Most glaring needs, besides filling the vacant GM position created when Marty Hurney was fired, are a weak defensive line and secondary along with how their best offensive lineman, Ryan Kalil, recovers from the dreaded lisfranc injury. It certainly hasn’t helped that two of their best defensive players are also on the IR, cornerback Chris Gamble and linebacker Jon Beason.
Luke Kuechly is on the cusp of being a Top Five player at his position. Cornerback Josh Norman seems legit and will only improve with experience.
Steve Smith is showing signs of slowing down and at 34; the Panthers are very thin outside of the emerging Brandon LaFell. Because of the numerous upgrades required before Owner Jerry Richardson can give the fans a reliable playoff contending team there is no use ranking their priority. Whoever takes over the General Manager role should try to come out of the draft with two, preferably three, at the following positions:
Outside of Gamble and Norman, Ron Rivera’s defense could sure use an infusion of talent at cornerback to counter the pass-heavy arsenal they face in the NFC South.
One of the deepest positions in the 2013 draft is defensive tackle. This should allow Carolina to wait until the second round to find first-round talent at a major position of need. On the other side of the trenches, it wasn’t long ago when other teams had to create game plans around stopping the two-headed rushing attack of Deangelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart. Injuries and a lack of talent have nearly erased that concern. The offensive line must also do a better job of keeping Cam Newton upright.
1st round – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Height – 6-7
Weight – 310
It is hard to find many weaknesses to Lewan’s game. The AP All-American First Team and Big Ten Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year is still filling out his huge frame so any concerns about a lack of bulk to withstand some of the behemoths at the next level are premature.
Lewan has prototypical size and outstanding athleticism to go with the intelligence required to master an NFL playbook early on. He also has an aggressive, at times downright nasty, temperament to help set the tone for the rest of his o-line teammates. The initial plan could be for Lewan to hold down the fort at right tackle while he adjusts to the NFL and eventually move over to protect Newton’s blindside when Jordan Gross’ contract expires after the 2014 season. The Arizona native will also help rejuvenate a stagnant running game.
2nd round – Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
Height – 6-3
Weight – 310
Short has been one of the most disruptive defenders in the Big Ten since he arrived in West Lafayette as a freshman in 2009. Any other season combined with the importance NFL defensive coordinators place on the interior defensive line and Short would likely be a first-round pick.
Regardless if the Panthers switch from their current 4-3 base defense, Short will immediately improve not only the interior defensive line but also free up Kuechly, Beason, Thomas Davis and the rest of the linebackers to fly to the ball unscathed.
Defensive tackles are not often judged by statistical productivity. Instead their worth is often tied to the number of double-teams they demand. What’s appealing about this AP All-American Second Team selection is the amount of splash plays he makes, despite constant attention from two offensive linemen and the occasional fullback. Short has repeatedly led the Boilermakers in sacks, forced fumbles, and tackles for loss. His ability to rush the passer while clogging the middle would be a welcome addition to a team like Carolina.
3rd round – Traded. Next pick is in the 4th round
The Panthers traded their 2013 3rd round pick to San Francisco in exchange for the 49ers 2012 4th round pick in order to select Oklahoma DE Frank Alexander.
Other needs for 4th round and beyond: WR, G, FS