Carolina Panthers NFL Draft Preview: Ranking Their Biggest Needs

Tyler Horner@BR_TylerHornerCorrespondent IIDecember 5, 2011

Carolina Panthers NFL Draft Preview: Ranking Their Biggest Needs

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    The Panthers currently stand at 4-8 and barring an amazing stretch of events, they will not reach the playoffs. That means it's time to start planning for the offseason, and what's the most important event on the offseason calendar—the NFL Draft. 

    The incoming draft class is deep with talent, assuming the expected juniors do in fact leave early, meaning the trade-off for winning games and getting a lower draft pick begins to look more favorable. 

    Despite the optimism around the organization, there are some looming question marks on the defense that will need to be addressed through the draft. 

    Here's a look at the biggest holes on the Panthers' current roster. 

5. Linebacker

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    The Panthers have a very talented group of linebackers, but their two best players are currently on IR and have been for nearly the entire season. 

    Jon Beason is a Pro Bowl player; there's no doubt he will return and remain a Panther, but Thomas Davis has suffered knee injuries in three consecutive seasons, so it's time to wonder what his future is with Carolina. 

    Behind the starting line, their isn't much depth, and when you consider that Ron Rivera may make a conversion to a 3-4 scheme, it might be time to search for the proper personnel. 

4. Tackle

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    Byron Bell is the current starter here, and while he's only a rookie, he has glaring limitations that will prevent him from becoming an attractive long-term option. 

    Jeff Otah is extremely talented but can't stay in shape or out of the trainer's room. He's suffered season-ending injuries in consecutive seasons. The franchise cannot count on Otah to be the player whom they move forward with. 

    At left tackle, the Panthers have an All-Pro player in Jordan Gross, but he's getting up there in age, and it's never too early to start grooming a replacement, even if they may not take over the starting position for three to five more years. 

3. Receiver

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    Steve Smith has been the only consistent receiver on the roster, and he has had his off games as well. The Panthers need to give their sprouting young quarterback, Cam Newton, more options to grow with and assist with his development. 

    Legedu Naanee was supposed to enter and be the possession receiver this offense needs, but he's dropped far too many passes to be counted on to fulfill that role. 

    Bringing in a sizable receiver opposite Smith would make this offense more complete and efficient in the red zone. Then you add David Gettis back into the mix and you have a deep group of receivers who will be ready to step up when Steve Smith isn't playing elite football like he is this season. 

2. Defensive Tackle

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    The Panthers have been beat up on the ground all season long, and the interior defensive line is largely to blame. They have gotten pushed around by the better offensive lines they've faced and haven't taken advantage of their lesser opponents. 

    They have also failed to rush the passer, forcing the Panthers to blitz if they have any hope of collapsing the pocket. Bringing in a big body that can demand double teams and also rush the passer on third downs would be a huge addition. 

1. Cornerback

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    The Panthers have a very good starting cornerback in Chris Gamble, but Captain Munnerlyn and Darius Butler are better suited to be backups. Both have been shuffling starting duties, but it's time for the Panthers to find a ball hawk to line up opposite Gamble. 

    Adding a cornerback that can play well in man would be just what the doctor ordered for Carolina. The Panthers don't have great coverage safety's, so getting beat in man almost always result in a touchdown or long gain. 

    Having a corner with great ball skills would also inject a lot of life into a defense that has typically fallen apart in the latter parts of their games this season. Overall, adding a franchise cornerback should be the chief priority for the Panthers as they approach the draft.