Chris Chambers/Getty Images
The Carolina Panthers have needs at wide receiver, offensive tackle and in the secondary. Depending on how the offseason unfolds with the team's free agents, targeting a defensive end may become a need as well. However, it seems as though the initial focus will be on the offense.
The possible departure of Jordan Gross calls for an immediate replacement, but the lack of another playmaking wide receiver screams for an upgrade at the position. There are several viable candidates that could be the Carolina Panthers' first pick, but it will either come down to greatest need or best player available.
A recent article broke down what the Panthers' initial big board may look like. There are many scenarios that can take place on draft day and it wouldn't be surprising to see the first three players taken fill a crucial team need.
The following is a breakdown of the top players at each position Carolina will most likely target before the draft.
Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State) – Perhaps the best late-first-round receiver in the draft. If he is on the board when the Panthers are on the clock, the smart money says they waste no time picking him up.
Allen Robinson (Penn State) – Another solid option if Benjamin is off the board and Carolina is targeting a wide receiver as its first pick.
Brandin Cooks (Oregon State) – He is the first player taken by the Panthers is a few drafts; notably Mel Kiper's recent mock draft (subscription required) and Matt Miller's mock draft. His size and speed suggest a younger version of Steve Smith, but Carolina would probably want to see about drafting a receiver with size first.
Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt) – He is another strong candidate that could be taken if Benjamin is off the board. Matthews has good size and he has the kind of playmaking ability that could free up Steve Smith and Greg Olsen. He presents a solid first-round selection as he may not be around late in Round 2.
Mike Davis (Texas) – Assuming the Panthers hold off on drafting a wide receiver until the third round, they could find themselves in a position to take Davis. He has the height to be a good receiver in the league but may need to bulk up his frame to compete with opposing defensive backs on jump balls.
Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama) – One of two offensive tackles that could be the heir-apparent to Jordan Gross. He has great size and is quick off the snap. His background with a perennial contender in college should motivate him to be as successful at the professional level.
Morgan Moses (Virginia) – Moses' contributions helped the Cavaliers have their first 1,000-yard rusher since 2004. That could help the Carolina running game and keep Cam Newton from having to be called upon to make plays. Slightly bigger than Kouanddijo, Moses could be a top candidate to go to the Panthers at the 28th pick.
Cyril Richardson (Baylor) – Another first-round option is the big man from Baylor. Richardson has experience with blocking for mobile quarterbacks and that could benefit the Panthers on the interior. However, tackle is a more pressing need and unless Richardson is the best player available, he should go somewhere else.
Anthony Steen (Alabama) – Another member of the Crimson Tide, Steen could be a solid mid-round selection to shore up the inside of the offensive line if the Panthers are comfortable with their previous picks. If he is taken by the Panthers in the fourth round, it should be considered a steal and the offensive line could be vastly improved after four rounds.
Jason Verrett (TCU) – The need to improve on the outside of the secondary could result in a cornerback being taken in the first two rounds. Verrett could be an option, but as the Panthers' first choice, it seems unlikely.
Loucheiz Purifoy (Florida) – Taking a cornerback in the second round seems more reasonable and even more so if Purifoy is the best player on the board. There is a chance he could drop low into the third round and if he does, he becomes a no-brainer selection for a team needing a possible replacement for Captain Munnerlyn.
Keith McGill (Utah) – If Purifoy isn't available in the third round, McGill is as good an option as they come. He has really good size for a cornerback and that will allow him to get physical with receivers on the outside.
Deone Buchannon (Washington State) – If Carolina is to take Buchannon, it may do so in Round 2. He could go either in that round or early in the third. He has good size for the safety position and is the kind of player to make receivers pay up the middle.
Calvin Pryor (Louisville) – Another physical safety, Pryor is regarded as a late first rounder and may not be in the Panthers' plans unless he somehow falls. What separates Pryor and Buchannon from the other defensive backs listed here is the importance of the safety position. Charles Godfrey and Robert Lester both look to return as starters or key players in the secondary in 2014. Re-signing Quintin Mikell and Mike Mitchell could allow the Panthers to look elsewhere on draft day.
There are plenty of other players that can be listed here, but these are the ones who could gain some early attention as the combine and pro days draw closer. The players Carolina will lose in free agency could reshape their big board and make one position more important than another.