October 13, 2012; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers defensive end Sam Montgomery (99) reacts after sacking the South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback during the second half at Tiger Stadium. LSU defeated South Carolina 23-21. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-US PRESSWIRE

Another Top-Five Pick in the Panthers' Future?

The Carolina Panthers are setting themselves up for a top-five pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. They’re 1-6 with only the Chiefs having a worse record at 1-7 by virtue of having already lost on Thursday. The hapless and far less-talented Jacksonville Jaguars are the only other team with a single win so far this season, giving the Panthers at worst the #3 pick in the still far-off draft.

Assuming – and at this point, assuming anything is premature – for discussion purposes, the Panthers wind up with the #3 pick overall.

Well, they don’t need a quarterback, and depending on how high the next class of QBs is rated, they could trade down and claim a nice haul from a team like Arizona or Buffalo. There are surprisingly few teams that don’t have a solid QB, in the process of developing one (Colts, Redskins, Browns, Dolphins), or yet ready to give up on the guy they’ve started developing (Jets, Jaguars) so #3 may not be the hot spot.

In this year’s draft, the Redskins vaulted to #2 overall, trading a pile of picks to move up only two spots to nab Robert Griffin, III. It seems so long ago now, but the trade happened less than 9 months ago. Remember, with the rookie wage scale in place, teams were all trading around to position themselves for the top talent and the trend should continue as long as the current structure remains in place.

But what if the Panthers don’t/can’t trade their #3 or #4 pick – whatever, a top-5 pick – who will they target? Who should they target?

Well, it’s still early in the evaluation process but now that the college season is entering the home stretch, we do know who is making plays. The college teams wind down their seasons, but still have a few games including their season-ending “rival” contests and bowl games still to come. I’ve taken the liberty of listing a number of players that could possibly move up to be in the top-five so that you know whom to look out for and keep an eye on when you’re watching the games on Saturdays…they’ll all be playing on Sundays next year for someone:

DeMarcus Milliner, CB, Alabama

Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State

Sam Montgomery, DE/OLB, LSU

Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU

Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M

Keenan Allen, WR, California

Damontre Moore, OLB/DE, Texas A&M

Kawann Short, DT, Purdue

Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State

Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State

Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor

Alex Okafor, DE, Texas

Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

Corey Lemonier, OLB/DE, Auburn

Keep in mind that any projections are just wild fantasies at this point. However, the Panthers’ record speaks for itself and if things continue along this path, the Panthers will be looking for a trade partner to trade down with. Failing that, they’ll pick but since there are 15 players here that I listed, one of them WILL BE AVAILABLE whenever the Panthers pick. I’ve only included players at positions of need which is why Matt Barkley and Geno Smith aren’t listed. Offensive tackle isn’t the Panther’s most glaring need, but Jeff Otah’s departure didn’t help talent nor depth. Since OT is the second-most coveted position these days, there could be a move or a trade at #3 after all…especially if a franchise left tackle is sitting there. Ask the Vikings how Matt Kalil is contributing to Christian Ponder’s season and the overall record.

Meanwhile, learn the names above. You’ll be hearing a lot out of them as a group come March and April.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

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