The 2017 NFL Draft is almost here, and the Carolina Panthers have eight picks to spend. At this point in the offseason, NFL analysts have produced enough mock drafts to cover seemingly every scenario. Carolina has been forecasted to use their first-round pick to select players at many positions, including defensive end, running back and tight end. Coming off a vastly underachieving 6-10 season, the Panthers could surely use a solid draft to return to NFL prominence. What moves should Carolina be sure to make, and which should they avoid?
Carolina should draft an offensive lineman. It’s not complicated. The Panthers gave free agent left tackle Matt Kalil an expensive contract, but Kalil hasn’t shown that he can be a reliable option protecting the quarterback’s blind side since his rookie season. Michael Oher missed most of last season with a concussion, and his age (30), injury history and inconsistent play show he is not the long-term answer. Carolina should draft a young, promising tackle in case Kalil or right tackle Mike Remmers don’t pan out.
The Panthers need a speedy wide receiver to replace Ted Ginn, who departed in free agency. While he often dropped passes, Ginn was a valuable weapon who stretched the offense and gave Carolina a big-play option. There isn’t a receiver on the Carolina roster that possesses Ginn’s speed and route-running ability. While Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess are good ball-possession receivers that have the size to dominate smaller cornerbacks, neither possesses explosive speed. The Panthers should draft a wide receiver to replace Ginn early.
Carolina needs to draft for need. Gettleman has practiced a “best player available” strategy in recent drafts, but there hasn’t been a bigger gap in strengths and weaknesses during his time at Carolina. The team just re-signed defensive tackle Kawann Short to a five-year deal and have Star Lotulelei and Vernon Butler as sidekicks on the defensive line. Carolina has perhaps the best linebacker corps in the league and a former MVP in Cam Newton. However, they desperately need playmakers at wide receiver, running back and defensive end. They must address these needs in the draft.
The Panthers should not give away draft picks. Rumors of the Panthers using picks to trade up have been swirling, but after the draft concludes, the Panthers need to have eight rookies in their possession. General Manager Dave Gettleman has shown his expertise in drafting throughout his tenure. Unlike most of the rest of the league, Carolina only starts a handful of players that weren’t originally drafted by the franchise. The Panthers need to let Gettleman have the opportunity to practice his genius.
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