10 Draft Prospects Who Will Fill the Carolina Panthers' Biggest Needs

Charles Edwards@@CEdwards80Contributor IJanuary 3, 2014

10 Draft Prospects Who Will Fill the Carolina Panthers' Biggest Needs

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    The Carolina Panthers have used the NFL draft to build their team.  Picks like Cam Newton in 2011 have helped.  Who will the team pick first in 2014?
    The Carolina Panthers have used the NFL draft to build their team. Picks like Cam Newton in 2011 have helped. Who will the team pick first in 2014?Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    There is still a lot of time before next spring's draft, and while 20 teams are already preparing for the combine and pro days, playoff teams like the Carolina Panthers are getting ready for a run at the Super Bowl.  That is not to say the team isn't going over scouting reports and trying to figure out which players will make an immediate impact to the team's future.

    Last year's class showed how drafting well can turn around a team, and the selections of Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short and A.J. Klein all proved to be good picks.  There is no reason the think that Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman can't repeat that same success in 2014.

    Carolina, despite being a division winner, still has a lot of holes to fill.  Both sides of the ball feature glaring needs, and it will be up to Gettleman to determine which position needs to be addressed first.  

    Keep in mind that this is a preliminary list and the prospect rankings can change between now and May.  This slideshow will not only feature possible first-round picks but those the Panthers may target throughout the entire draft.  Additionally, the order is based on player rankings at the time of this writing and not necessarily a reflection of when the Panthers will draft.

    All prospect scouting reports are from CBSSports.com and are subject to change.

Team Needs

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    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    Last April, Dave Gettleman concentrated on the defense and, more importantly, the defensive line.  By adding size to the interior of the defensive front, he transformed a beleaguered line into one of the most dominant in the league.  Both Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short stepped up in their rookie campaigns and opened the doors for veterans like Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis to make plays.

    There is no reason to believe that Gettleman's draft strategy will change, as he will most likely focus on building up the offensive line and hopefully add some weapons to help open up the playbook.  

    Carolina needs help at offensive guard, offensive tackle, wide receiver, cornerback and safety.  Of the five positions, Gettleman will most likely target an offensive lineman or defensive back first, but it will ultimately come down to the greatest need.

    The smart money suggests the Panthers target a tackle because two division rivals, the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have a pick within the top 10.  With star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney projecting to be a top-10 selection, protecting Cam Newton will become priority No. 1. 

    Hopefully, the talented end will be off the board before either team picks, but with the St. Louis Rams showing a willingness to trade down, the odds of Clowney ending up in the NFC South are as good as any.

    Of course, if the Panthers are willing to gamble and wait to draft a lineman, they may go after a wide receiver.  There is no question Carolina needs to upgrade the position with a solid playmaker who will succeed Steve Smith in the offense.  The lack of one was evident in the the regular season finale at Atlanta.  

    No matter how the Panthers pursue the draft, it makes sense that special attention will be paid to upgrading the offense and improving the offensive rankings of the passing and running games.

Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M

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    Assuming that quarterback-desperate teams set their sights at drafting the future face of their franchise, there is little reason to believe that Carolina would have a chance at picking Cedric Ogbuehi.  The offensive tackle out of Texas A&M is ranked among the top 20 prospects in the draft, and it's possible he could be off the board by the time the Panthers are on the clock.

    However, if teams get hung up on quarterbacks early in the draft like they did in 2011, it's possible Ogbuehi falls to the Panthers.

    With the uncertainty about Jordan Gross' future and the inconsistent play of Byron Bell, it makes sense for Dave Gettleman to address this position with the team's first pick.  It doesn't hurt that the young man protected Johnny Manziel and possesses the athleticism to do the same for Cam Newton.

    However, he is still a player that needs to be polished as he struggles to pick up the pass rush coming off the edge.  Carolina struggled at times throughout the season keeping blitz packages at bay.  If the offensive tackle position isn't addressed first, then perhaps the focus will be turned to the interior at guard.

Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor

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    The Carolina Panthers seemed limited at offensive guard this year.  Amini Silatolu and rookie Edmund Kugbila were both on the injured reserve early in the season.  The lack of depth at the position forced the Panthers to move defensive tackles Nate Chandler and Sione Fua from their spots on defense to the offensive line.  

    This is where Cyril Richardson comes into play.

