The Carolina Panthers made some serious improvements in 2013 and aren’t anywhere close to being done. With several things having gone right for them last season, it brought more attention to the things that they were missing.
A No. 2 receiver, a dependable right tackle and a ball hawk in the secondary have all become obvious needs for the Panthers and will likely get addressed in the upcoming draft.
Carolina will have their big board filled to the brim with their top choices at each position, no matter what their position is in each round.
The Panthers will be selecting 28th overall in May’s draft, and they will have a slew of talented young men to choose from. Of those young men from which they could potentially choose, there are several standouts.
One of those standouts is Mike Evans, the former Texas A&M receiver who is truly a “freak” when it comes to athleticism. He has a big frame with an impressive wingspan that allows him to go up grab most any pass thrown his way.
As I mentioned earlier, the Panthers also need an offensive tackle. Considering the fact that they may be losing star pass protector Jordan Gross, drafting an offensive lineman will become that much more important.
Of course, there’s no way to tell for sure who they will choose come draft day, but they certainly have a long list of players who would fit in rather nicely.
25. David Yankey, OG, Stanford
David Yankey proved to be an integral part of Stanford’s ground game, and he would provide a nice boost to Carolina’s offensive line. He played both guard and tackle for the Cardinals and did a great job at both positions. Yankey has a bully-like skill set that makes him a very talented blocker and a great fit for the Panthers’ rushing attack.
24. Dion Bailey, S, USC
In 2013, Dion Bailey looked like a young Bob Sanders at times when he would fly all over the field and instinctively make a play. Bailey was a big playmaker for the Trojans defense and would be a clear improvement to Carolina’s secondary.
23. Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
The Panthers don’t have a need at tight end, but Jace Amaro has great value and could make for a solid pair with Greg Olsen. Amaro had wide receiver-esque numbers for the Red Raiders in 2013, as he reeled in 106 catches for 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns.
His playmaking ability would make Olsen and him a Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez-type pair, which would certainly provide a huge boost to Carolina’s offense.
22. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Marqise Lee’s stats suffered in 2013 largely due to a knee injury and the shoddy quarterback play of the Trojans. There were times when Lee seemed like a hot-and-cold player, but his play in the Las Vegas Bowl certainly made an impression—he had seven catches for 118 yards and two scores.
He would fit rather nicely into the speedy offense of Carolina, and he could even play special teams as a return man.
21. Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Zack Martin was a solid tackle at Notre Dame, and he may be able to have some success in the NFL at the same position—although he might ultimately be better suited as an interior lineman. The Panthers could use someone with his versatility and size to help in pass protection and in the running game.
20. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
The Senior Bowl’s biggest stud would be a great addition to an already-potent defensive line for the Panthers. He has great size and is a monster in the middle of the trenches. While there isn’t really a need for another defensive tackle in Carolina, Donald’s talent may be too good to pass up, motivating the Panthers to make him their pick.
19. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The former Buckeye standout may not have had his best year in 2013, but what he showed earlier on in his collegiate career makes him a much more attractive prospect. He has all the physical tools he will need to become a great corner in the NFL, and he is well worth a first-round selection.
18. Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
Marcus Roberson missed a few games in 2013 due to injury, which may concern a few teams, but his coverage skills make him too good to ignore. He has the size and speed necessary to succeed in the NFL, and he also isn't afraid to jam the receiver at the line of scrimmage.
The former Gator has great speed and size for a corner, and as long as he can remain healthy, he would be a nice pickup for the Panthers.
17. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
Stanley Jean-Baptiste is a big cornerback who is benefiting from a great Senior Bowl week. Jean-Baptiste is great in coverage but can really lay the lumber on a receiver who tests his will down the seam. He’s not the most hyped guy coming out of college, but he is worth a look and would be a more-than-worthy addition.
16. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Cyrus Kouandjio, a DMV native, would fit nicely into Carolina’s offensive line, filling a need in the process. While I don’t believe he’s left-tackle material at this point in time, he would do a nice job manning the right side of their O-line.
Especially if Gross doesn’t return, the Panthers will need a talented tackle like Kouandjio who could potentially replace him as Newton’s blind-side protector.
15. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Kyle Fuller is a very physical corner who has a wide array of abilities. In college, he played very well against the stiffest of competition, namely against one of the nation’s best in Alabama (four tackles, two passes defended and an interception).
He’s not only a great cover guy but also contributes in run support, making him a well-rounded player who would fit marvelously into Carolina’s hard-hitting defense.
