The NFL draft is just days away, so I wanted to talk about the possible moves the Carolina Panthers could make. The Panthers have many ways they could approach the draft, so let’s take a look at the different scenarios that could go down on Thursday night.
The Panthers will be picking in the number nine spot, and Head Coach Ron Rivera says he wants a guy who will play immediately. So for now, let’s just assume that the Panthers will stay at the ninth pick and not trade up or down. Looking at the team needs, the first option that comes to mind is beefing up the defense. The Panthers last year ranked 24th against the pass and 25th against the run, so getting a quality player in the first round is a must. The first name that pops out to me is Morris Claiborne, a cornerback out of LSU. The Panthers would love to get a possible shut-down corner to compliment Chris Gamble on the other side. With experts comparing Claiborne to the next Darrelle Revis, he will probably go higher than ninth in the draft, but should he drop to Carolina they would have to take him.
Another glaring need for the Panthers, other than corner, is the defensive line. The Panthers were gashed for an average of 130 yards per game last year and could not get off the field on third downs. For as good as Cam Newton is, he can’t be effective if he can’t get on the field. Fletcher Cox, the defensive tackle out of Mississippi State, is 6’4” 298lbs of run stopper that should be available at the ninth spot. To me this is best fit for the Panthers and he would be able to make an immediate impact. Other possibilities at the defensive tackle position are Dontari Poe (Memphis) and Michael Brockers (LSU). If Cox is gone by the time the Panthers pick, I could just as easily see one of these guys sporting the black and blue.
Sticking with the defense theme, the Panthers may be thinking defensive end, a pass rusher who can complement Charles Johnson. Quinton Coples, the defensive end out of North Carolina, is where the Panthers could be going with their pick. The Panthers only had 31 sacks last year. Coples is able to get to the quarterback quickly and would be able to help boost that number. The last time the Panthers took a defensive end from UNC in the first round he was the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Other names at the defensive end position are Melvin Ingram (South Carolina), Chandler Jones (Syracuse) and Courtney Upshaw (Alabama).
Another scenario the Panthers would be open to is trading back. The New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles have shown interest in moving up the draft. This would put the Panthers at either the fifteenth or sixteenth pick and give them the possibility of picking up a third round pick, which they currently don’t have when they traded it to Chicago in the deal that brought Greg Olsen. It would be great to get that third round draft pick, especially in a year where Carolina has so many positions that need to be addressed. If the Panthers feel they can move back and get someone like Coples it is a no-brainer for them. A few other names being thrown around are Stephen Gilmore (South Carolina) and Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama). Both of these cornerbacks could be available at the fifteen or sixteen spot if the Panthers were to make a trade. They may not be the impact player that Claiborne is projected to be, but would fit in nicely in the Panthers secondary.
One of the other glaring issues on the Panthers is the wide receiver position. If Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State) were to make it out of the first eight picks I think the Panthers would have to strongly consider taking him at number despite the major needs on defense. Carolina needs somebody other than Steve Smith to command the attention of the other team’s secondary. Michael Floyd (Notre Dame) and Kendall Wright (Baylor), although not as athletic as Blackmon, could be on the Panthers’ board; however, I don’t see them taking them at nine.
The Panthers’ selection will highly depend on what is available to them at the ninth pick. My gut tells me that Fletcher Cox will probably be the newest member of the Panthers. Either way I am excited to see what direction the Cats decide to go on Thursday night.
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