    Ranked 26th overall among this year's draft prospects, he is in a position that could allow for Carolina to select him without having to trade up to get him.  However, he still projects as a late first-round to early second-round pick, so with the Panthers picking late, he could still be available.

    He has a lot of upside, as his size (6'5", 340 lbs) fits Dave Gettleman's draft philosophy.  For the uninitiated, he prefers size on the line.  This is why he took two defensive tackles within the first two rounds of last year's draft.  Richardson is capable of playing either guard position, which works for a Carolina team lacking in depth.

    Much like Cedric Ogbuehi, Richardson has experience blocking for a mobile quarterback, as he blocked for Robert Griffin III before he declared for the 2012 draft.

    The offensive line raises a lot of questions, but it wouldn't be surprising if the Panthers decided to fulfill the wish of the fanbase and target a wide receiver first.

Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

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    Carolina fans might as well accept the fact that Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Marqise Lee will not be on the board when the Panthers' turn to pick comes up.  Barring an unexpected trade to move up and get one of them, the idea of drafting one of these three top receivers will need to be filed away as wishful thinking.

    However, not all is lost.  

    If the Panthers make a deep playoff run and find themselves picking between 29 and 32, Allen Robinson may fall in their lap.  He is considered the fourth-best receiver in this year's class and projects as late as an early second-round pick.

    Carolina desperately needs another playmaker at wide receiver and one that can help and eventually replace Steve Smith.  NFL draft analyst Dane Brugler seems to think Robinson will go to the Panthers with the 30th pick.

    Robinson is coming off back-to-back seasons with over 1,000 yards receiving.  His touchdown numbers were down this season compared to the year before (11 to six), but he had 20 more receptions this past year with 97.  

    His height (6'3"), combined with his ability to leap and grab balls, makes him a valuable asset inside the red zone.  The only real knock against him is his ability to stretch the field.  It's unknown if his lack of straight-line speed will be a cause for concern, but with Carolina picking late in the first round, the Panthers may not have a choice if they indeed choose to go after a receiver.

Deone Bucannon, SS, Washington State

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    The only unit of the Carolina defense that is considered weak is the secondary.  Whether it is safety or cornerback, the Panthers could use an upgrade at either position.  That is not to say the contributions of undrafted free agents Melvin White and Robert Lester will go unrewarded.  Both have earned a chance at becoming full-time starters and combined with the uncertainty of Captain Munnerlyn, the secondary may need to be slightly rebuilt.

    Based on the projected spot the Panthers will occupy in the draft and assuming they address the secondary, the best player available to fill their needs is Deone Bucannon out of Washington State.  

    Last year, Carolina opted for upgrading its defensive line and bypassed Kenny Vaccaro.  This year, the Panthers should be in a position to fill one of their needs with one of the top position players in the draft without having to take him in the first round.

    Bucannon is a hard-hitting safety who projects to be drafted late in the second round.  Interestingly enough, he is the top-rated strong safety among his peers in the draft.  

    Quintin Mikell and Robert Lester have both done a good job at this position.  However, if the Panthers are satisfied with their situation at safety, they may look at cornerback if Munnerlyn decides to sign somewhere else.

Lamarcus Joyner, CB, Florida State

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    If Captain Munnerlyn leaves Carolina in free agency, the Panthers may want to address his absence with a corner who matches his skill set.  The second round features another defensive back that could grab the attention of the Carolina scouting department.  

    One such player is Lamarcus Joyner.

    Joyner played safety at Florida State, but his size (5'8") has him moving to cornerback at the professional level.  His size really seems to be his only weakness, but he will be able to make up for it with his speed and ball-hawking ability.  

    This young man could be another (potentially improved) version of Munnerlyn.

    He has all the intangibles needed to play inside and out.  Joyner should have no problem matching up with some of the league's best receivers and in a division that features some of the elite in Jimmy Graham, Marquis Colston, Roddy White and Vincent Jackson; his presence will be a valuable commodity.  

    Carolina will not be able to rely on its blitzing ability on every play.  Taking a corner or safety in the second round (or third) could help shore up the elite unit's biggest weakness.

Anthony Steen, OG, Alabama

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    Assuming the Carolina Panthers continue to follow their draft-day blueprint, it wouldn't be surprising to see them target another offensive lineman in the middle rounds (although this young man has been projected as early as the second).  One such target could be Alabama product Anthony Steen.

