Carolina Panthers Big Board: Final Pre-Draft Update
After months of scouting and evaluating this year's draft class, it's almost time for the event itself. The NFL draft is one of the most unpredictable events in all of sports, as one trade can make even the most researched mock drafts appear foolish.
The Carolina Panthers currently have five picks in this year's draft, as they are without selections in the third and seventh rounds.
One not-so-funny note, the Panthers would have their third-round pick if former GM Marty Hurney had not sent it to San Francisco during last year's draft to acquire a pick that turned into Joe Adams. Alas, the past cannot be changed, but it's important that new GM Dave Gettleman learns from Hurney's mistakes.
Building a contender is a gradual process, one that must be grounded in getting excellent value out of the draft annually.
The Panthers have a solid core that has the potential to contend for years to come, which means it's up to the front office to augment the roster.
Carolina currently owns the 14th spot in the first round and could go a number of different ways with the pick. With needs at defensive tackle, wide receiver, along the offensive line and in the secondary, it's hard to confidently project who the Panthers might select if they keep their current selection.
With the draft in the immediate future, it's time for one final Panthers big board.
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
1.) Star Lotulelei
2.) Sheldon Richardson
3.) Sylvester Williams
4.) Kawann Short
5.) Johnathan Jenkins
The Carolina Panthers have needed a quality defensive tackle for years, and the addition of Star Lotulelei would solidify their front seven.
Early on in the draft process, Lotulelei appeared destined to come off the board within the first five picks. Since then, he was flagged with a heart issue and was jumped on most draft boards by Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.
NFL doctors have since cleared Lotulelei, but his draft stock is unpredictable. He could easily go off the board to the Philadelphia Eagles as early as fourth, but there appears to be a chance that he could slip all the way down to the 14th selection.
If the Panthers nabbed Lotulelei, he would instantly start alongside Dwan Edwards on the interior of the defensive line with Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy rushing off the edges.
The odds aren't great, but it's tough to concoct an endgame for the Panthers that's better than drafting Lotulelei.
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
1.) Tavon Austin
2.) Cordarrelle Patterson
3.) Kennan Allen
4.) DeAndre Hopkins
5.) Robert Woods
Throughout his first two seasons, Cam Newton worked hard to develop as a pocket passer and a leader.
When the Carolina Panthers were 2-6 last season Newton could have succumbed to the criticism, but he didn't. Instead, he led the Panthers to five wins in the team's final eight games and ignited a fire within the fanbase.
At this point, it's up to the Carolina's front office to give him more weapons and better protection.
Bringing in Tavon Austin would definitely increase the offense's firepower, as the West Virginia product was one of the most explosive players in the country last season.
During his senior season as a Mountaineer, Austin hauled in 114 receptions for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns. That type of production is hard to ignore, even if it did come in a high-octane passing attack led by Geno Smith.
Austin is a threat to take the ball to the house every time he touches it, which puts him in the Percy Harvin category. When you have an opportunity to take a player like him, you do it, especially when your offense is in dire need of weapons.
In regard to special teams, Austin is dangerous when returning punts and kicks, which is an area the Panthers could definitely improve.
If the need at defensive tackle wasn't so big, Austin would easily be the No. 1 player on this big board.
USA TODAY Sports
1.) Chance Warmack
2.) Jonathan Cooper
3.) Kyle Long
4.) Larry Warford
5.) Brian Winters
If you were to rank the best overall players in this year's class, Chance Warmack would easily rank inside the top five. However, since the Alabama product plays guard, he isn't valued as highly as other prospects.
At 6'2" and 317 pounds, Warmack has the frame to be dominant in passing and rushing situations. During his junior season in Tuscaloosa, Warmack contributed as a member of the most productive offensive lines in recent memory.
The Carolina Panthers have a serious need at right guard, where Geoff Hangartner is currently slated to start. Clearly this is an area that could be improved, and bringing in Warmack would turn the right guard position from a weakness into a major strength.
Based upon his talent, Warmack would not be a reach if he were still available at No. 14. Whether or not he is still on the board is uncertain, as he is projected to be a stud for the next decade.
While drafting Warmack won't lift a team into Super Bowl contention, he's the type of player that will make the entire offense better from day one.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
1.) Desmond Trufant
2.) Xavier Rhodes
3.) D.J. Hayden
4.) Tyrann Mathieu
5.) Blidi Wreh-Wilson
After spending four seasons at the University of Washington, Desmond Trufant is about as NFL ready as a cornerback can possibly be. Whatever team lands Trufant will be landing one of this year's most durable prospects, as the young corner appeared in 45 straight games at one point in college.
Two of Trufant's other brothers have logged 13 seasons in the NFL between them, so Desmond certainly knows what to expect when he walks into training camp later on this summer.
Trufant distinguished himself from the rest of this year's cornerback prospects at the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine. In the evaluation process, he showed great athleticism and mastery of man coverage schemes.
Upon being drafted, Trufant would be equally comfortable playing inside or on the outside. That versatility will be important, as most teams have a trio of talented wide receivers in today's pass-happy game.
When Trufant faced off against USC wide receiver Marqise Lee (who is projected to be a top-five pick in next year's draft), he held the talented youngster to just two catches for 32 yards, both of which were season lows for Lee.
Barring injury, Trufant will string together a successful NFL career, one that might rival his older brother (Marcus Trufant).
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
1.) Kenny Vaccaro
2.) Jonathan Cyprien
3.) D.J Swearinger
4.) Matt Elam
5.) Eric Reid
At this point, Charles Godfrey is set to be the Carolina Panthers strong safety with Haruki Nakamura penciled in to start the season at free safety. There's an obvious problem here, as neither player would be a starting safety on a legitimate playoff team.
While Godfrey is still a respectable player, Nakamura needs to be relieved of his starting duties as soon as possible.
Enter Kenny Vaccaro, a safety out of Texas who could line up at either either free or strong safety in a pinch. Throughout his time in Austin, Vaccaro proved to be a strong and athletic safety, each of which are important traits for elite players at the position.
As he demonstrated in college, Vaccaro can step inside the box to defend against the run or sit back and act as the last line of defense against the opposition's passing attack.
The Panthers probably won't address the safety position until after the first round, but the team would be better with Vaccaro starting at safety.