Who Are the Experts Predicting to Carolina in the 1st Round of the NFL Draft?
Nearly two months ago, an article was published on here discussing the picks of the NFL's leading draft experts and analysts. This slideshow will revisit that article as Bleacher Report is focusing on the projected players selected to go to the Carolina Panthers in the first round of next month's draft.
There should be some familiar names here but don't rule out the possibility of some new ones either. The needs of the Panthers are still the same and high value remains for a wide receiver, offensive tackle and cornerback. Carolina's thrifty spending in free agency has done little to make people think any of its major needs have been addressed.
Spoiler alert: the draft panelists at CBSSports.com have all leaned towards an offensive tackle as the Panthers' first selection of the 2014 draft. This article should create a decent amount of buzz with the draft being 30 days away.
Feel free to submit your pick for the Carolina Panthers first-round pick in the comments section.
Sources for mock drafts include the Charlotte Observer, CBS Sports, Bleacher Report and Sports Illustrated. Projections on this list have been made in the month of February unless otherwise noted. Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com and scouting reports provided by CBSSports.com
Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
Predicted by: Rob Rang, CBS Sports; Knox Bardeen, Bleacher Report
There is a lot to like about Morgan Moses. He has size, nimble feet and possesses good overall strength. He is one of two favorites projected to the Panthers by CBSSports.com and there is reason to believe he could be the team's first pick.
Carolina needs someone who can replace Jordan Gross and Moses is just one of several leading candidates for the job. Not only does he become an upgrade for the offensive line and gives Cam Newton an exceptional blocker off the edge, but Moses could help open running lanes for the running backs.
Moses could help DeAngelo Williams reach 1,000 yards rushing; a mark that has not been reached since 2009. The biggest takeaway from this particular selection is it will give the Panthers a productive offensive tackle who should be capable of playing either side.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Predicted by: Mel Kiper, Jr, ESPN (subscription required)
The receiver who could be the second coming of Steve Smith, Brandin Cooks has comparable size, speed and leaping ability to the former Carolina standout. While this prediction may be old, Cooks was the projected pick to the Panthers earlier this year.
Cooks could be valuable as a both a receiver and return specialist for Carolina. However, his stock has risen a lot since the combine and could be off the board by the time the Panthers are on the clock. If he is still there late in the first, it will give the Carolina front office a lot to consider.
Since Cooks is 5'10" and the team has signed a veteran slot receiver, it's likely any receiver taken by the Panthers in the draft is at least 6'0" tall. The need for a big-bodied receiver on the outside will come into play, especially when the offense is inside the 20-yard line.
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Predicted by: Don Banks, SI.com; Dane Brugler, Pete Prisco, Pat Kirwan and Will Brinson; CBS Sports
The good news about Cyrus Kouandjio; he can be an exceptional blocker when healthy. The bad news; he has been dealing with knee problems that earned him a failing grade during the NFL combine. Recent history has proven that medical issues won't deter Dave Gettleman from making the best pick possible. One need look no further than last year's selection of Star Lotulelei in the first round for proof.
He is a great blocker in pass-protection and is just as good with blocking in the running game. His overall ability is the reason why five experts feel he is the ideal and best pick for the Carolina Panthers at 28th overall.
Kouandjio can be an excellent addition to a team that is rebuilding its line. Last year, Cam Newton showed he is at his best when he has time to throw and the running backs are very good at taking advantage of holes opened up at the line of scrimmage. Kouandjio is the type of lineman who can give them the kind of long-term option to grow with the offense.
Of course, much of that projected success will hinge on his ability to stay healthy.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Predicted by: John McMullen, Sports Network via Charlotte Observer
His previous pick for the Panthers had Brandin Cooks joining the team as the first-round choice. Now, based on John McMullen's mock, Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin are off the board which leaves Marqise Lee as the next best option, per his analysis.
With Jerricho Cotchery likely to fill in one of the outside receiver positions and Jason Avant lining up in the slot, Lee will bring speed, excellent route running and physical blocking to the Carolina offense. Much like Cyrus Kouandjio, he has a history of injuries and that could drop his stock. If the Panthers overlook that aspect of his scouting profile and he is able to stay on the field, he could develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver.
It should be noted that Carolina's history with receivers from USC hasn't been the best fit for the team as former players Dwayne Jarrett and Keary Colbert did not pan out too well in the league. Perhaps the third time is the charm.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Predicted by: Matt Miller, Bleacher Report
Taylor Lewan may be plagued by issues regarding his off-field behavior, but one cannot dispute the talent he brings to the table as an offensive tackle that could easily go in the top 15. Miller makes a compelling case that Lewan will drop and a team in desperate need of an offensive tackle like the Carolina Panthers will not hesitate to take him as the 28th overall pick.
What makes Lewan appealing is the mean streak he possesses when on the field. That kind of attitude will go a long way when it comes to winning battles in the trenches. It may even serve as a breath of fresh air for a line that at times looked over matched up front.
His comparison to Jake Long bodes well for him, but it will ultimately come down to his availability and if Jerry Richardson and Dave Gettleman are willing to roll the dice on a player who could be facing a lot of legal battles stemming from an incident last year. Lewan denies any involvement regarding an altercation, but it is no doubt hurting his value on NFL draft boards.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Predicted by: Charles Edwards, Bleacher Report
While I am far from being an expert on the NFL draft in the traditional sense of the word, I felt it was only right to submit my prediction for the Carolina Panthers' first-round pick. The decision was not easy to come by and while I feel an offensive tackle is better suited for this round, I decided to play devil's advocate instead since the player I am high on has already been mentioned.
Based on Carolina's free-agency signings (Jerricho Cotchery, Tiquan Underwood and Jason Avant), it seemed natural that the team's first-round pick be wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. His 6'5" 240-pound frame makes him an attractive red-zone target, which is further complemented by his speed and ability to create separation.
Benjamin's flaws include dropping passes and inconsistent route running but both issues can be corrected with the proper mentoring and coaching from Carolina's staff and players. There is a lot of upside to Benjamin that makes him very attractive as a first-round choice. The Panthers could benefit from having a big, physical receiver in the offense and someone who can grow with Cam Newton.
This round will be a toss-up but either way it will net Carolina a much-needed player at a very weak position.