14. Lamarcus Joyner, CB, Florida State
Lamarcus Joyner would be a great fit in the Panthers defense for a few reasons, one of which being his versatility to play both corner and safety. Joyner is a bit short, but plays much bigger than he stands. He manages to be around the ball quite a bit and is often able to make the play no one’s expecting him to. He's not afraid to go after the ball, and he plays very aggressively in coverage at times.
13. Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
Antonio Richardson is a big man. At 6’6”, 332 pounds, Richardson is one of the largest, most talented tackles in this year’s draft. In college, he proved that he could defend against speed rushers while also managing to handle power rushers.
Richardson does have some room to improve in terms of giving up too much leverage to defenders, but he would be a valuable acquisition (and possible day-one starter) for the Panthers.
12. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Jordan Matthews was one of the country’s most productive wideouts in 2013, tallying 112 catches for more than 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns. He has the size and speed necessary to stretch the field, and he would make an immediate impact in Carolina’s offense. He’s a playmaker through and through and would make for quite the duo with Smith.
11. Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
Odell Beckham is one of the most explosive receivers coming out of college this year. His speed and athleticism allow him to line up in a number of positions; he could play inside in the slot or out along the sideline. He’s a very tough receiver who isn’t afraid to go across the middle, and he would make a great replacement for Smith once he decides to retire.
10. Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
Loucheiz Purifoy not only has one of the coolest names in the NFL draft, but he can also play some pretty good football. He possesses the speed to run with most receivers and is lanky enough to knock the ball away. Purifoy has smooth hips that allow him to not get tripped up when he has to turn and run with a receiver.
He’s a potential starter right away for Carolina, but once he becomes a more refined player after being sharpened by the NFL, Purifoy could become a serious game-changer.
9. Morgan Moses, OT, UVA
The Panthers need to shore up their offensive line, and Morgan Moses may be the guy they end up choosing. Although talented, he’s not the best tackle that Carolina could choose, but he might be the only one available by the time they select at 28th overall. Regardless, Moses is a solid tackle who could develop into a rather favorable starter at right tackle.
8. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Kelvin Benjamin is one of the best receivers in the draft, and he may be the best wideout available when the Panthers pick at 28th overall. He’s another big-bodied receiver who would provide a much-needed vertical threat across from Steve Smith. Benjamin has very solid speed and would make for a great red-zone target for Newton.
7. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Darqueze Dennard is one of the best overall corners in this year’s class. He would provide a much-needed boost to Carolina’s secondary and would be a day-one starter if the Panthers end up losing Captain Munnerlyn. Dennard does a great job of using his length to his advantage and also displays tremendous awareness. He will be a true No. 1 corner in the NFL some day.
6. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Taylor Lewan is one of the most gifted tackles in this year’s draft, and he would be a great replacement for Gross should the Panthers lose him to free agency. Even if he does return, Lewan would fit in nicely at right tackle until Gross decides to hang ‘em up. He was a great run blocker in college and made many improvements in his pass blocking throughout his senior season.
5. Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Calvin Pryor is a very physical safety with great range and a knack for making plays. He’s a bigger safety at 6’2”, 208 pounds, and he would add some extra “oomf” to Carolina’s secondary. His size allows him to competently defend tight ends and big receivers while also bullying the smaller ones.
4. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Justin Gilbert is rated by many to be the best corner in this draft, and for good reason. He has very good size for a corner at 6’0", 194 pounds, and he possesses the speed to keep up with almost any receiver. The Panthers desperately need to upgrade their secondary, and they will need to pull the trigger if they get a chance to nab Gilbert.
3. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
As the best safety in this year’s class, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would be a tremendous pickup for the Panthers. He has great size and range for a safety, and he also plays well in coverage. For a division that has guys like Matt Ryan and Drew Brees, Clinton-Dix would be a very valuable addition to Carolina’s secondary.
2. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Arguably the biggest home-run threat of 2014, Sammy Watkins would fill a huge need at wide receiver. He has a knack for gaining yards after the catch and isn't afraid to duck his head down and run over defenders—just ask Maryland's secondary.
Compared to some other guys in this class, Watkins is a smaller guy in stature, but his playmaking ability greatly exceeds almost any receiver and would make for a great fit in the Panthers offense.
1. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Mike Evans is the most physically dominating receiver of this year’s group. He has size that rivals some tight ends and would easily become one of Cam Newton’s favorite targets. His large stature combined with his athleticism makes him a terror to defend and allows him to win most jump balls.
Pairing him with Smith would immediately make the Panthers a much better offense and would certainly help Newton take the next leap into the NFL’s elite.