    The young man has not been the recipient of many accolades bestowed upon the Crimson Tide's offensive line.  However, he is just as talented despite being sidelined due to a concussion.  At 6'2" and 310 lbs, he is a big man who can add some beef to the Carolina front.

    If he can continue to maintain the style of play that earned him high marks in college and a spot among the top five at his position, he could be a great addition to the Carolina offense.

    A lot of fans hate seeing linemen being taking in the draft, favoring the flashy talents of skill position players instead.  However, if the Panthers are to get better offensively, they will need to shore up their first line of defense when it comes to protecting their quarterback and opening up some running lanes.

Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia

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    One thing we learned from Dave Gettleman during last year's draft was his ability to find value in best player available versus team need.  Using this logic, Carolina could add another pass-catching tight end.  This could be the case if A) the Panthers use their early picks to shore up the offensive line and B) they cannot find a suitable wide receiver to plug into the offense.

    Tight end is not necessarily a pressing need for the Panthers, but Arthur Lynch could give them a suitable option.  This would be especially true if they utilized more big sets in 2014.  Lynch proved to be a reliable pass-catching tight end while at Georgia and gave quarterback Aaron Murray a safety blanket if a receiver was not open down the field.

    Adding Lynch to the roster makes sense because it gives the Panthers an element they haven't had since 2011: two pass-catching tight ends who are capable of making big plays.  By employing another tight end as a receiver, the focus of the linebackers will go away from Greg Olsen and perhaps spread the opposing defense thin.  

    Lynch is not only a pass-catching tight end, either.  He has the the ability to block in the trenches and keep defenders out of the backfield.  While Ben Hartsock is a capable end in his own right, he lacks the ability Lynch can bring to the offense.  

    Carolina found success with Olsen and Jeremy Shockey in 2011; it wouldn't be surprising to see the team return to a similar formula in 2014.

Justin Britt, OT, Missouri

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    Keeping in line with the Carolina draft strategy, there is a possibility that in Rounds 4 or 5 the Panthers will look to address the offensive line again.  Another big body guard who could be available is Justin Britt of Missouri.

    As of now, there is little to no information on the offensive guard, but he does offer good size at 6'6" and 315 lbs.  Essentially, the Carolina front office may see a need to bulk up a line that has been plagued by age and injuries.  

    The success of the defensive front can be attributed to the youth on the line, and the same concept could be applied to the offensive side of the ball.  There can never be enough depth, and if Britt meets the criteria of Dave Gettleman, he could be wearing Panther blue next summer.

Jonathan Brown, OLB, Illinois

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    Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

    The later rounds will see the Panthers trying to shore up positions that may need depth.  As mentioned earlier, the offensive line is one of those areas.  Defensively, Carolina could use a late pick on another linebacker.  While the team boasts a great starting unit and solid backups, having additional help can never hurt.

    Jonathan Brown seems to be the type of player that could be a late-round steal.

    Looking at his numbers from his senior year at Illinois (119 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, five sacks and one interception), there is reason to believe he could fit the Carolina defensive scheme.  His style of play suggests an aggressiveness that has been seen from both Thomas Davis and Chase Blackburn.

    Carolina has no problem finding gems in the later rounds.  Greg Hardy is a perfect example of this, having been taken in the sixth round of the 2011 draft.  Brown could be that next gem.  His ability to pursue and take down ball-carriers is on par with the Panthers' current linebacker corps.  

    While it's a position that is not in dire need of help, it can be one that can improve through depth.

Corey Linsley, C, Ohio State

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    Carolina has its offensive line anchored by Ryan Kalil.  The seven-year veteran center and four-time Pro Bowler should be with the team for the foreseeable future.  However, that is no reason to disregard the position during the upcoming draft.

    The Panthers could close out the draft by selecting a lineman and, in this case, a center.  Corey Linsley makes sense here because he has experience blocking and protecting a mobile quarterback.  If anything, Linsley could be either a depth chart player and fill in at guard if needed or be sent to the scout team.

    Most of Carolina's drafted players tend to do well for themselves in camp, so it isn't unreasonable to think he won't succeed at the next level.  Even if he goes undrafted, the Panthers could sign him as a free agent where he can work his way up from there.  

    With over five months to go until May's draft, there will be a lot of movement with these players, as their stock will either rise or fall.  Who was projected to land in Carolina this month will most likely change as early as next month and even more following the completion of the combine and pro days.

    Panther Nation, you can follow me as I explore the draft class in further detail over the next few months.