The Carolina Panthers had to address issues in the defensive backfield and at receiver and both those were accomplished in some way during the past month.
The defensive backfield was depleted in part because of the severing of ties with veteran safety Kurt Coleman and further with the trade of cornerback Daryl Worley.
By acquiring wide receiver Torrey Smith, the Panthers were aggressive in filling one of the most glaring vacancies on the team (even though it officially came via trade). The wideout positions could remain an area that needs attention, but at least the Panthers shouldn’t be making moves there in a position of weakness.
The Panthers also began building depth at receiver by adding Jarius Wright. The Panthers weren’t shy about attacking the holes that loomed at this spot.
The Panthers did a nice job of turning the loss of nose tackle Star Lotulelei into a potential positive by landing Dontari Poe. The Panthers also had a good result by keeping defensive end Julius Peppers out of retirement. So that was like a bonus without it really being counted in the free-agent mix.
The Panthers traded Worley, so that suddenly put a spotlight on that position. By adding Ross Cockrell, the Panthers didn’t necessarily set themselves up for the future but the short-term benefits could be notable. Cockrell provides experience and a leadership component.
Here is a closer look at where the Panthers are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft.
2017 finish: 2nd NFC South (11-5)
TOTAL OFFENSE: 323.7 (19th)
RUSHING: 131.4 (4th)
PASSING: 192.3 (28th)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 317.1 (7th)
RUSHING: 88.1 (3rd)
PASSING: 229.1 (18th)
- Wide receiver: This area hasn’t been brushed aside just because it has been addressed in some manner. The Panthers already are counting on young, yet unproven Curtis Samuel who was injured for a large chunk of his rookie season in 2017). It’s also unclear how Devin Funchess will function given that he could go into the season as the go-to receiver for the first time. There’s a need to restock this position in order to get it off the top-priority list.
- Safety: There’s an immediate need in this area, while the Panthers appear to be set to be a little more experienced at cornerback. That makes it more feasible to see if the draft can offer someone to step in right away at safety. This would have to be the right fit because the Panthers have been steady with veterans holding safety spots in the past.
- Running back: The Panthers let go 10-year veteran Jonathan Stewart, the franchise’s all-time rushing leader, so they need to see if they can find another long-term fix for this spot. There’s also of potential and confidence in Christian McCaffrey, who put together a nice rookie season in 2017. But there needs to be reinforcements and a bigger, durable back who can absorb some contact could be atop this list.
KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 6)
–K Graham Gano: Potential UFA; $17M/4 yrs, $9M guaranteed ($1M injury only at signing, $6.15M SB).
–DE Julius Peppers: Potential UFA; $5M/1 yr, $2.5M SB.
–T Amini Silatolu: UFA; 1 yr, teams unknown.
–T Zach Banner (waivers Browns).
–CB Ross Cockrell: UFA Giants; $6.8M/2 yrs.
–DT Dontari Poe: UFA Falcons; $28M/3 yrs, $13.3M guaranteed (2.5M injury only at time of signing, $10M SB). Option year ($8.5M) in 2020. $500K weight bonus each year for four separate weigh-ins includes in WO bonus of $600K, $900K, $900K.
–S Da’Norris Searcy: FA Titans; $5.7M/2 yrs.
–WR Torrey Smith (trade Eagles).
–S Dezmen Southward: FA; $630K/1 yr.
–WR Jarius Wright: FA Vikings; $7.5M/3 yrs, $2M SB.
–S Kurt Coleman (released).
–TE Ed Dickson: UFA Seahawks; $10.7M/3 yrs, $3.6M fully guaranteed/$2.6M SB.
–DE Charles Johnson (released).
–DT Star Lotulelei: UFA Bills; $50M/5 yrs, $25M guaranteed (6.5M injury only at time of signing, $13M SB).
–LG Andrew Norwell: UFA Jaguars; $66.5M/5 yrs, $30M fully guaranteed/$15M SB.
–RB Jonathan Stewart (released).
–T John Theus (released).
–CB Teddy Williams (released).
–CB Daryl Worley (traded Eagles).
*NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 24 overall)
Rob Rang (April 5 mock draft):
–Connor Williams, T, Texas. If there is a silver lining for Panthers fans upset with the loss of guard Andrew Norwell it is that there should be several quality replacements via this pick. Williams, a coordinated, powerful blocker, played tackle at Texas but projects as a guard for some clubs due to his 33-inch arms.
Dane Brugler (April 6 mock draft):
–Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa. The Panthers tried signing Bashaud Breeland to a lucrative deal, but it was voided due to medicals, leaving a need at cornerback. Jackson won’t fit every scheme, but his ball production is off the charts.
Agree? Disagree? Still shopping?
Based on the team’s current status, those are our suggestions for that first pick. To double check or find another candidate see full mocks and ratings at NFLDraftScout.com.