It’s sad that we’re barely more than halfway through the season and Panthers’ fans are already eyeing next season. It’s what happens when you’re 2-8 with few bright spots, have fired your GM, and likely will be looking for a new Dynamic Duo – General Manager and his personally-selected Head Coach – to start the journey out on the same wavelength.
Will the organization get their GM first, who will then select or help select their next Head Coach, or will ownership and the new GM want to give Ron Rivera a third year to finish what was started? With the look of the team these days, I’d be hard-pressed to say Rivera “deserves” a third season, but the man did have the team’s offense looking good in Cam’s rookie season, going 6-10 when they had the NFL’s worst record at 2-14 in 2010. The defense is improving but the offense has taken several baffling steps backward. Cam’s Auburn Tigers are under investigation by the NCAA as I write this, by the way.
This brings me to the issue at hand: Assuming the Panthers wind up around 4th in the 2013 NFL draft, whom will they pick if they cannot trade down?
First, a quick needs assessment is in order. On defense, I’d say the biggest needs are in the secondary; specifically safety and depth at CB. Rookie Josh Norman looks more and more like a bona-fide NFL starter. He’s certainly got a lot to learn but has shown an ability to make some plays, and corners’ hands are largely tied by rules that favor the receivers, so he and Chris Gamble should make a decent enough pair of starters.
FS Haruki Nakamura is the biggest liability in the secondary right now, so he’d be the top guy I’d look to replace there. I think we can safely take MLB off the “needs” list, and Carolina’s LB corps is one of the best and deepest in the NFL, Jon Beason’s future with the team notwithstanding. If we continue with the 4-3, we might look for an impact OLB especially if he can rush the passer. If we change to a 3-4, then a pass-rushing OLB need will be much higher on the list. Stay tuned there, because it will all depend on the coaching situation.
The Panthers could always use more depth at the DT spot, although it’s not as weak an area as it was last season.
Offensively, the picture is a bit cloudier.
QB? Nope. Cam’s the man, despite his so-called “Sophomore Slump” which I still say is caused by his line and the entire offense not being in gear – and much of that has to do with coaching. Read/option one week, ditch it the next, pass:run 2:1, then balanced the next week. The inability to effectively run-block on a sustained basis has caught my eye this season.
That, despite picking Amini Silatolu with a high second-round pick. While he hasn’t been a bust, he’s certainly played like a rookie for much of the season and still needs time and coaching in the NFL’s complicated pass-blocking schemes.
OTs Byron Bell and Jordan Gross haven’t improved since last season, but again, I think a lot of the issue is coaching which makes it hard to evaluate needs. I think we can safely rule out another RB, however, as a need.
Greg Olson is a wonderful TE but the cupboard is rather bare after him. I’d like to see a good blocking TE who can catch – the team has missed Jeremy Shockey a bit more than they thought in that regard. WR Brandon LaFell has been one of the brighter spots this season while David Gettis has struggled coming off injury.
Gettis has decent size and speed, but if he can’t stay on the field, what good is he? After a 500+ yard rookie season, he’s done nothing. For whatever reason, Arkansas rookie Joe Adams hasn’t played in the slot, and Steve Smith will be 34 years old next year, so I’d say a playmaking WR would really help in a number of ways, and is likely the biggest need on offense.
To further prioritize things overall, in order our needs are WR, FS, CB (Nickel CB and for depth), LB (OLB/ILB depending on personnel changes in the offseason – losing Beason perhaps?), TE2, DT, and depth on the o-line. Since Geoff Hangartner came into the league as a center, I’d look at the OG/OTs with Ryan Kalil being (hopefully) healthy again for opening day next season.
If the Panthers cannot trade down from the #4 spot they’d currently have (or possibly 3rd overall depending on tiebreakers with Cleveland), they’d likely wind up with the top WR prospect in the draft (if Cleveland doesn’t draft ahead of them). If Cleveland does draft ahead and takes a WR, things would become very complicated since few safeties get drafted in the top-5, Eric Berry aside.
We’ll take a look at the top prospects very, very soon….
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