone by the time Carolina is on the clock, Lotulelei could still give them that run-stopping tackle and vastly improve their pass rush up the middle. Once considered a top-five talent, Lotulelei has fallen down many draft boards and could be a steal for a team in desperate need of defensive line talent.
Lotulelei is best suited as a 3-4 defensive end, but he is versatile enough to play in a 4-3, the same scheme the Panthers use on defense. Lotulelei could enhance the Carolina defense by switching over to the edge and giving the Panthers different looks.
With the success Greg Hardy had when playing at defensive tackle, logic says a similar setup in 2013 would be even better.
The fans in Carolina have been wishing for a playmaker at wide receiver for a while now. With Steve Smith getting older, it won't be much longer before the Panthers lack a legitimate threat at receiver.
The 2013 draft class offers a couple of potential heirs to the No. 1 receiver spot.
While there have been a few mock drafts having the Panthers selecting Cordarrelle Patterson, there have been fans who felt that West Virginia product Tavon Austin would be a better fit. Both receivers have gained favor with the Carolina fanbase.
Patterson had a great year at Tennessee. Unfortunately, it was his only year, and his lack of experience at the FBS level may have teams a bit hesitant about drafting him. However, if he turns out to be the real deal and is able to produce at the pro level, the Panthers will solve a key need for at least another couple of years.
He has the size the Panthers have been craving from a No. 1 wideout measuring in at 6'2”. Additionally, he has good speed which allows him to break away in one-on-one coverage. Patterson's presence in the Carolina offense not only gives Cam Newton another weapon to throw to, but it adds speed and the possibility for big plays on both sides of the field.
While Patterson seems to be a trendy choice among writers, experts and fans alike, Tavon Austin has popped up on the fans' radar.
At first glance, Austin would appear to be in the mold of Smith. Both are about the same height. But Austin possesses ridiculous speed which, paired with Smith, would create a lot of mismatches and chaos for opposing defenses.
While the Panthers may want a bigger, more physical receiver, the idea of having two speedsters stretching the field may be too much to pass on. Austin and Smith have the skills to get the Panthers offense inside the red zone, where the bigger receivers and tight ends can play a more prominent role.
Regardless of who is taken as the wide receiver, either one these guys should make the fans feel really good about the success of the Carolina offense.
The fans understand the need to protect Cam Newton and get somebody on the offensive line who can help open running lanes. There are several linemen in this draft who can help the Panthers in both areas, but only two are in the first-round chatter.
As luck would have it, both are from the same school, too.
Both Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker were instrumental in Alabama's success on the offensive line, and for Carolina to draft either one of them would mean an instant upgrade to the team's offensive line. With Jordan Gross getting older, this could be the year the Panthers decide to draft his replacement.
Warmack is capable of keeping pass-rushers at bay and can do his part in the running game by effectively blocking out linebackers. Given his size, it wouldn't be surprising to see him moved to offensive guard.
Fluker is just as effective and would help bolster a line that is on the cusp of a transition period. His strength could benefit the Carolina rushing attack and with depth at running back, the running game could be dominant once again. Fluker's size and power have been his biggest selling points. Both would be a huge factor in the trenches, especially near the goal line.
He could drop into the second round, and if he somehow manages to slip to the Panthers at the 44th overall pick, he could be a Round 2 steal.
There have been fans clamoring for a defensive back that can be a difference-maker on defense. While there are obvious needs at corner, many feel the Panthers should address the safety position in the first round and draft Kenny Vaccaro.
Which player do you think Carolina drafts in Round 1?
Vaccaro could present an immediate upgrade to the safety position. He is physical and has natural agility to move into the nickel slot position. One thing that works in his favor is his ability to locate the ball, but he isn't the prototypical ball hawk the fans have been craving.
Despite this, Vaccaro would be an instant starter if he were drafted and most likely would allow the Panthers to cut the dead weight from the position.
While there may be other players that fans would like to see Carolina draft in the first round, these are the names that appear the most. So, which position or player do you feel will be the better fit for the Panthers?
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