2012 NFL Draft: 5 Players the Carolina Panthers Could Draft for Cam Newton
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The Carolina Panthers (4-8) are a much, much, much better football team in 2011 than they were in 2010.
Most of their improvement can be attributed to the 2011 NFL Draft in which they selected the league’s most important newcomer and surefire 2011 Rookie of the Year, Cam Newton.
However, the Panthers still have plenty of holes to fill on both sides of the ball and on special teams.
Among those needs is a topflight No. 2 wide receiver to compliment Steve Smith and help Cam Newton & Co.. stretch the field and find the end zone with greater frequency in 2012.
The Panthers could also use new blood at the cornerback position opposite Chris Gamble to help get the defense off the field and to put the ball back in Newton's hands.
Here’s a look at five skill position players Panthers GM Marty Hurney and Coach Ron Rivera will be evaluating in the offseason and possibly picking on April 26, 2012, at the 2012 NFL Draft.
Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Morris Claiborne video
Though he is often overshadowed by his counterpart in LSU's defensive secondary, Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu, Morris Claiborne is widely regarded as the best cornerback in the 2012 NFL Draft.
The Panthers need a second cover-corner to compliment Chris Gamble on the other side of the field and Claiborne has the skills to do just that.
Claiborne, who usually draws the assignment of his opponent's top receiver, has 11 interceptions over the past two seasons and he is among the leaders of a defense that has the Bayou Bengals within a win of the 2012 BCS National Championship.
The 6'1", 185 pound cornerback has the potential to be a shut-down cover guy who can isolate his portion of the field like the Jets' Darrelle Revis, whose coverage area is affectionately known as "Revis Island."
LSU will square off in a rematch with SEC rival Alabama in the Allstate BCS National Championship game on Jan. 9, 2012.
Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Justin Blackmon 67-yard touchdown vs Texas
With the likes of Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon running routes in Stillwater the past few seasons, Oklahoma State has become a hotbed for wide receiver talent in recent years.
He had 111 catches for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2010.
A big, speedy guy like Blackmon who can really stretch the field would be a perfect No. 2 wideout to compliment Steve Smith in Carolina next season.
Blackmon is also a guy who can slide into that the No. 1 position around 2015-16 if and when Smith starts to lose a step or retires.
Oklahoma State will play Stanford in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2, 2012.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
Holy shut your mouth! Ridiculous one-handed catch by Alshon Jeffrey.
Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina's uber-talented wideout, is following in the footsteps of Gamecock greats Sterling Sharpe and Sidney Rice every time he takes the field.
At 6'4", 229 pounds, Jeffrey is a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive backs because he is not only a deep threat, but he can go up and snatch the ball away from just about any defensive back in the country in a jump ball situation.
Jeffery's numbers are down significantly this season over last as the Gamecocks have dealt with a midseason change at the quarterback position and a run-heavy offense.
However, he showed the dominant force he can be in 2010 when he had eight games with more than 100 yards receiving and two others in which he totaled 97 and 99 yards.
Already a fan-favorite in the Carolinas, Jeffery would be a perfect fit for the Panthers and would likely become Newton's favorite new target in the red zone, cutting down on "Super Cam's" high-flying act around the goal line.
South Carolina will take on Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 2, 2012.
Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Michael Floyd highlight reel
Raghib "Rocket" Ismail, Tim Brown, Jeff Samardzija, Golden Tate, Michael Floyd—Notre Dame has a long and proud tradition of turning out top wide receivers, and Floyd is among the best.
Already the career touchdown receptions leader at Notre Dame with 28 scores entering the 2011 season, Floyd finished his four-year career in South Bend with 36 touchdowns.
Floyd also broke Golden Tate's two-year-old single-season record for most receptions with his 94th grab of the year on Nov. 26, 2011, against Stanford.
The 6'3", 224-pound Floyd has steadily improved throughout his career at Notre Dame to develop into one of the top wideout prospects in the country and a certain first-round selection.
Floyd, who finished his second straight 1,000-plus-yard season with 95 catches for 1,106 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011, is built in the mold of a Brandon LaFell, but with a slightly bulkier frame and better ball skills.
If selected by the Panthers, Floyd will be a solid No. 2 and a serviceable No. 1 for the next eight to 10 years.
Notre Dame will face Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl on Dec. 29, 2011.
Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
Chase Minnifield Draft Analysis Video
Chase Minnifield may be a sleeper pick to some, but the 6'0", 185 pound cornerback is one of the best defensive backs to come through Charlottesville since Ronde Barber played his last season as a Cavalier in 1996.
Minnifield, who grew up around the game, is the son of former Cleveland Brown defensive back, Frank Minnifield, who teamed with Hanford Dixon to form one of the great cornerback duos in the NFL in the 1980s.
The younger Minnifield's tenacity on the field and 13-career interceptions are evidence enough that he is a talented player in his own right.
Minnifield will likely be taken in the second or third round of the draft, and he will be a great value-pick for the Panthers or whichever team selects him.
Virginia plays Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl on Dec 31, 2011.
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